September 9, 2015

1951. Congressman Accuses Network Commentators of Payola

Radio Correspondents' Association Rejects Congressman's Criticism
"(L to R) Joseph Clark Baldwin, Henry Lee Munsen, William S. Hill, W. Sterling Cole, and Crown Prince Olav of Norway departing after a visit to King Haakon VII" in 1941 (Photo by Hans Wild/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

From The New York Daily News:

July 24, 1951

Washington, D. C., July 24.—Representative William S. Hill (R-Colo.)—incidentally a sound, Kansas-born agricultural expert now in his fifth term—brought up a highly important and interesting fact when he disclosed that the State Department had on its payroll a group of well-known radio political commentators.

As proof of our starry-eyed innocence, we had always believed that these distinguished broadcasters went to town telling the listening millions about Washington problems and domestic politics without the mental handicap of having cashed a check from an outfit which is the main target of the coming Presidential campaign. Probably a good many radio listeners shared our unsuspecting ignorance. Apparently Representative Hill did until a short time ago. Then he learned something and proceeded to pour some highly interesting facts into the Congressional Record.

Names 5 Network Commentators.

Hill told the House that radio political commentators Charles Collingwood, Eric Sevareid, Griffing Bancroft and William Downs of Columbia Broadcasting and Ben Grauer of NBC got a slice of the $443,926 paid last year by the State Department to its "free lance" radio commentators and writers.

This is doubly interesting because it comes on the heels of the disclosure last week by the Department of Justice that the British Information Services here and the British Broadcasting Corp., spent $1,543,338 last year and had on their broadcasting payrolls a distinguished list of Washington correspondents and political pundits.

Hill raises two important points. The first is why the State Department found it necessary to hire these commentators in the first place. The State Department in its current budget has asked $97,500,000 for its public affairs "information service"—the greater part of this tidy sum going for the Voice of America. The budget called for 9,883 paid employees—an increase of almost 100% over last year. Why, asks Hill, did the information service, with this huge payroll, find it necessary to buy in addition "free lances" in the writing and radio market. The State Department has asked $1,502,355 to spend on "free lance" material. Last year it paid out $443,926 to writers and broadcasters.

But the heart of the matter, of course, is that the State Department hired American political commentators and sent them checks while, at the same time, these same broadcasters were reporting to their radio audiences on political controversies—foreign and domestic—in which the State Department and in particular its chief, Dean Acheson, were battling for their political lives.

"In Highly Dubious Position."

Referring to Collingwood, who received $900; Downs, who got $100, and Bancroft and Sevareid, who received $50 each, Hill stated:

"In hiring these men, the State Department, to put it mildly, has placed itself in a highly dubious position. As political commentators they frequently have occasion to pass judgment and express opinions regarding the same State Department that is making cash payments to them.

"In this regard I should also mention that the Columbia Broadcasting System has the reputation of being, through its so-called news programs and commentaries, a strong supporter of the Truman Administration and of socialistic tendencies generally.

"The Columbia Broadcasting System has been well treated by the Truman Administration."

Grauer Gets Rough Handling.

Grauer, who received $680 from the State Department, was handled roughly on the House floor. Into the record went the accusation that Grauer's television commentaries during the United Nations sessions in New York "attracted considerable attention for seeming to go out of their way to present the Russian viewpoint in a favorable light."

Hill poured into the record the report of the findings of the House Un-American Activities Committee on Grauer: sponsor of  the Artists' Front to Win the War, cited as a Communist front; member of the Action Committee to Free Spain now, also cited as subversive; "especially active" in the Commie-front Independent Citizens' Committee of the Arts, Sciences and Professions and speaker at a dinner in honor of the radical sculptor Jo Davidson; delegate to the New York convention of the Commie-front Progressive Citizens of America and sponsor of the Win the Peace Conference in Washington in '46, a group also cited as subversive.

Sarcastically, Hill wound up:

"If the State Department persists in buying free-lance material from outside writers, the least it can do is to make sure of their background. . . . I hope that the newspapers and radio stations of the country, particularly the pious breast-beaters who shook with rage two years ago when some small-town Illinois newspapers and reporters received as little as $8 a week from the state government, will permit their blood pressure to rise regarding these State Department payments."

Published in the The News-Review, Roseburg, Oregon (typos and misspellings included):

October 29, 1951
WASHINGTON — The way has now been cleared for radio reporters in Washington to accept money from the Truman administration and still retain their privileges in the senate and house radio galleries.

On September 25 I noted in this space that four Columbia Broadcasting system reporters in Washington had received a total of $1,200 from the Voice of America. They were Charles Collingwood, Griffing Bancroft, William Downs and Eric Severeid. Ben Grauer, another CBS announcer, got an additional $680 from the Voice, but he is not stationed in Washington.

At the same time I pointed out that the rule of the Radio Correspondents association, which I personally wrote 12 years ago when the association was set up states:

"Radio correspondents shall further declare that they are not employed in any legislative or executive department or independent agency of the government.

I stated further that the chairman of the executive committee of the Radio Correspondents' association, Willard F. Shadel, also a CBS commentator, had not called the violations to the attention of the committee.

On this latter point I was in error. On August 1, 1951 Shadel did call a meeting of the executive committee and did raise the question. I quote from the minutes of the meeting:

"Willard F. Shadel raised the point about published stories criticizing the activities of four CBS correspondents accepting fees from the State department's Voice of America.

After some discussion, it was agreed unanimously that the four commentators were entitled under the rules of Congress to accept these fees, since the special work for the Voice of America is not, technically speaking, work in a government agency. But with the precedent established in years passed by the press galleries, it was agreed that a general letter be sent to active members of the association, informing them that hereafter, when they planned to engage in such work, that the galleries be notified in advance and that this notification be made public on the bulletin board."

The four CBS correspondents accredited to the radio gallery were paid by government checks for the work they did for the Voice of America. The Voice of America is an agency of the executive branch of the government operating under State department direction, on funds appropriated by Congress.

I fail to see where "technically speaking" the Voice of America job done by the CBS men is not "work in a government agency." If someone pays you for work performed, you are, by any standards of labor and management today, employed. You may view it up as extra work, part-time work, or off duty hours work, but it is employment if you are paid. And that is prohibited by radio gallery rules, and the executive committee meeting did not change those rules. That can be done only by a two-thirds vote of the entire membership.

Shadel felt he had been done a grave injustice, and pointed out that letters had been mailed to all gallery members apprising them of the executive committee action. There are two of us in my office accredited to the gallery, but neither of us ever saw the notification. I accept Shadel's suggestion that the letters arrived while we were abroad, and that they were thrown away before we returned. But the point is, had I seen the notice I would have protested just as I did last month.

Posting notices on the bulletin board stating that various correspondents are now getting paid by the government for services rendered simply compounds the violation. However, I compliment Shadel for taking action, which I erroneously reported he had failed to do. I urge him now to rescind that action and notify all radio gallery correspondents to comply with the rules or face expulsion.

The Voice of America is an agency of the executive department of the government, no matter how you slice it.

Letter to Eric Sevareid regarding the controversy:

To: Eric Sevareid

From: Willard F. Shadel

January 5, 1952

Dear Eric:

The Executive Committee of the Radio Correspondents' Association regrets the embarrassment to you and your three colleagues caused by published attacks on your recent broadcasts for the State Department's Voice of America program. The Committee discussed your specific complaint at its December 13th meeting.

The Committee believes that the apparently misinformed interpretation of your arrangements with the State Department, which received wide public distribution, might unjustly reflect against and inhibit other Association members who may undertake similar work.

Consequently, the Committee on December 13th unanimously reaffirmed its action of August 1, 1951, asserting that you and your colleagues were within the Association rules in accepting fees for your special work with the Voice of America. The resolution approved on that date reflects the Committee's belief that members acting as independent contractors with the Voice of America on special projects cannot be regarded, technically or in any other way, as Government employees performing services prohibited by Gallery regulations.

With best wishes, I am

Sincerely yours,

Willard F. Shadel, Chairman

Executive Committee

Radio Correspondents' Association