Frank Nicholas Stanton was an American broadcasting executive who served as the president of CBS between 1946 and 1971 and then vice chairman until 1973. He also served as the chairman of the Rand Corporation from 1961 until 1967.
Along with William S. Paley, Stanton is credited with the significant growth of CBS into a communications powerhouse. He was also known for his keen sense of corporate style, that ranged from the standards he espoused as a broadcasting executive, to the design of everything from the company's current headquarters (Black Rock) to corporate stationery.
Stanton was born March 20, 1908 in Muskegon, Michigan to Helen Josephine Schmidt and Frank Cooper Stanton. He attended Stivers School for the Arts then just Stivers High School in Dayton, Ohio. He then attended Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio, receiving a B.A. in 1930. He married his childhood sweetheart, Ruth Stephenson, in 1931. He taught for one year in the manual arts department of a high school in Dayton, and then attended Ohio State University, from where he received his Ph.D. in 1935. He also held a diploma from the American Board of Professional Psychology. His doctoral thesis was entitled A Critique of Present Methods and a New Plan for Studying Radio Listening Behavior; for his research, he invented a device that would make a reliable, automatic record of radio listening. Soon after earning his Ph.D., Stanton became the third employee in the CBS research department. By 1942 he was a vice president of CBS and a fellow of the American Association of Applied Psychology, as well as a member of the American Psychological Association, the American Statistical Association, and the American Marketing Association; he was on the editorial board of the journal Sociometry. During World War II, he consulted for the Office of War Information, the Secretary of War, and the Department of the Navy, while serving as a vice president at CBS. He was selected as the administrator-designate of the Emergency Communications Agency; part of a secret group created by President Eisenhower in 1958 that would serve in the event of a national emergency that became known as the Eisenhower Ten.
Televised presidential debates
Stanton organized the first televised presidential debate in American history. After an eight-year effort, he finally managed to get the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to suspend Section 315 of the Communications Act of 1934 for the election in 1960 to test a televised debate. The reason that Section 315 needed to be suspended was because it stated that equal air time must be given to all the candidates. The first debate was held and televised in the CBS studio in Chicago, with candidates John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. After the debate, Stanton met with Richard J. Daley, the mayor of Chicago, who decided that after seeing the debate he would tell his men to go all out for Kennedy.
The debates, however, ceased after the 1960 election, as Lyndon B. Johnson avoided debating in 1964, and Nixon, widely perceived to have made a poor impression on television viewers in 1960, declined to debate in 1968 and in 1972. Thus televised presidential debates did not resume until 1976, when incumbent president Gerald Ford, perceiving he was behind in the polls, agreed to debate challenger Jimmy Carter.
Broadcast industry visionary
Stanton was revered both as a spokesman for the broadcast industry before Congress, and his passionate support of broadcast journalism and journalists. Former CBS News President Richard S. Salant – widely considered[who?] the greatest-ever chief of a network news division – himself praised Stanton as a corporate mentor and statesman.
While Edward R. Murrow's 1958 speech before the Radio and Television News Directors Association is often praised for its call for a deeper commitment among broadcasters to public service, Stanton in May 1959 (speaking before his graduate alma mater, Ohio State) also voiced his own commitment to public affairs. He promised that the following year, CBS would air a frequent prime-time public-affairs series, a series which later became CBS Reports. A few months later, in an October 1959 speech before the same RTNDA that Murrow had addressed in 1958, Stanton promised there would be no repeat of the program deceptions embodied by the quiz show scandals.
As president of CBS, Stanton's greatest battle with the government occurred in 1971, and focused on just this parallel to print press rights. The controversy surrounded "The Selling of the Pentagon," a CBS Reports documentary, which exposed the huge expenditure of public funds, partly illegal, to promote militarism. The confrontation raised the issue of whether television news programming deserved protection under the First Amendment.
The program came under intense criticism from two men who appeared on the program, from the House of Representatives, other media and some prominent politicians. Daniel Henkins, Undersecretary of Defense for Public Relations, charged that statements from his interview with Roger Mudd about his work had been doctored, as did Col. John MacNeil, who accused CBS of rearranging his comments in a speech he gave about the situation in Southeast Asia. The Investigations Subcommittee of the House Commerce Committee subpoenaed CBS's outtakes to determine whether or not distortion had taken place. Meanwhile, critics at the Washington Post and Time magazine, while not taking issue with the thesis of "Selling" that the Pentagon was engaging in propaganda, objected to the editing techniques employed in its production. The program was also criticized by Vice President Spiro Agnew and Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird.
Against threat of jail, Stanton refused the subpoena from the House Commerce Committee ordering him to provide copies of the outtakes and scripts from the documentary. He claimed that such materials are protected by the freedom of the press guaranteed by the First Amendment. Stanton observed that if such subpoena actions were allowed, there would be a "chilling effect" upon broadcast journalism.
For his efforts in that situation, Stanton was awarded one of three personal Peabody Awards (the others coming in 1959 and 1960). He also shared two other Peabodys that were awarded to CBS as a network.
Stanton led the fight for color television. On June 25, 1951, Stanton appeared on an hour-long special, Premiere, with Robert Alda, Faye Emerson, Ed Sullivan, Arthur Godfrey, William S. Paley and others to introduce the CBS color sequential system of color TV. The CBS system was not compatible with existing black-and-white TV sets, and the FCC ultimately chose the RCA system of broadcasting color TV.
Television business controversies
Also in 1951, Stanton created an office to review the political leanings of CBS employees during the blacklist maintained by the TV networks. Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), the movie portraying this era directed by George Clooney, left Stanton out of the film as a character, partly because Stanton was still living and might have objected to his portrayal.
Stanton played a role in the infamous controversy involving Arthur Godfrey, CBS's top money-earner in the early 1950s. Godfrey insisted that the cast members of two of his three CBS shows, a group of singers known as the "Little Godfreys," refrain from hiring managers. When one, Julius LaRosa, hired a manager following a minor dispute with Godfrey, the star consulted with Stanton, who suggested he release the popular LaRosa, then a rising star, on the air – just as he'd hired him on the air in 1951. On October 19, 1953, Godfrey fired LaRosa on the air, without LaRosa's knowing it was coming. The move caused an enormous backlash against Godfrey. Stanton later told Godfrey biographer Arthur Singer, author of the book Arthur Godfrey: The Adventures of an American Broadcaster, that "Maybe (the recommendation) was a mistake."
When William Golden tried to prepare a new logo a season after the famous "eye symbol" he had drawn became the logo for CBS's television network in 1951, Stanton said, "Just when you're beginning to be bored by what you've done is when it's beginning to be noticed by your audience" and the decision stuck.
Red Cross volunteer and chair
Dr. Stanton served for many years as a Red Cross volunteer, concentrating on public information and fundraising. After retiring from CBS, he was appointed Chairman of the American National Red Cross by United States President Richard M. Nixon in 1973, serving in that capacity until 1979.