Nixon Administration Public Broadcasting Papers, Summary of 1974

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Nineteen seventy-four was marked by Richard Nixon’s departure from the White House and Whitehead’s resignation as OTP Director. Shortly before resigning the Presidency, Nixon sent Congress the long-range funding plan for public broadcasting Whitehead had promised the Senate during his confirmation hearing four years earlier. Submission of the plan reportedly came only after Chief-of-Staff Alexander Haig convinced Nixon to reverse an earlier decision not to submit the bill to Congress.

On April 2, Whitehead sent a memo to the President recommending submission of a multi-year appropriations bill for CPB to Congress. The proposed legislation mandated a pass-through to the local stations of a substantial portion of CPB’s appropriations.

Whitehead’s memo described the proposal and the events leading up to it:

In June 1972, you vetoed a two-year, $150 million public broadcast funding bill. My memorandum of June 11, 1973, spelled out, and you approved, a new Administration approach, premised on the changes of direction in public broadcasting since your veto. Accordingly, in July 1973, you signed a two-year authorization bill for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (your FY 75 budget sets $60 million for CPB), and had me seek a consensus on long-range funding. The object was to gain support for a restructuring of public broadcasting to decentralize funding and programming decisions by emphasizing the role of local stations. We have achieved such a consensus and have a bill awaiting OMB clearance, which provides for:

1. long-range funding over a five-year period without annual appropriations but with oversight;

2. a 40 percent matching formula, including ceilings of $70 million in FY 76 gradually increasing to $100 million in FY 80, to keep the Federal share from becoming too large;

3. a mandatory pass-through to the local stations of a substantial portion of the Federal match (at least 50 percent by FY 80), to decentralize program control and minimize the network character of the system; and

4. removal of restrictions on using Federal public broadcast funds in cable systems.

The bill would not preclude use of Federal funds for news and public affairs programs. While I share your view that such funds should not be used for this purpose, it would not pass if we attempted to deal with the problem legislatively. The solution is best left to the Board of CPB.

Whitehead’s memo went on to cite the advantage of putting forward such a proposal:

The bill offers the most likely way to reduce the danger of centralized control of public broadcasting by either foundation or governmental entities. It is only because of the long-range funding commitment that public broadcasters now support the restructuring of the system. A two- or three-year bill would provide only increased funding without the reforms. This would carry the issue of public broadcasting structure and funding through to a new Administration–one that may not be as sympathetic to the role of local stations as we are. Additionally, the bill would:

1. remove an irritant in the Administration’s relationship with the Chairmen of the Senate and House Communications Subcommittees. Senator Pastore in particular wants the bill, and, if it is not submitted, could drag his feet on our upcoming cable legislation and confirmation of our nominees to CPB. On the republican side, Howard Baker has not expressed much interest; Bud Brown supports the bill, but has some specific points that we will clarify;

2. keep the appropriations at reasonable limits, since it is a consensus bill that the Congress would not want to upset; and

3. facilitate confirmation of our eight nominees for the 15-member CPB Board of Directors in a depoliticized atmosphere.

Thus, Whitehead concluded: “By submitting the bill, we have met our obligation, and, if the Congress does not support this bill, we are free to oppose any other approach to long range funding.”

Two days after Whitehead sent his Memorandum for the President to Cole, Whitehead was quoted by the Associated Press as saying he planned to leave government, “just as soon as I can gracefully extricate myself.” According to the AP report, Whitehead “is not leaving because of Watergate or disillusionment with government, he says, but simply because ‘I’ve been in government over five years, and I came to Washington with the idea of spending two.'”

On April 30, Cole forwarded Whitehead’s memo to the President. In his memo, Cole said Whitehead’s proposal for multi-year appropriations was one of four options the President could choose. The memo listed the four:

A. The Whitehead proposal….

B. The OMB proposal. OMB opposes “back door” financing. OMB feels the case for long-range financing can be met through a five-year authorization and single year advance appropriations. The provisions for matching formula and mandated distribution to locals would be retained. This would still subject public broadcasting to the annual budgetary process….

C. Two-year authorization: A simple two-year extension would duplicate the compromise reached July, 1973. Whitehead feels this would be the worst possibility since it would perpetuate public broadcasting through your Administration, but leave it centralized for possible liberal domination in another administration.

D. End public broadcasting. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is an organization incorporated under the laws of the District of Columbia. Its own authorization will never expire, but it is at least theoretically possible that Federal funding of the Corporation could be ended or phased out. It is extremely unlikely that this option could be successful since support for Federal money in public broadcasting is popular in the Congress.

In early June, Whitehead was informed that President Nixon had rejected the OTP long-range funding plan. Upon learning this, Whitehead sent a memo to General Alexander Haig, who had replaced Haldeman as Nixon’s Chief of Staff:

I have been informed that the President has disapproved the long-range funding proposal for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which I forwarded on April 2, 1974, and wants to “end” public broadcasting or submit a “very limited” budget proposal. I strongly disagree. I cannot support such an action, and request an appeal to the President.

Our funding strategy, which is intended to gain substantial involvement by the local stations in the structure of public broadcasting and to assure their direct access to Federal funds, was approved by the President. His budget requests for CPB have increased each year, as have public and corporate contributions to CPB and the local stations. Rightly or wrongly, the commitment to Federal funding of public broadcasting has been made. For the President to attempt to back away from that commitment now is unwise, unworkable, and quixotic. An attempt to do so would isolate the President from public and Congressional opinion, and thus would deprive him of any effective participation in the constructive shaping of public broadcasting policy.

Whitehead also questioned the appropriateness of appointing Nancy Chotiner, the wife of Nixon aide Murray Chotiner, to the CPB Board:

Moreover, the nomination of Mrs. Nancy Chotiner to the Board of CPB, is most inappropriate. While I do not know Mrs. Chotiner personally, and have no adverse information about her, she appears to have no particular qualifications for the Board, and her appointment would be widely perceived as a purely political action. At this pivotal time in the course of public broadcasting’s development, this nomination, together with the reversal of direction on funding, would throw public broadcasting back into the political arena–exactly contrary to our efforts over the last five years.

Finally, Whitehead requested a meeting with Haig to discuss these issues:

I was told by your office that I would have an opportunity to discuss these issues with you before they went to the President. I continue to be disturbed that our arrangements for communication policy decision-making are inadequate. In view of these strong considerations, I would like to meet with you (and perhaps Cole and Burch) as soon as possible for a full discussion.

The two men reportedly met on Sunday, June 9.

The next day, the New York Times, quoting sources close to CPB, reported that President Nixon had “flatly rejected” the OTP long-range financing plan and “suggested instead that that Federal support for public television be scaled down.”

The Times story was promptly denied by a White House spokesman, who the AP quoted as saying, “(the OTP proposal) is before the President and no decision has been made.”

The Times story also generated editorials in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other newspapers criticizing the President’s reported rejection of the OTP plan.

On June 20, CPB President Loomis met with White House aide Ray Price. One of the things Loomis and Price discussed was insulated funding for public broadcasting. Following their meeting, Loomis sent Price a three-page memo on the subject. In his memo, Loomis said that CPB and others in public broadcasting had participated in the development of the OTP proposal:

This spring, Tom Whitehead and OTP drafted a proposed insulated funding bill that addresses both the problem of insulation and amount of federal money. The Corporation and both the public television and public radio organizations cooperated in the drafting of the bill and approved it, except for the ceilings.

On July 11, Cole informed Whitehead that his April 2 memorandum to the President on public broadcasting financing had been approved.

On July 16, the legislation was submitted to Congress. In Whitehead’s letter of transmittal to the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate, he said:

The establishment of a source of funding to provide long-term, insulated financing has long been seen as an essential goal if public broadcasting is to fulfill its potential of offering diverse and excellent educational radio and television programming, free of government influences. Even before the enactment of the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, the Carnegie Commission on Educational Television, in recognition of the uniquely sensitive relationship between program content and Federal funding, recommended a plan of permanent financing that would insulate the Corporation and public broadcasting from possible pressure that might naturally result from the annual budgeting and appropriation process.

Since 1967, however, the Congress has quite properly chosen not to institute a long-range funding plan, in view of questions regarding the structure of the public broadcasting system and the policies of the Corporation and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) . Now, many of these questions have been resolved. Public broadcasting is making important contributions to the nation’s life by providing educational and cultural programs of diversity and excellence. The important role of local stations in the hierarchy of the system has been acknowledged in principles and policies adopted by the Corporation and the other national entities that represent local stations.

The time has come, therefore, to affirm the Federal commitment to the principle of public broadcasting with a long-term financing plan that acknowledges its progress and recognizes its potential. The bill the Administration submits today provides for a five-year authorization and appropriation covering fiscal years 1967 through 1980, building upon the current year authorization and appropriation, which continue the increases in funding for the Corporation over the past five years. This multi-year appropriation provision will minimize the possibility of any government scrutiny of or influence on programming that might occur in the course of the usual annual budgetary, authorization and appropriation process. In addition, it will enable the Corporation and local stations to undertake advance program planning with assurance as to the level of Federal funding available in the foreseeable future.

On August 6, Whitehead testified in support of the bill before the Senate Subcommittee on Communications. In his prepared statement Whitehead explained the timing of the Administration’s long-range funding proposal:

We did not, however, urge multi-year appropriations prior to this time, since we felt an obligation to see that public broadcasting was developing in line with the goals of the 1967 Act–to do otherwise would be to set in concrete a system which worked at cross purposes to the intention of that legislation. The Administration’s recognition of this responsibility was interpreted by some as an attempt to dismantle public broadcasting. But we were not quarrelling with public broadcasting as envisioned in the 1967 Act. We did object to a fixed schedule, real-time public network controlled and programmed in Washington in a manner that made a sham of meaningful local participation.

Despite those problems, this Administration continued its support for the public broadcasting system, recognizing its contributions as well as its shortcomings. Our funding requests for CPB have increased from $5 million in 1969 to $60 million for 1975. But we rightly withheld support of a long-range, insulated funding plan until the public broadcast system operated with checks and balances adequate to merit long-term funding without intervening Congressional review.

Nixon leaves White House, Aug. 9, 1974

Nixon leaves the White House by helicopter, Aug. 9, 1974, after resigning as president. (Photo: White House.)

Over the years public broadcasting changed. The structure of the system and the policies of CPB and the Public Broadcasting Service now reflect the importance of a direct and real local station participation in programming decisions at the national level. We have reached the point where insulated funding of the system is not only appropriate, it is essential if public broadcasting is to continue its present course to excellence and diversity.

On August 7, Whitehead formally announced his resignation as Director of OTP, effective September 15.

Also on August 7, President Nixon nominated five persons to the CPB Board. The five were: Joseph Coors of Colorado, Lucius Gregg, Jr., of Illinois; Amos Hostetter, Jr., of Massachusetts, Lillie Herndon of South Carolina, and John Whitney Pettit of Maryland. This brought to eight the number of persons Nixon nominated to the CPB Board in 1974; having renominated Irving Kristol of New York, and nominated Virginia Duncan of California, and Durward Varner of Nebraska, earlier in the year.

Two days after submitting the names of the CPB nominees to Congress, Nixon turned over the reins of government to Gerald R. Ford.

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