[R.I.P.] Frank Stanton (11/24/06) TV Pioneer / Branded CBS as "Tiffany Network"
- Frank Stanton, 98; TV pioneer who helped brand CBS 'Tiffany Network'
By Claudia Luther, Special to The Times
Frank Stanton, a pioneering executive in early television who was a
major force in branding CBS as "the Tiffany Network" while also
defending its news division against 1st Amendment assaults, died
Sunday afternoon at his home in Boston. He was 98.
Stanton, who had lived in Boston for the last eight years, had been
in declining health for some time, according to Elizabeth Allison, a
longtime friend who had been coordinating Stanton's medical care.
In a career at CBS that spanned his early days as a researcher for
the radio division in the 1930s until his retirement as president of
CBS Inc. in 1973, Stanton won five Peabody Awards for distinguished
achievement and public service in broadcasting and made several
lasting contributions to the industry.
He pioneered efforts to analyze audience responses to programming;
instituted such innovations as block programming, bundling similar
programs in blocks of time during the day; led the way in persuading
Congress to suspend the equal-time rule as it applied to presidential
debates, opening the door for today's familiar format of presidential
debates between the leading candidates; and pulled the plug on CBS'
quiz shows after it was found that several of the programs, which
were produced independently of CBS, had manipulated the results.
"Stanton came to be regarded as broadcasting's foremost statesman,
and more than anything else, it was his vigorous and admirable
response to the 1959 quiz-show scandals that elevated him to that
stature," Gary Paul Gates wrote in "Air Time: The Inside Story of CBS
Perhaps most notably, however, Stanton in 1971 risked jail for
contempt of court rather than turn over to a House subcommittee the
outtakes from a controversial CBS production sharply criticizing
Pentagon spending. Stanton avoided jail when the full House refused
to back up the citation.
"Broadcast journalism thrives today, to a large extent, because Frank
Stanton defended our rights under the 1st Amendment . " said Sean
McManus, president of CBS News and Sports, in a statement released by
"If broadcasting had a patron saint, it would be Frank Stanton," said
Don Hewitt, the creator of "60 Minutes." "If CBS is the Tiffany
Network, Frank Stanton deserves a lion's share of the credit."
Stanton worked with William S. Paley the man who, with his father,
had bought a fledgling radio network called Columbia Broadcasting
System in 1928 and turned it into one of the most successful
businesses in broadcasting.
Although Paley was definitely in charge at CBS and was the master of
the strategic picture, Stanton for nearly 30 years was his right-hand
man and carried out the network's day-to-day management.
Together with Paley, Stanton practically invented the idea
of "branding" the network. They oversaw the creation of the
CBS "eye" the William Golden design that is one of the most
effective graphic identities ever developed for a corporation. And
they directed the construction of the company's distinctive corporate
headquarters the Eero Saarinen-designed "Black Rock" in midtown
Stanton also was to a great extent the public image of CBS,
particularly when CBS was under attack for news programs that raised
the ire of politicians in Washington.
"As president of CBS, Frank Stanton stood up for the broadcast press
and resisted government efforts to intimidate it," former CBS
anchorman Walter Cronkite wrote in the foreword to Corydon B.
Dunham's 1997 book about Stanton, "Fighting for the First Amendment."
Richard S. Salant, who was hired by Stanton to be president of CBS
News during the 1960s and '70s, wrote in his 1999 memoir that Stanton
insulated the news division from outside political pressures and did
not interfere with his decisions.
As the years went by, Stanton became almost a more visible symbol of
CBS than Paley. As Sally Bedell Smith wrote in her 1990 biography of
Paley, "In All His Glory," "To much of the outside world, Frank
Stanton, not Bill Paley, was Mr. CBS."
"He was better prepared and more eloquent than his counterparts at
the other networks," Smith wrote of Stanton. "He knew every senator
and congressman. His speech, conduct and look gave CBS a personal
dignity that had little to do with what was appearing on living-room
TV screens. Stanton's contribution to CBS' image was incalculable."
It is probably no surprise, then, that the seemingly all-powerful
Paley began to grate at the attention Stanton was getting.
Even Stanton himself recognized this. Speaking in a 1994 interview
with Arthur Unger for Television Quarterly, Stanton said that Paley
at one point complained to him that his own friends "don't think I
have anything to do around here anymore."
In 1966, Stanton was slated to take over as chief executive from
Paley, who was going to retire at age 65 under the company's
mandatory retirement rule. But, just minutes before a board meeting
at which the changeover was to be announced, Paley decided he could
not relinquish the reins of power of the institution that he had
created almost from scratch.
Stanton was crushed.
According to David Halberstam, writing in "The Powers That Be," his
1979 book on important figures in media, Paley and Stanton
became "like two people locked into a terrible marriage, two people
who need each other, and dislike each other, and need to dislike each
other" and for whom "divorce was unthinkable."
Stanton left CBS in 1973, bitter at being pushed out before he was
ready. Paley continued on, through a series of top executives none
of whom matched Stanton's longevity or public stature. Paley died in
After leaving CBS, Stanton was chairman of the American Red Cross
from 1973 to 1979. He was also an overseer of Harvard University and
a trustee at Rand Corp., serving as chairman of the board of trustees
from 1961 to 1967 and later as an advisory trustee.
Stanton was born March 20, 1908, in Muskegon, Mich., to a high school
manual arts teacher and his wife, a weaver and potter, and grew up in
Dayton, Ohio. Stanton showed pluck and ambition early in life. As a
teenager, he took a job at a local department store and was soon so
indispensable that he was nearly running the place.
The earnings put him through school, first at Ohio Wesleyan
University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1930, and then at
Ohio State University, where he studied psychology and earned a
doctorate in 1935.
He wrote his doctoral thesis on listener response to radio programs,
which led to a $55-per-week research job at CBS.
In 1935, Stanton and his wife, high school sweetheart Ruth
Stephenson, drove to New York in a Model A Ford. And at CBS,
Stanton's propensity to make himself indispensable "burst into full
bloom," Robert Lewis Taylor wrote in a two-part article in the New
Yorker magazine in 1947.
Stanton's mantra was "Let's find out," which reflected his curiosity,
his background in research and his drive to excel.
While at CBS, Stanton also worked with Austrian statistician Paul
Lazarsfeld on a device to measure listener preferences, a precursor
to the Nielsen audience meters.
"What's important is less the machine than its meaning," Randall
Rothenberg and John Taylor wrote in Esquire in December 1996 of the
Stanton-Lazarsfeld "program analyzer." "The alliance between Stanton
and Lazarsfeld marked the first time in the history of modern
communications that theorists, researchers, media executives and
sponsors joined together not only to understand the public but to
On the basis of his research and hard work, Stanton quickly climbed
the ranks at CBS. Within a few years, he was overseeing a staff of
100 whose research was being used to shape audience-friendly
programming and attract sponsors.
In 1946, while still in his 30s, Stanton was Paley's choice to be
president of CBS, and Stanton took his place as the preeminent "boy
wonder" in broadcasting at the time.
A tall, good-looking, meticulously groomed man with blondish hair,
Stanton immediately showed skill, intelligence and drive in running
"He was indefatigable," Salant, the CBS news chief, wrote in his
memoir. "He never seemed to need sleep. His integrity was
uncompromising yet it was gentle. He nursed his associates along and
taught them by osmosis and example, not by forbidding and righteous
moralizing (or demoralizing) lectures."
One of Stanton's first major journalistic tests as a network
executive came in 1954 when the network stood behind the airing of a
controversial segment of Edward R. Murrow's program, "See It Now." In
it, Murrow had pieced together footage of U.S. Senate hearings in
which Sen. Joseph McCarthy intimidated the news media and
entertainment industry in his hunt for communists. Murrow then
methodically rebutted the charges.
Up until then, the media had been fearful of challenging the powerful
Wisconsin Republican, who could just as easily turn his wrath toward
"The program exposed McCarthy by hanging him on his own words through
footage skillfully edited to show the pattern of his demagoguery,"
Smith wrote in "In All His Glory."
After the program aired, CBS allowed the angry McCarthy time for a
The Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago called the two
programs, in retrospect, "among the most important in the history of
"In that blustery performance," the museum stated in its biography of
Stanton, "many observers see the downfall of McCarthyism."
As many have commented since then, however, it was somewhat ironic
that CBS was so instrumental in bringing McCarthyism to an end since
the network had itself imposed a blacklist.
In 1991, when Stanton was given a lifetime achievement award for his
1st Amendment work by the New York chapter of the National Academy of
Television Arts and Sciences, some of those who had been blacklisted
at CBS objected.
Stanton, who was by then in his 80s, did not apologize, but neither
did he defend the network's policy. He told the New York Times that
at the time of the blacklist he "didn't have the wisdom" to resist
the pressure from the head of CBS' law department, who had
recommended a blacklist. Stanton had approved a loyalty oath to
assure advertisers and others that CBS employees' politics were
correct. It was a rare misstep for CBS and Stanton.
In 1971, Stanton and the network fared better from a freedom of the
press standpoint when the network aired the CBS News documentary "The
Selling of the Pentagon," a stinging rebuke of the Pentagon's desire
to burnish its public image to the tune of $30 million. The response
from the Nixon White House and Congress was immediate. Stanton was
called before a House committee for questioning and ordered to
provide to Congress the "outtakes" of the interviews done for the
documentary. Stanton refused.
In his statement to a House subcommittee on June 24, 1971, Stanton
said in part:
"If newsmen are told that their notes, films and tapes will be
subject to compulsory process so that the government can determine
whether news has been satisfactorily edited, the scope, nature and
vigor of their news gathering and reporting will inevitably be
After the subcommittee cited him for contempt, Stanton asked, "Is
this country going to have a free press or is indirect censorship to
be imposed upon it?"
A few weeks later, under heavy lobbying from other television and
print news organizations, the House of Representatives rejected a
proposal to cite CBS for contempt of Congress, sending it back to the
subcommittee on a 226-181 vote. No further action was taken.
Thereafter, Stanton was viewed as a journalistic hero.
During his time at CBS, Stanton became well acquainted with several
presidents, some of whom offered him positions in the government,
which he refused.
In the days following the assassination of President Kennedy, CBS
News offered continual commercial-free coverage of the national
tragedy for four days, which earned plaudits from critics.
Stanton was closest to President Lyndon Johnson, whom he met when he
was still a researcher at CBS and Johnson was a member of Congress.
Sometimes the president would call Stanton at home and berate him for
hours over some CBS news story. Once, upset about a shocking report
by war correspondent Morley Safer on a Marine action in villages in
Vietnam, Johnson called to say, "Frank, this is your president, and
yesterday your boys shat on the American flag."
"He could be very vile," Stanton said. "And then he'd say, 'What are
you doing this weekend? Come on down and spend the weekend with Bird
and me and relax. You're working too hard!' "
Years later, Stanton admitted he was probably "too close" to Johnson.
Stanton and his wife had no children. She died in 1992. He leaves no
According to Allison, Stanton left explicit instructions that there
be no memorial service or suggestions for contributions in his name.
"When he left CBS as their legendary president, he wanted no gifts or
parties," Allison said. "He just picked up his briefcase and went
home. He was not a grandstander."