November 18, 2018

1969. CBS President Speaks Out Against Agnew's Attacks on Network News

Frank Stanton Denounces Attacks on Press Freedom
"William S. Paley and Dr. Frank Stanton (right) with a color CBS television camera," 1951 (source)
On November 25, 1969, CBS President Frank Stanton gave a speech to the International Radio and Television Society responding to Vice President Spiro Agnew's attacks on the news media after Nixon delivered his "silent majority" speech. Agnew accused reporters on major television networks of bias against the Nixon administration, and attacked television news in general. The text below is adapted from a transcript here.
Speech to the International Radio and Television Society

By FRANK STANTON, CBS News President

November 25, 1969

I am not here to defend broadcast journalism as being beyond all criticism. No one could have worked as long as I have in radio and television without realizing that we are far from perfect in carrying out our enormous responsibilities in broadcast journalism. We have never been satisfied with the job we are doing. We are not satisfied now. It is our continuing hope and our continuing effort to do better. We are concerned with what the press says of us. We are concerned with what our audiences write us. We are concerned with what our affiliates tell us. We do strive for objectivity, although it is not always easy to achieve. While freedom of the press is meaningless without the freedom to be wrong, we do try to be right. And I think that in the vast majority of cases we have succeeded.

Let me turn now to the events of the past few weeks that have commanded the attention of many of us. On November 3, the President of the United States delivered a much-publicized and eagerly awaited speech presenting the Administration's position and plans on the war in Vietnam. That war has been the subject of one of the longest and most fervent public debates in all American history. Good, conscionable and dedicated men and women, from all sections of our society, have earnest and deeply felt differences as to its meaning, its conduct and its prospects. Fundamental questions of rightness and wrongness have disturbed our people as no other issue has in this century.

The President spoke for 32 minutes on all four nationwide television networks, four nationwide radio networks and scores of independent stations. Some 88 million people heard his words as they were conveyed, uninterrupted and in a place and under conditions of his own choosing. Following the President's address, each of the television networks provided comments by professionals analyzing the content of the speech. Participating were experienced newsmen, most of whom have performed similar functions for many years following the live broadcast of special events of outstanding significance. Since the participants were different on the four television networks, the comments of none of them were heard by the same huge audience that heard the President. One of the networks added to the expertise by presenting the views of a distinguished diplomat and public servant, who had held high posts in nine Presidential terms, of both parties, prior to the present Administration. Another presented the comments of two United States senators, who took divergent views of the policy advocated in the speech.

In all this, nothing unprecedented had happened. Such comments have customarily been offered after most significant Presidential appearances—State of the Union, Inaugurals, United Nations addresses, press conferences, for example. And they usually have been more than mere bland recapitulations, which would serve little purpose, and have frequently called attention to emphases, omissions, unexpected matters of substance, long anticipated attitudes, changes of views, methods of advocacy or any other aspect of the speech. Such comments have been offered by enterprising news organizations since the dawn of the modern press and continued into the era of radio and television.

Following the President's speech and following the relatively brief comments made directly after it, the White House was deluged with telegrams and letters approving the President's speech, the White House reported, by an overwhelming margin. Two days later, the Gallup Survey reported that nearly 4 out of every 5 of those who heard it, approved the President's speech and the course that it advocated with regard to Vietnam.

Ten days after the President's speech, the second highest official in the Administration launched an attack on the television networks on the grounds that critical comments on government policy as enunciated in a Presidential address might unduly influence the American people—even though, following such comments, the President received a 77 percent vote of confidence from those who heard him on the issue discussed.

The Vice President also censured television network news for covering events and personalities that are jolting to many of us but that nevertheless document the kind of polarized society—not just here but throughout the world, whether or not there is television and whether it is controlled or free—in which, for better or worse, we are living. It is not a consensus society. It is a questioning, searching society—unsure, groping, running to extremes, abrasive, often violent even in its reactions to the violence of others. Students and faculties are challenging time-honored traditions in the universities. Young clergy are challenging ancient practices and even dogma of the churches. Labor union members are challenging their leaderships. Scientists, artists, businessmen, politicians—all are drawn into the fray. Frequently, because everyone is clamoring for attention, views are set forth in extreme terms.

As we do not propose to leave unreported the voice of the Vice President, we cannot in good conscience leave unreported any other significant voice or happening—whether or not it supports government policy, whether or not it conforms with our own views, whether or not it disturbs the persuasions of any political party or bloc. But no healthy society and no governing authorities worth their salt have to fear the reporting of dissenting or even of hostile voices. What a healthy society and a self-respecting government do have to fear—at the price of their vitality if not of their life—is the suppression of such reporting.

To strengthen the delusion that, as a news medium, television is plunging the nation into collapse and can be deterred only by suppressing criticisms and by either withholding bad news or contriving a formula to balance it with good news, the Vice President's speech was replete with misinformation, inaccuracies and contradictions. To deal adequately with all of these on this occasion would take us through the afternoon, but let me note some of them by way of example, then move on to consider with you the context of the Vice President's speech so far as the actions and statements of other Administration officials are concerned and, finally, make some observations on the significance of this unhappy affair.

The Vice President began his indictment of November 13 with a monstrous contradiction. He asserted flatly that "no medium has a more profound influence over public opinion" than television. And yet he also claimed that the views of America have been very little affected by this "profound influence," when he said, "The views of the majority of this fraternity [i.e., television network news executives and editors] do not—and I repeat, not—represent the views of America." The Vice President can't have it both ways. If the views of the American people show "a great gulf" between how a speech is received by them and how it is treated in a broadcast, obviously the treatment of it has no material effect upon their opinion. Even the premise of the Vice President's claim is proved wrong by the Gallup findings already mentioned.

The Vice President objected to the subjection of the words and policies of the President to "instant analysis and querulous criticism." The analysis, whatever its merits or failings, was hardly instant. Highly informed speculation about the content of the speech had gone on for days and even weeks. Copies were made available at least two hours in advance of the analysis, allowing at least as much time as most morning newspapers had before press time. If a professional reporter could not arrive at some meaningful observations under those circumstances, we would question his competence.

The Vice President took care—and the point should not be lost on us—to remind us that television is "enjoying a monopoly sanctioned and licensed by government." A monopoly, by any definition I know, is the exclusive control of a product or a service by a single entity. Television news is broadcast in this country by four networks, all with different and fiercely competitive managements, producers, editors and reporters, involving hundreds of strongly individualistic people; by a dozen station groups, initiating and producing their own news broadcasts, and by hundreds of stations, producing their own news broadcasts wholly independent and distinct from those of any network they may otherwise be associated with. Moreover, it is estimated that, on the average day, 65 percent more hours of viewing are devoted to station-originated news broadcasts than to network news broadcasts. In addition, there are 6,717 radio stations in this country—the overwhelming majority without network affiliations. All this hardly represents monopolistic control.

The Vice President seems to maintain that the First Amendment applies differently to NBC from what it does to The New York Times, because NBC's audience is bigger and because television has more impact. That the First Amendment is quantitative in its applicability is a chilling innovation from a responsible officer of the government. By this standard, the Times is less entitled to the protection of the Bill of Rights than the Des Moines Register, with a third of its circulation, and twice as entitled to it as the New York Daily News, which has double the Times' circulation. As for the impact of the television medium, it may be true that combined picture and voice give television a special force. On the other hand, print can be reread, it can be lingered over, it can be spread around, it can be consulted over and over again. Should, on the grounds of these advantages over television, the print media have less freedom?

The Vice President asked how many "marches and demonstrations" there would be if there were no television cameras. An elementary textbook in American history might prove instructive. There was no television to record the demonstrations against slavery; demonstrations against the Mexican War; demonstrations against the Civil War draft; demonstrations for women's suffrage; demonstrations for Prohibition; demonstrations for the League of Nations; demonstrations against child labor; demonstrations for economic justice. That there would be no disturbing news except for television is a canard as dangerous as it is egregious.

Now let us turn to the crucial issue raised by the Vice President.

Despite his complaints about how and what we report, the Vice President protested that he was not advocating censorship. He found it necessary, a week later, to repeat his protest three times in one paragraph. It is far more shocking to me that the utterances of the second-ranking official of the United States government require such repeated assurances that he had in mind no violation of the Constitution than it is comforting to have them at all. Of course, neither he nor any of his associates are advocating censorship—which would never survive judicial scrutiny. But it does not take overt censorship to cripple the free flow of ideas. Was the Vice President's reference to television's being "sanctioned and licensed by government" accidental and devoid of any point or meaning? Was his suggestion that "it is time that the networks were made [emphasis added] more responsive to the views of the nation" merely sloppy semantics and devoid of any notion of coercion?

Perhaps the Vice President, in his November 20 follow-up speech, was not referring to government action, but only to a dialogue among citizens when he said, "When they [network commentators and some gentlemen of The New York Times] go beyond fair comment and criticism they will be called upon to defend their statements and their positions just as we must defend ours. And when their criticism becomes excessive or unjust, we shall invite them down from their ivory towers to enjoy the rough and tumble of public debate." Who, in those sentences, will do the calling of these men to defend themselves, and before whom? Who is the "we" who shall do the inviting? And by whose standards will the limits of "fair comment" and "just criticism" be judged and who shall be the judges?

The ominous character of the Vice President's attack derives directly from the fact that it is made upon the journalism of a medium licensed by the government of which he is a high-ranking officer. This is a new relationship in government-press relations. From George Washington on, every Administration has had disputes with the press, but the First Amendment assured the press that such disputes were between equals, with the press beyond the reach of the government. This all-important fact of the licensing power of life and death over the broadcast press brings an implicit threat to a government official's attacks on it, whether or not that is the intention and whether or not the official says he is speaking only as an individual.

But the Vice President does not seem to have been walking a lonely path in the direction of suppression and harassment:

Herbert G. Klein, the Administration's Director of Communications, revealed that, on November 4, the day after the President's speech, calls from White House offices went out to broadcast stations asking whether editorials were planned and, in Mr. Klein's words, "to ask them what they would say in their editorial comment."

In Washington, D. C., television stations were called by a member of the Subversive Activities Control Board, Paul O'Neill, requesting logs of news coverage devoted to support of and in opposition to the Administration's Vietnam policy. His wife, a Dade County official of the Republican Party, who specified her husband's official position, made the same request of Miami, Florida stations.

On November 4, the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, in unprecedented calls to the presidents of the three broadcasting companies with national television networks, requested transcripts of the remarks of their reporters and others who had commented on the speech, saying there had been complaints, the source of which he failed to specify—although two weeks later on sober second thought, he seemed to reverse himself when he signed a letter adopted by the full Commission finding that the comments made on the networks after the speech in no way violated its doctrine of fairness.

A special counsel to the President, Clark R. Mollenhoff, said that the speech "was developed by various White House aides," adding "if you are asking me, 'does it reflect the Administration's views,' the evidence is abundant that it does." The President's press secretary, Ronald Ziegler, agreed that a White House special assistant, Patrick J. Buchanan, "very well could have contributed some thoughts to the speech."

Mr. Klein, on November 16, said, "I think that any time any industry—and I include newspapers very thoroughly in this, as well as the networks—if you look at the problems you have today and you fail to continue to examine them, you do invite the government to come in."

In my judgment, the whole tone, the whole content and the whole pattern of this government intrusion into the substance and methods of the broadcast press, and indeed of all journalism, have the gravest implications. Because a Federally-licensed medium is involved, no more serious episode has occurred in government-press relationships since the dark days in the fumbling infancy of this republic when the ill-fated Alien and Sedition Acts forbade criticism of the government and its policies on pain of exile or imprisonment.

In the context of this intimidation, self-serving disavowals of censorship, no matter how often repeated, are meaningless. Reprisals no less damaging to the media and no less dangerous to our fundamental freedoms than censorship are readily available to the government—economic, legal and psychological. Nor is their actual employment necessary to achieve their ends; to have them dangling like swords over the media can do harm even more irreparable than overt action. If these threats implicit in the developments of the past week are not openly recognized, unequivocally denounced and firmly resisted, freedom of communications in this country will suffer a setback that will not be limited to checking the freedom of television or to barring critical comment on government policy. It will precipitate an erosion that will inevitably destroy the most powerful safeguard of a free society—free, unhampered and unharassed news media.

This does not have to be the resolute intention of any person or group, any party or government. We can wander unintentionally—all of us—into a lethal trap if we let our dissatisfaction with the handling of specific issues, which are variable, and of events, which are transitory, compromise our adherence to basic principles, which are constant. No permanent freedom was ever wisely exchanged for temporary popularity, for the popularity can be gone with changing political or social cycles and the freedom can be regained, if ever, only at fearful cost. And this is a truth that should be remembered by those who demand that our freedoms be preserved only when they agree with us, but who have been eager to restrict them whenever they disagree with us. You cannot side with restrictions or with bullying or with recriminations when they support your views and then oppose them when they differ, for they will rise up and haunt you long after your cause is lost or won.

The issue here is simple. Dwight D. Eisenhower said, "I believe the United States is strong enough to expose to the world its differing viewpoints. . . ." His successor, John F. Kennedy, said, "The men who create power make an indispensable contribution to the nation's greatness, but the men who question power make a contribution just as indispensable."

Criticism is an essential ingredient in that mix. It is central, not tangential, to a free society. It is always a free society's strength and often its salvation. Television itself is not and should not be immune to such criticism. As a matter of fact, it is the most criticized medium in the history of communications. Newspapers, magazines, academic groups, learned societies—who wouldn't dream of criticizing each other—criticize us every single day. Everyone has free access to what we do, and everyone sees us do it. We are not unaccountable. We are not clandestine. We have no end product that is not seen and judged by everyone. But such open criticism is a far cry from sharp reminders from high official quarters that we are licensed or that if we don't examine ourselves, we in common with other media "invite" the government to move in.

The troubled pages of this country's history are writ dark with the death of liberty in those nations where the first fatal symptom of political decay was an effort to control the news media. Seldom has it been called censorship. Seldom is the word used except in denials. Always it has been "guidelines" in the name of national unity. And we might well ponder the fate of the unhappy roll of nations that had no regard for their freedoms or took them for granted or held them lightly.

As we meet here, 39 nations in the world have a controlled press or a press that wavers uncertainly between control and freedom. This melancholy statistic might well be borne in mind by those of our own countrymen who, as the Vice President descends upon one part of the country to attack the journalists of another part, are moved by their temporary irritations to applaud their own ensnarement. In his speech of November 13, the Vice President turned to Learned Hand to support a proposition that would have been total anathema to the great judge. Let me, in conclusion, invoke Hand in more revealing words:

"Our democracy rests upon the assumption that, set free, the common man can manage his own fate; that errors will cancel each other by open discussion; that the interests of each when unguided from above, will not diverge too radically from the interests of all. . . ."

I appreciate having had this opportunity to speak to you today in what all thoughtful people must regard as a critical period in the life of a free society and of the free communications without which it cannot exist.

November 17, 2018

1969. ABC News Correspondents React to Nixon's "Silent Majority" Speech

Analyzing Nixon's Speech on Vietnam
President Richard Nixon speaks about the Vietnam War on November 3, 1969 (source)
President Nixon's silent majority speech on the war in Vietnam was televised live on November 3, 1969. After the speech, the three major networks brought on their news correspondents to react. Frank Reynolds anchored the ABC News broadcast, which featured reporters Bob Clark, Bill Downs, Tom Jarriel, Bill Lawrence, John Scali, and Howard K. Smith. Former New York Governor Averell Harriman was also featured.

Vice President Agnew slammed the coverage, singling out comments made by Lawrence and Downs. He also complained of Marvin Kalb's analysis on CBS News.

The text below is adapted from here.
ABC News

November 3, 1969

FRANK REYNOLDS: The President has now concluded his speech. His second major speech of his Presidency, devoted to this single topic, the war in Vietnam. The President reviewed American involvement in the war and the efforts he has made since last January, his Inauguration, to bring the war to an end.

As expected, Mr. Nixon rejected unilateral immediate withdrawal, and he reiterated his willingness to negotiate an end to the war. He fixed the blame for prolonging the war squarely with the North Vietnamese.

None of this, of course, came as a surprise, but it must also be noted that the President, who said before the Moratorium on October 15 that he would not be influenced by it, has said just about the same thing tonight. There was in his speech no new initiative, no new proposal, no announcement of any more troop withdrawals and, in short, Mr. Nixon has taken a hard line, not only against the North Vietnamese but also against those in this country who oppose his policy. And he made an open appeal to the silent majority of Americans whom he no doubt feels are in the majority to support his policy.

With us in our studio tonight to examine Mr. Nixon's speech, we have as our guest the Honorable W. Averell Harriman, former Governor of New York, former ambassador, former Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs and, of course, during the Johnson Administration our chief negotiator at the Paris peace talks.

Ambassador Harriman will be interviewed a few moments from now by ABC State Department Correspondent John Scali. We shall also hear from our White House Correspondent Tom Jarriel, and I'll be joined in a discussion by my colleagues Bill Lawrence, our National Affairs Editor; Bob Clark, our Capitol Hill Correspondent; and Bill Downs, our Pentagon expert, all of whom will give us their views of anticipated reaction from their special areas. And I'll call on my colleague on the ABC Evening News, Howard K. Smith, for an analysis and comment. So, we'll have more, much more on President Nixon's speech to the nation tonight on the war in Vietnam right after this pause for station identification.

Back in our studios in Washington, we propose to spend the next 25 minutes or so in a discussion of President Nixon's speech to the nation tonight on the war in Vietnam and his hope for bringing it to an early end.

I want to call first on our White House Correspondent Tom Jarriel, who has tried to keep track of the President's preparation of his speech, and Tom, I'd like to ask you—we've all had a chance now, not only to hear the President's speech but to read it just before he went on—did Mr. Nixon hope to mute the voices of dissent in this country? Or was his primary goal, really, to rally the silent majority to his side?

TOM JARRIEL: Frank, I don't think there's any question at all about it that his speech tonight was to the silent majority. He feels that these are the people who elected him and these are the people who, tonight, he was reporting to. And his remarks were directed certainly to them and not to those who are the so-called peace groups in the country, or those who are opposed to his Administration.

Tonight, perhaps, he has given the silent majority in the country a brief history lesson in Vietnam, explaining how we got there. He has restated his determination to continue exactly where we are and firmed that determination up, and he projected a certain degree of optimism over it.

He also feels tonight that he has perhaps better armed the silent majority with more information about Vietnam. Given them some moral leadership against the opposing forces in the country who are opposing his course in Vietnam.

He has of course offered no quick solutions, pulled no rabbits from hats, and those who were looking for that certainly would be disappointed. The President tonight has perhaps polarized the attitude in the country more than it has been into groups who are either for him or who are against him.

REYNOLDS: He's confident, no doubt, that those who are for him will perhaps not be quite so silent in the near future. Tom, why, since there was really nothing new, nothing substantively new in his speech, why the big buildup for it? Why were we told 21 days ago that this speech was going to be given at this time tonight?

JARRIEL: It's certainly a very good question, and I still haven't seen the answer from the White House. They say that the President periodically wants to report to the people on the situation in Vietnam. They state that this speech was scheduled long before the October 15 Moratorium and it is a routinely scheduled affair, not having anything to do with tomorrow's [November 4] election.

Certainly he did feel, I'm sure, that the time had come to restate his position, and we were warned repeatedly against speculation at the White House against going out on a limb saying that there might be massive troop withdrawals or perhaps a standstill ceasefire, and tonight after seeing the speech we certainly know why we were warned against speculation.

REYNOLDS: The warnings against speculations, however, did not, I suggest, dampen the expectations of a great many people who did possibly anticipate something tonight.

Thank you, Tom. One of the men most qualified, certainly the most qualified, to speculate on North Vietnam's reaction to the speech is Governor Harriman. For some nine months, of course, he was our chief negotiator in Paris, face to face with the North Vietnamese across the conference table. He is now here in Washington face to face with our State Department Correspondent John Scali.

JOHN SCALI: Governor, could you tell us what is your immediate reaction to Mr. Nixon's address?

AVERELL HARRIMAN: Well, John, I'm sure you know that I wouldn't be presumptuous to give a complete analysis of a carefully thought-out speech of the President of the United States. I'm sure he wants to end this war, and no one wishes him well more than I do. But since I'm here I've got to answer your questions.

He approaches the subject quite differently from the manner in which I approached it. Let me first say, though, that I'm utterly opposed to these people that are talking about cutting and running; I'm against the Senator from New York's proposal—Senator Goodell—to get out our troops in a year, willy-nilly.

I think we should have a responsible withdrawal. But my emphasis has been, and I think it should be, on winning the peaceful contest that will come after the fighting stops.

The first thing we must do is to do everything we can to end the fighting, and I think that we could have made more progress in that direction. As far as winning the peaceful contest, we've got to look at who this government is—President Thieu. He is not representative of the people, in my opinion, from all that I've heard today.

You've probably noticed that probably the most popular man in South Vietnam, General Big Minh, proposed that there be a national convention and consider the future. He didn't define what it should be but it should combine what I've been saying, all of the non-Communist groups. These are very small groups that are in the government. We've been talking to them for two years about expanding his base, and he's contracted it this last time he was there. There was nothing said in this speech about that, which to me, is the all important question.

I don't think we can be successful in Vietnamizing the war, because I don't think they can carry the weight. People should consider that. We can reduce our forces, there's no doubt. We can take down a couple of hundred thousand troops, but we will have to leave probably for many years a very large force. If we attempt to reduce the fighting earnestly—reduce the fighting—we can possibly get the South Vietnamese to expand the base of their government and, to bring together, rally all of the non-Communist forces.

SCALI: President Nixon, Governor, says nothing at all about the advisability of some kind of ceasefire. Do you favor this as a step?

HARRIMAN: Well, I've said that I thought that we ought to have taken up early in November—you know the trouble also was—something he leaves out—was that we expected President Thieu to have his representative in Paris on November 2. And then progress would have been made.

The North Vietnamese had disengaged in the northern two provinces where the toughest fighting had been. Ninety percent of their troops were taken out. Half of those are gone; 200 miles north of the DMZ. And we never had a chance to talk about it.

They have stated, of course, that the February and March offensives were counter-offensives to our pressures. Now whether that's true, whether it isn't, one can judge, but they did give us to understand that if we wanted to accept the status quo then that we could make progress. If we tried to improve our position militarily then there would be—go on and talk.

Now even after this table question was settled, which I thought was a stall so as to—appeared to wait until President Nixon was in—maybe I was wrong. President Thieu said he wouldn't sit down privately.

We had to arrange for the four to sit down privately—

Now all these things have been left out, and I think they should be very carefully debated by the Congress. Particularly by the Foreign Relations Committee, and take a look at where we're going.

SCALI: But you think one of the prompt steps should be to initiate a ceasefire—to propose a ceasefire?

HARRIMAN: No, I think the first thing we should do is to begin to work right away to freeze the reduction in the fighting. To announce that we're going to keep this fighting down, insist that the South Vietnamese do the same, and demand the same thing on the other side. Now that—

SCALI: —ceasefire—

HARRIMAN: Working towards a ceasefire, right. If that is what the President proposes, I would certainly support it.

SCALI: Do you agree, Mr. Ambassador, that there would be a blood bath in South Vietnam if the North Vietnamese were to take over?

HARRIMAN: Well, you know, I may be entirely wrong, but I don't think, from the talks we had, that the North Vietnamese or their colleagues the VC want to have a military takeover. They want to see a settlement. I think they assume that over a period of years they could win out, but I'm sure they'd agree to having the South independent from the North for five or 10 years. They've already proposed that it not be what they call a Communist society—

SCALI: But do you see a reign of terror there?

HARRIMAN: Well, there might well be a reign of terror if there was a complete pullout. But there's no need for a ceasefire if we sit down with these people and try to work out the details.

Now the President gives us some inkling that he's had private talks. I've found that the North Vietnamese representative is a very responsible man, a member of the Politburo. And I would have liked to have seen some talks with him. Exploring with him, before we make proposals what proposition they have to make to us. I think we could have gotten more out of that than our making formal proposals.

Now these things—perhaps I'm wrong, but this is my first reaction: that we ought to give more thought to whom we're supporting, whom President Thieu represents, how much political influence he has in the country, and how we could win the political contest which is going to come after the fighting stops.

SCALI: Governor, you've had a distinguished career as a politician here in the United States. You were Governor of New York. So I don't hesitate to ask you a question of this kind. Do you think that the silent majority in this United States will rally behind the President as a result of his speech?

HARRIMAN: I don't know whether it's a silent majority or not, or silent minority, I just don't know.

You can pick any poll you want; 67 percent was for the Goodell resolution, according to one poll. There's another poll that shows that 64 percent of the people want to see the government in Saigon changed. There are other polls which show that the President has the support of the people. I think he's got the full support of the people.

He's certainly got my support in hoping that he will develop a program for peace. But I think that we've gone so far in Vietnam that this has to be discussed. It cannot be accepted without a lot more explanation, and it seems to me the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would be a very fine place for that discussion.

SCALI: I gather, then, Governor, you were somewhat disappointed in the President's approach.

HARRIMAN: Well, I wouldn't say I was disappointed. I was not surprised. This is about what I thought he would say from the position that he'd previously taken, and he's followed the advice of many people who believe this, many people who advised President Johnson, which wasn't successful, and I'm not sure that this advice will be successful in the future.

We heard this evening saying the war was being won now, anyone who is a neutralist is stupid. Now, has the President abandoned his end of the military—or he ruled out May 14—military solution—

SCALI: Well, Governor—

HARRIMAN: There are so many things we'd like to know about this, but I want to end by saying I wish the President well. I hope he can lead us to peace. But this is not the whole story that we've heard tonight.

SCALI: Governor Harriman, thank you very much. Frank?

REYNOLDS: Thank you, Governor, and thank you, John. Now I want to turn to some of my colleagues who are here with me. Bill Lawrence, our National Affairs Editor; Bob Clark, our Capitol Hill Correspondent; and Pentagon Correspondent Bill Downs.

Bill [Lawrence], it's your job to take the temperature of the country. Tell me, how's the country going to react to this speech?

BILL LAWRENCE: Well, Frank, it is fair to talk about this politically because Mr. Nixon was out on the stump in New Jersey last week, inviting people to listen in. Politically I'm not sure why he did it because there was nothing new in it politically, and its impact will be on those who are moved by words if not by deeds.

His appeal was not to the youth who've been raising trouble but rather to the silent majority, if they are a majority, who presumably have been with him all along. But there wasn't a thing new in this speech that would influence anybody to vote tomorrow or six months from now in a different way than his mood was set.

Now the Democrats engaged in a little one-up-manship on this speech, after the White House announced it three weeks ago. They started very vigorously to build up hope about what this speech might contain in the way of some new move towards substantively ending the war sooner. They talked about a ceasefire, they talked about greater reductions in troops. Nothing happened.

REYNOLDS: You think they were mousetrapping him?

LAWRENCE: I think that was their purpose perhaps, and I think to that extent this speech certainly did not meet the expectations of those who turned on their television or radio sets and expected to learn some big new move in Vietnam, because it just wasn't there.

REYNOLDS: Bob Clark, I have the impression that the ceasefire that's been observed on Capitol Hill of late might well be shattered as a result of the President's speech tonight, because he did not announce any major change in his policy. Do you agree?

BOB CLARK: Well, I would be very much surprised if it didn't shatter resoundingly tomorrow, Frank. I think at the very least tonight too, the President passed a flaming torch to Senator Fulbright, who can be expected to go galloping off with it with new hearings on Vietnam before the Foreign Relations Committee.

Those hearings, of course, were announced for last month and were postponed by Senator Fulbright to give the President a chance to make his speech tonight. Obviously now they will be rescheduled, and they are designed as specific hearings on specific proposals for bringing the war to an end and—on the Goodell proposal, among others—to get American troops out by a specified date.

So it's very clear tonight that the gauntlet will be flung down to the President at those new hearings before the Foreign Relations Committee.

REYNOLDS: Well, there seemed to be a note of—you might call it combativeness—in the President's speech tonight too. Calling on the silent majority to rally round the flag and stand with him.

CLARK: Well, I think undoubtedly, Frank, that is true but there will be plenty of takers on the Hill and you'll hear them tomorrow morning. Not only from what we might call the militant doves, the ones who have been in the forefront for years with efforts to end the war, across the country. This cuts across party lines—many who have been moderates on the Vietnam war in the past who now feel more and more urgently about the need to set a termination date on the war. That, of course, is what the President failed tonight to do.

REYNOLDS: Well, Bill Downs, you cover the Pentagon. What do you think the reaction there is? They probably are not too unhappy about this speech tonight.

BILL DOWNS: No, I think that the Pentagon has come off pretty good. If there's been any wonder about the influence of Secretary of Defense Laird in the Administration and whether the State Department or Dr. Kissinger or who else is shaping the President's thoughts, why I think Mr. Laird comes out pretty well.

I think the sort of key—from the Pentagon viewpoint—the key statement was that our defeat or humiliation in South Vietnam would provoke recklessness among the great powers who have not yet abandoned their goals of world conquest.

Now, this is the Joint Chiefs of Staff's argument, the Pentagon line, if you will, that in a world of nations in a state of international anarchy, military power is the only answer to our security and to our freedom and the way we want to shape this world. It is not really the domino theory all over again, but it reminds me of what Dean Rusk used to talk about. The credibility of the American commitment. It must be honored.

CLARK: This is strictly Rusk policy, the way I see it. McNamara policy. Although they won't like that on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It does one thing, it allays any fears that people might have had around the world that the Nixon Administration might be heading us for a neutral or isolation course, but it's certainly not in this speech.

REYNOLDS: Bill Lawrence, I want to put this to you. Mr. Nixon is an extremely skillful politician. I don't think there's any doubt about that. Do you believe that there is possibly a full appreciation in the White House now of the depth of the discontent in the country, or of the disenchantment with the war, the weariness, really, of the war?

LAWRENCE: Well, Frank, I don't know whether understanding is the right word. I don't believe the White House believes that there is deep discontent. I'm not, you know, really sure, despite Mr. Nixon's victory for the Presidency last time, that he is so big a politician as you suggest.

REYNOLDS: Well, he's come a long way—

LAWRENCE: Well, true—but he hasn't followed up. He hasn't used the powers of the Presidency. A good politician would have taken the momentum of the election and Inauguration and come forward with a program of some kind. He wouldn't be explaining Vietnam now. You would have done that in February. He had all this time to think—

DOWNS: Bill, in fairness to the President, would you say that he said what he did tonight because there simply is no program that he would not regard as a cut-and-run program? That, then, is his basic dilemma?

LAWRENCE: Yes, but in his campaign he said he had a plan that would end the war and win the peace. He said that again tonight. I still don't know where it is.

REYNOLDS: Could I interrupt both you gentlemen? I have to agree with Bill. I think Mr. Nixon's a consummate politician. I think that around Christmastime he's going to announce a withdrawal of possibly more than 40,000 to 50,000 in a cut, and I think that Vice President Ky, whose crystal ball has been pretty good, said that by the end of 1970 there would be 180,000 Americans out of Vietnam. I think that if you're building for the 1970 election you don't blow your game all in one speech, and I—

LAWRENCE: The President . . . playing that game.

REYNOLDS: Yes, and we must also recognize that this speech tonight is given just 10 days before another great big demonstration that will be all over this town, you know. Apparently Mr. Nixon has decided not to be influenced by that. It may well be that he feels there is more political advantage in giving the back of his hand to the demonstrators and standing up there as the embattled President holding firm against the onslaught of public opinion.

CLARK: Frank, I would think that one immediate spinoff from the President's speech tonight is that you can now expect substantially more Congressional participation in that November 15 Moratorium. Many members of Congress who've been reluctant to involve themselves in what is shaping up as a more violent demonstration or a demonstration that may produce some serious violence will now feel obligated just to reply to the President.

REYNOLDS: Well, thank you very much, gentlemen. History of course will give us, I suppose, the proper perspective with which to view Mr. Nixon's speech tonight.

Earlier this evening on the ABC Evening News, Howard K. Smith referred to it as a battle. A battle for public opinion. Well, Howard, how do you think the President fought the battle tonight?

HOWARD K. SMITH: Frank, you're talking about history. The most impressive thought that came to me from this speech was how much alike all Presidents who have had to deal with Vietnam have thought about it.

I was looking through President Truman's memoirs today, and I ran across a prediction by him that if Indo-China, which Vietnam is part of, were to fall, other countries would soon follow, and therefore he was not willing to see it fall.

Truman and Eisenhower, who disagreed on many things, joined together to sponsor a citizens' committee supporting President Johnson's intervention in Vietnam.

And I recall a news conference in March, before his death, when President Kennedy was asked a question about it and he said if the Communists took South Vietnam their writ would soon run all the way to India and, who knows, perhaps all the way to the Middle East. So, he said, I can't agree to it.

Up until now Mr. Nixon has not endorsed the action of his predecessor, and even tonight he disagreed with his tactics and the way it's been handled, but he did endorse the general goal of not yielding to the opposing side and seemed even unperturbed at the thought, which he mentioned himself, that people are now calling Johnson's war Nixon's war.

I think for the first time I have a strong impression which I didn't have a couple of weeks ago when the senators who had criticized him had begun to support him. I for the first time have the impression he's not going to be hustled or yield to anything but a negotiated settlement involving free elections which probably the Communists couldn't win.

I guess that by his speech tonight he's let himself in for some very rough handling in that next Moratorium demonstration that's coming. I would guess with Bob Clark that a topic grown dormant will now come aflame in Senator Fulbright's committee, and possibly on the floor of the Senate.

He got his message across to the people he's counting on, called the silent majority. But what matters is whether he got his point across to Hanoi. That there will be no surrender in any guise and that they will have to negotiate. And as has been so often said tonight, we'll just have to wait and see.

REYNOLDS: Thank you, Howard, and thank you all, gentlemen. The President said tonight—I think perhaps this certainly expresses his view with respect to the Moratorium upcoming and the past demonstrations—if a vocal minority, however fervent its cause, prevails over reason and the will of the majority, this nation has no future as a free society.

That apparently is the guide that is going to guide the President as he tries to end this war and also deal with the dissent at home.

This is Frank Reynolds in Washington. Good night.

November 16, 2018

1969. CBS News Correspondents React to Nixon's "Silent Majority" Speech

Nixon Addresses the Nation on the War in Vietnam
President Richard Nixon delivers a live address from the Oval Office on November 3, 1969 (source)
This text is adapted from a transcript of the CBS News broadcast which aired following President Nixon's address to the nation on November 3, 1969. It features Dan Rather, Marvin Kalb, and Eric Sevareid. Later, Vice President Agnew would single out Kalb's analysis as well as commentary by Bill Downs and Bill Lawrence on ABC News, dismissing it as "instant analysis and querulous criticism."
CBS News

November 3, 1969

DAN RATHER: The President of the United States has just addressed the nation live, direct from the White House. These appeared to be the major points of his approximately 32-minute address:

President Nixon said he has adopted a plan for withdrawing all United States ground troops from Vietnam; however, he said he would not, could not, commit himself to a fixed timetable for troop reductions. President Nixon said his secret plan for complete withdrawal has been worked out in conjunction with the Saigon government. He made no mention of any further troop withdrawals after the current pull-out of 60,000 men by December 15.

He flatly rejected demands that he should end the war at once by ordering an immediate and complete withdrawal. The President listed several heretofore secret attempts at peace. He said he had tried, since being elected President, including one personal letter to Ho Chi Minh, a letter which President Nixon said was answered only three days before Ho's death, and the answer was, in the President’s opinion, discouraging.

Those are the highlights. Next, an effort to put those highlights in perspective. A brief CBS News examination of the President's speech.

With me in our CBS studios are my colleagues CBS Diplomatic Correspondent Marvin Kalb and our National Correspondent Eric Sevareid.

Marvin Kalb, in your judgment, and let's preface this by saying, as always, this is a difficult bit of guess-work to immediately follow a Presidential address—what in your judgment is going to be the reaction in this country to the President's speech and, after dealing with that, then overseas?

MARVIN KALB: Well, first, Dan, I'm not sure, but it seemed to me first that the speech cut no new ground. It seemed a soft-spoken straight-in-the-eye restatement of policy that clearly is not aimed at that group of Americans dubbed by Vice President Agnew as "an effete corps of impudent snobs."

Rather it was aimed, as the President put it, at you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans. Presumably those who do not demonstrate; those who want an honorable end to the war but have difficulty defining what an honorable end is and are willing to trust the President to get it.

Those who are not so willing will point to the absence of a new announcement on troop withdrawals or a definite timetable for the total withdrawal of U.S. forces and they may disagree with the President's judgment that the Ho Chi Minh letter was a flat rejection of his own letter. The Ho Chi Minh letter contained, it seems, some of the softest, most accommodating language found in a Communist document concerning the war in Vietnam in recent years.

The President's policy is best summed up in one of his phrases—a negotiated settlement, presumably in Paris, if possible; Vietnamization if necessary. Tonight a White House source issued what seemed like a veiled threat to change the character of the Paris talks, perhaps even to break them up, if the Communists, he said, continue to refuse to negotiate seriously.

RATHER: Eric Sevareid, this speech was widely anticipated to be something of a watershed for the Nixon Administration. What is your gut reaction to it?

ERIC SEVAREID: Well, Dan, this, it seems to me, is an appeal to the American people for unity and for support of their President, done in a low-keyed but very fervent manner. As you've said, or Marvin said, nothing of a substantial nature or dramatic nature that is new; he is standing his ground; he is offering no ceasefire, no public fixed timetable for withdrawal, no announcement of a new contingent of troop withdrawals. He is asking for trust to let him have flexibility and a free hand.

I would think that on its face this speech would not draw the fangs of some of the leading critics, particularly here in the capital, some like Senator Fulbright and others, who were ready, if there was something given them of a definite nature in this speech, to cease their criticism and to support the President. I would doubt now that they would do anything but keep on with the attack.

It may give a little more strength to that demonstration scheduled for the middle of the month. But I can't escape the feeling—and it's only a feeling—that this is not all we're going to get this fall. That there may well be an announcement of a quite sizable troop withdrawal and fairly soon, possibly before these mid-November demonstrations. I have no evidence for this at all except the feeling that it cannot rest where he has left it.

I think it indicates that he believes the majority of opinion in this country is still riding with him, and

that he does have more time. And I would think that if there is to be another announcement of a troop withdrawal with numbers, that that may tell us a good deal more about the time scale in which he is thinking, the magnitudes of his thought about winding down the war.

Philosophically, where this war is concerned he doesn't seem to be any different from Mr. Johnson or Secretary Rusk. He adopts the notion that on a worldwide basis freedom is indivisible, the notion that an American pullout would collapse confidence in American leadership all over the world. It's the test-case idea that failure there would set Communists into action in many other areas, even in the Western Hemisphere, he says.

This, of course, is hotly debated by philosophers of foreign policy, and has been for a long time. And one would think if all that were true, if this war and our presence there was of this cosmic and universal importance then the war should be won.

But he has said it is not to be—a military victory is not to be sought. And in that, it seems to me, there lies a profound illogic; that it's over the dam, he is trying to get us out.

RATHER: Eric, in your judgment is the President going to win this gamble that he can hold a majority of American public opinion behind him for this policy of winding down the war slowly, deliberately, orderly, and, as he sees it, honorably?

SEVAREID: I personally hope he can. I don't know that he can. I think this speech would have been effective last spring, but it's late in the day; and this is why I think something else is going to come and very soon. I do not believe it can rest here. But this is only my horseback opinion of one man. And I could be wrong.

RATHER: Marvin Kalb, a horseback opinion of one man on what the effect is going to be on the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong?

KALB: Well, it seems to me that what they could say, and they may not be too far off base in this kind of judgment, is that the President has not given them anything terribly new to chew on; but I don't really feel that the President was talking to them.

As he pointed out, he was talking very much to the great, silent majority of the American people, and the North Vietnamese haven't been given anything, really, in this speech to chew on, not at all. It seems to me, if anything, it's going to be somewhat negative in terms of the President's judgment of the Ho Chi Minh letter. Ho Chi Minh is now dead; he is a god in North Vietnam at least, and certainly has good deal of strength elsewhere in the Communist world.

The President defines this [Ho's letter] as a flat rejection, and yet you have a number of statements in here which suggest considerable flexibility in negotiating posture. This may not yet be apparent in Paris, but it certainly is there in the language of this Ho Chi Minh letter.

RATHER: Gentlemen, we're running short on time, but very briefly, do you see this speech as an indication that President Nixon and those around him still feel that the war is winnable in the sense that we can keep from losing? Do you agree, Eric?

SEVAREID: Yes, I think that's what he's trying to do, to keep from an outright open humiliating loss.

RATHER: Marvin?

KALB: Very much. I agree with that completely. He apparently feels the great effect that this might have on domestic life in this country; and he fears that almost as much as he does the implications abroad.

RATHER: It may be, then, that the pertinent section of this speech was when the President said: "Let us understand North Vietnam cannot humiliate or defeat the United States, only Americans can do that." Gentlemen, thank you very much. Good night.