Despite the loss of seats for the GOP in the 1970 congressional elections and the aftermath of the Kent State shootings, the White House viewed President Nixon’s second two years in office as an opportunity for progress in world and domestic issues and for headway in its quest to silence media criticism. In January 1971 in an evening telecast from the White House library, Nixon answered questions from four of the most powerful broadcasters on national television: Eric Severeid of the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), John Chancellor of the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), Howard K. Smith of the American Broadcasting Company (ABC), and Nancy Dickerson of the Public Broadcasting System (PBS). The interview went well for Nixon. The questions were not terribly probing, and the exchange was polite with Nixon looking well versed and in control, leading Americans to think the president’s relationship with the press in general was a good one and leaving the White House inner circle with the feeling that criticism had been adequately contained.
But just a month later, a very different kind of telecast, “The Selling of the Pentagon,” appeared on the screen. On February 23, 1971, CBS aired the documentary, which detailed how taxpayer dollars were being spent to promote the public image of the military. It illustrated how money was spent for air shows, public military maneuvers, and junkets for congressmen. The program was rebroadcast on March 23. At the end of the rebroadcast, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird and Vice President Spiro Agnew were given time to present opposing views. CBS News President Richard S. Salant then responded to their criticism. The White House did not dominate the telecast or the rebroadcast, as had been the case with the January interview. To the contrary, the administration was portrayed as a shill for the military, and suddenly the Nixon image makers were in a panic. “The Selling of the Pentagon” was controversial because it suggested that the military was propagandizing the public at taxpayer