Dr. Frank Stanton, 98, former president of CBS who teamed with founder William Paley to build CBS into the "Tiffany network," died at his home in Boston Sunday, according to the network.
Stanton, the longest-serving CBS president at 25 years, fought for broadcaster's First Amendment rights in Washington--for freedoms equal to those of the print press, and for broadcasters' ability to keep their own house in order without strong government regulation. He cracked down on quiz programs after the cheating scandals of the late 1950s, and most notably risking jail for refusing to hand over outtakes from CBS' Selling of the Pentagon documentary. Congress eventually backed down.
In June 1971, Stanton told a House Investigations Subcommittee that he had "a duty to uphold the the freedom of the broadcast press against congressional abridgment." Stanton maintained that the CBS piece had been edited fairly, but refused to provide the outtakes to "prove it" to the committee, arguing of the chilling effect that would have on press freedom.
Under Stanton, CBS News became a powerhouse. "Broadcast journalism thrives today, to a large extent, because Frank Stanton defended our rights under the First Amendment and guided us through the most dangerous crisis this industry ever faced," said Sean McManus, president, CBS News and Sports, in the network's report of his death.
It was Stanton's push for suspending the FCC's equal-time requirement for presidential and vice presidential candidates that paved the way for the four "Great Debates" between Vice President Richard Nixon and Sen. John F. Kennedy," which helped establish TV as a key force in the political life of the nation.
"Like the CBS Eye logo that he unveiled in 1951, Frank Stanton was an American icon, recognized and respected around the world," said CBS President Leslie Moonves.
"Frank Stanton was an outstanding champion of First Amendment press freedom," said former CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather. "He encouraged aggressive, independent reporting, backed it, fought for it, and stood strongly behind his news division and its reporters – especially when the heat was on and controversy swirled.
"Frank Stanton became a prime example of the fact that great journalism begins with owners and operators who have guts and a deep commitment to public service."
Stanton was also a pioneer in radio ratings. His doctoral thesis in psychology was on the topic, and he is credited with helping develop the first automatic recording device for accurately determining radio set use.
B&C said of him in a report on CBS' 50th anniversary in 1977 that if William Paley was the network's brawn and showmanship, Stanton was its brains, grace and organizational stylist, from the creation of stationery to the Eero Saarinen-designed Black Rock headquarters at West 52nd St. in New York.
He also had a penchant for long hours and hard work, often the calling cards of former researchers, and of writing notes to executives about what they should or shouldn't have done, "letting us know he was on top of everything," recalled one executive at Stanton's retirement in 1973.
Stanton was born in Muskegon, Mich., March 20, 1908. He was said to have been as good a crystal set builder (an early radio) as any kid in Dayton, Ohio, where he then lived in 1922. At Ohio Wesleyan, the pre-med student added radio to his studies.
He joined CBS in the research department, and parlayed that into a broad knowledge of the company and the industry that helped him to the top spot at the company under Chairman William Paley. ""He knew more about any given problem than the people who had come to discuss it with him," a high-ranking CBS executive once said.
Stanton joined CBS in 1935 and was named president in 1946. He was named vice chairman in 1972 and retired in 1973 on March 31, at age 65, having spent 37 years with the company, 27 as chief operating officer.
A Renaissance man as well as industry statesman, his interests ranged from art and architecture to zoology, psychology, mechanics and typography. He once wrote a thesis on "The Influence of Surface and Tint of Paper on the Speed of Reading."
After leaving CBS, he was a trustee, fellow or board member of numerous groups including the Red Cross (chairman), Lincoln Center, the New York Academy of Sciences and the American Psychological Association.
Stanton was a member of B&C's inaugural Hall of Fame class of inductees in 1991.
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