BROADCASTING, August 8, 1960

 

SPONSORSHIP OF TV DEBATES?

CBS opposed; ABC, NBC, study advertiser bid, but Kennedy, Nixon have veto power

A meeting to work out the format and mechanics of television debates between presidential nominees Richard M. Nixon and John F. Kennedy was being set up late last week, amid widespread speculation on whether the appearances should or should not be commercially sponsored.

The commercial question was more than academic. Metropolitan Life Insurance CO. was reported authoritatively to have indicated to all three TV networks an interest in sponsoring the precedent-making programs. Other unidentified advertisers were said to have broached the same question.

First network to answer was CBS. President Frank Stanton issued a statement on Wednesday "to make it absolutely clear that CBS will not accept commercial sponsorship for these special programs. Even though public spirited business firms have been generous in offering to sponsor these debates, we -- the CBS radio and television networks and their affiliated stations -- want to make this our own contribution because we believe there is no single act of self-government that is more important than the quadrennial choice of our national leadership."

Noncommittal . ABC and NBC had no immediate comment, but indicated they were studying the question.

It appeared obvious that Vice President Nixon and Sen. Kennedy would be able to veto, if they wished, any sponsorship decision any network might reach.

Spokesmen for the Democratic and Republican camps were noncommittal last week. One Nixon aide said the vice president may express views on the question when he returns from his Hawaiian speaking tour.

Meanwhile, a meeting was being set tentatively for Tuesday (Aug. 9) in New York for discussion of tv debate plans by representatives of all three networks and of the nominees. The Tuesday date was not firm, but it was hoped that some hour on that day would be found suitable to all participants.

These were slated to include Sig Mickelson, president of CBS News, John Daly, news, special events and public affairs vice president of ABC, and Lester Bernstein, corporate affairs vice president for NBC; Leonard Reinsch of the Cox radio and TV stations, communications consultant to Sen. Kennedy; Fred Scribner, under-secretary of the Treasury and a member of the Nixon strategy board, Herbert G. Klein, special assistant to Vice President Nixon, and Ted Rogers, special television consultant to Mr. Nixon.

Alterations Due . The plan eventually involved for presentation of the debates will require compromises in the plans suggested by some if not all of the networks. NBC proposed four hour-long debates and four one-hour programs in which the nominees would he questioned by newsmen on NBC: ABC proposed a series of appearances on all three networks on a rotation basis; CBS offered eight hours with "direct presentations" by the nominees on the opening and closing broadcasts and discussions and interviews with opposing presidential and vice presidential candidates on the other programs.

CBS has said it will not sell time for political broadcasts that are also carried on the other networks, but spokesmen asserted last week that this applies to paid political broadcasts and would have no bearing on the presidential debates.

Sen. Kennedy accepted the offers of all three networks and Vice President Nixon accepted but said he felt that the nominees should appear without prepared texts or notes "and without interruption." All three networks conditioned their offers on waiver of the equal-time law insofar as the current presidential campaign is concerned.