S. Salant started in television in 1952, as vice president and general
executive of CBS. The Harvard educated lawyer worked in government
and private practice for 12 years before switching industries. His
corporate experience was matched by his lifetime commitment to such
significant issues as freedom of the press, ethics in news production,
and the relationship of government, corporate broadcast management,
and news production. His longevity in the industry stemmed from
such intangible qualities as skillful conflict resolutions that
minimizes public debate, the ability to isolate issues among complex
events, and verbal clarity in articulating his position.
a decade as vice president for CBS, with no experience or training
as a journalist, Salant became president of the CBS news division
in 1961. His appointment was greeted with reservation. He moved
to corporate management in 1964, as vice president for corporate
affairs and special assistant to the president of CBS, then returned
to again head the news division from 1966 to 1979. Because of the
strength of his advocacy for the division during both tenures in
this position, reservations regarding his commitment and ability
his legal background, from 1953 through 1959 Salant represented
CBS in Washington, D.C. in congressional hearings and forums pertaining
to broadcast regulation and rights. He learned the structure of
the industry for his speeches and testimony on issues such as subscription
television, UHF-VHF allocations, monopoly problems, coverage of
house hearings by broadcasters, and the barriers constructed to
free expression by Section 315 (the Equal Time Provision), of the
Communications Act. He argued that Congress's ban on cameras and
microphones as unacceptable journalistic tools placed broadcasters
as second class citizens, and Section 315 prevented the free pursuit
and airing of information. From his participation in the complex
discussions of these legal issues Salant slowly derived the position
that news should be based on what the public needs to know to participate
in a democratic system, not on what they would like to know. Small
experiences supported his thinking, such as when he discovered,
while in Washington, that CBS cooperated with the CIA by providing
outtakes of news stories. He stopped the practice in 1961.
had a passion for the potential of television news; in 1961 he brought
a meticulous set of policies to the news division so that the ethics
and credibility of news remained unscathed. These ranged from the
sweeping change that separated sports and other entertainment oriented
projects from the news division, to detailed guidelines for editing
interviews. His directives banished music and sound effects from
any news or documentary program. They stopped the involvement of
news personnel in entertainment ventures. They both limited and
marked all occurrences of simulations. Salant published these directions
in the CBS News Standards Handbook, which all new employees
were required to read at the end of the 1990s. Employees also signed
an affidavit agreeing to comply with the guidelines.
16 years as president, Salant looked at small and large policies
for their potential contribution toward building a credible image
in the public eye. He spoke out against the news division creating
"personalities" to market programs. He was especially concerned
for the potential harm of docudramas, which, if not consistently
marked and explained as fictionalizations, might be taken as news
products by the public. Most troubling to Salant was the network's
lack of supervision over news emanating from CBS owned stations.
Integrity and credibility came in a package under the CBS name,
and the package extended, in his view, to the local level.
continuous examination of broadcast ethics and news judgment set
the pace for other networks and the industry. When Fred Friendly
resigned as President of CBS News in 1966 because network executives
declined to preempt regular daytime programming in order to air
the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearings on Vietnam, Salant
reiterated the importance of news judgment under the criterion of
selective coverage. Congress, Washington, and the president would
not, he argued, dominate airways with a selective coverage policy.
The networks were responsible for alternative ways of reporting,
such as evening news specials, half-hour news summaries, and the
provision of alternative voices.
realized that his background in the CBS corporate arena would always
cast doubt on his decisions. His record of wrestling more air time
for news in prime time as well as daytime changed that. In fact,
Salant's insider knowledge of CBS helped the news division move
from 15-minute to a 30-minute newscast. Under his guidance, CBS
started a full-time election unit, created additional regional news
bureaus outside New York and Washington, launched 60 Minutes,
started a regular one-hour documentary series called CBS Reports,
produced many investigative and controversial documentaries, and
covered the Watergate Affair with more than 20 1-hour specials on
accomplishments were not Salant's most difficult. He succeeded,
with great pain, in insulating news division personnel from the
wrath of corporate criticism and deflected movements against the
division's autonomy. When CBS President William S. Paley vehemently
objected to Cronkite's Evening News report on Watergate,
the first by a network, and demanded the story never appear again,
Salant defied Paley, airing a second part, but reduced the number
of issues covered. Although this action is open to multiple interpretations,
his decisions in 1973 are clearer. He supported CBS News journalists
in a protest against Paley's call for the elimination of instant
specials after Presidential speeches or news conferences.
continually addressed the volatile connection between news and corporate
management in a pragmatic manner. He did not see the relationship
as strictly adversarial, nor did he see it as polarized between
two opposing sides. Every conflict was a path toward new strategies
to apply in the future. Salant's brilliance as division president
was grounded in the attitude and communication skills he brought
to conflicts. He diverted escalating personal attacks and swung
discussions back to issues.
everyone appreciated this strategy. When Friendly resigned, Salant
referred to it as a misunderstanding, and explained CBS's strategy
on the congressional hearings. When local affiliates called for
less Watergate coverage, and when they demanded Dan Rather's reassignment
after talking back to the President at a news conference, Salant
did denounce defiance and arrogance in any news division. But he
turned the argument so that affiliates had to examine the central
issue as a matter of news judgment: network news needed its independence,
even if it was dependent on affiliates.
one of the most widely discussed controversies of his tenure, the
findings reported in the CBS documentary, The Selling of the
Pentagon (1971), put Salant in a difficult and complex position.
The government called congressional hearings and subpoenaed CBS
documents, accusing the news division of manipulative editing and
false claims. Again, Salant simplified the matter, accusing the
government of infringing on freedom of speech. He argued that a
network has the right to be wrong, and even when wrong, the right
not to be judged by government. To support this view he pointed
to another issue, one with ramifications for the entire television
industry: the government could jeopardize free speech with its power
to intimidate affiliates which carried controversial programs. Even
in the midst of his strong defense, however, Salant was never afraid
to criticize CBS or network news, and his attitude provided credibility
to his position. After the confrontation with Congress, when CBS
did something questionable--such as paying H. R. Haldeman $50,000
for an interview on 60 Minutes--an admission of wrongdoing
mandatory retirement from CBS, Salant immediately went to NBC, serving
two uneventful years as a vice president and general advisor in
the network. Only one Salant proposal received extensive coverage.
He recommended development of a one-hour evening news program, from
8:00 to 9:00 P.M., freeing the earlier prime-time slot for local
news, and saving networks the expense of an hour of dramatic programming.
Salant finished his career as president and chief executive officer
of the National News Council. This independent body, recommended
in 1973 by a Twentieth Century Fund panel on which Salant served,
was created to make non-binding decisions on complaints brought
against the press or by the press. Faced by a hostile industry that
wanted no monitor looking at its work, the Council disbanded after
one year. This attitude on the part of the industry was discouraging
to Salant, especially considering the increased government attacks
on media credibility, attacks that also functioned to maintain government
credibility. Potentially, the Council could do what Salant did at
CBS, protect news standards and press freedom. But the networks
had changed radically. By the mid-1980s news was a profit center,
noted Salant, and these larger issues were irrelevant. Although
Salant did not succeed in having the standards of broadcast journalism
maintained, he could still turn with pride to the historical precedents
set with CBS news programming.
Photo courtesy of Broadcasting and Cable
SALANT. Born in New York City, New York, U.S.A., 14 April 1914.
Educated at Harvard College, A.B., 1931-35; Harvard Law School,
1935-38. Married: 1) Rosalind Robb, 1941 (divorced, 1954), children:
Rosalind, Susan, Robb, and Priscilla; 2) Frances Trainer, 1955,
child: Sarah. Served in U.S. Naval Reserve, 1943-46. Worked for
U.S. Attorney General's committee on administrative procedure, 1939-41;
worked for Office of the Solicitor General, U.S. Department of Justice,
1941-43; associate, Roseman, Goldmark, Colin & Kave, 1946-48, partner,
1948-51; vice-president, special assistant to the president of CBS,
Inc., 1952-61, 1964-66; president, CBS news division, 1961-64, 1966-79;
member, board of directors, CBS, Inc., 1964-69; vice chair, NBC,
1979-81; senior adviser, 1981-83; president and chief executive
officer, National News Council, 1983-84. Died, 16 February 1993.
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Editor and Publisher (New York), 4 June 1983.
Broadcasting System; Cronkite,
William S.; Selling
of the Pentagon; 60 Minutes;