It’s television’s desecration of David Sarnoff and his quest for truth — epitomized most recently by the Brian Williams cover-up — that is finally getting those of us who value our freedom really pissed off.
Sarnoff and TV History
In 1939 the first television broadcast in history was aired by Radio Corporation of America’s broadcast division: the National Broadcasting Company. It was the first radio “network” in the country and today is more affectionately known as just NBC. Years earlier, Radio Corp’s NBC had split into two networks, the Red and the Blue. The Blue Network, bought by American Broadcast Systems in 1943, eventually morphed into what we know today as ABC television network.
That first TV “program” in 1939 broadcasted the dedication of the RCA Pavilion from the New York World’s Fair, and was hosted by none other than the head of RCA, David Sarnoff. That same year Mr. Sarnoff told a crowd:
Now we add sight to sound.
His words were a powerful understatement of what was to be. He had purposefully orchestrated his words to simplify and summarize the complexity of our common future. This was David Sarnoff at his finest through his intuitive understanding of life and business encapsulated for the masses — a result of what he had learned and fine-tuned from his earlier live radio broadcast days. He went on to say:
It is with a feeling of humbleness that I come to this moment of announcing the birth in this country of a new art so important in its implications that it is bound to affect all society. It is an art which shines like a torch of hope in the troubled world. It is a creative force which we must learn to utilize for the benefit of all mankind. This miracle of engineering skill which one day will bring the world to the home also brings a new American industry to serve man’s material welfare . . . Television will become an important factor in American economic life.
I mention this quote to show the profound understanding Mr. Sarnoff had of the immense power that the medium could and eventually would wield. Which brings me to why I am bothered and why I want to air my concerns to you about the use of technology to support our shared principles. Like most people, I didn’t come by my concerns, thoughts, and opinions lightly but through a long journey; and partly due to my six degrees of separation to David Sarnoff. Actually it is only three degrees.
A few months ago I wrote a column about winning the War on Terrorism in which I suggested a more robust informational war in our national efforts: the same as what David Sarnoff advocated after WWII. An informational war in which we defend who we are, our freedoms and especially the principles of modernity; as Tony Blair has articulated so brilliantly on numerous occasions. To get a better idea as to why I said what I did, I hope you take a moment to click on this link and direct your attention to the last half of that column. I mentioned that we shouldn’t allow those with medieval attitudes and archaic and brutal ways to define who we are; for us or for them.
World War II
At the beginning of WWII, David Sarnoff was asked by General Dwight D. Eisenhower to be a part of his communications staff. Mr. Sarnoff arranged for NBC and others to transmit news from the invasion of France in June 1944. Mr. Sarnoff not only complied beautifully with Eisenhower’s orders, but eventually oversaw the construction of a radio transmitter in Paris powerful enough to reach all of the allied forces in Europe. It was called Radio Free Europe. His wartime efforts resulted in Colonel Sarnoff receiving a Brigadier General‘s star, of which, as a Jewish emigrant from Belarus, he was particularly proud. And for the rest of his life he was referred to by his staff, associates and friends as “General Sarnoff.”
My connection to the “General,” continues with one of his employees. The abridged version is that some of Mr. Sarnoff’s staff at RCA and NBC were able to take off their suits and put on their Army reserve uniforms to participate in the war effort at a moment’s notice. One individual on whom Mr. Sarnoff was reliant was John Weaver. Here is where my six degrees of separation plays out. Colonel (John) Weaver was eventually my dad’s commanding officer in Intelligence and Psychological Operations during the war, and after the war in the development of the Army’s Psychological Warfare School; now called the United States Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.
Sarnoff, a Signal Corps Bird Colonel at the time, being responsible for General Eisenhower’s communications and information control, worked with General Robert McClure who was the chief of Psychological Warfare. Sarnoff and McClure both understood the extreme importance that psychological operations could play in winning a war, especially when there were distinct moral and philosophical differences between the warring parties, as had existed between old Europe and young America. They knew that the rise of governmental controlled economies like fascism, socialism, and communism were not to be considered unusual phenomena in countries with histories of authoritarian rule. And they realized that such was in direct conflict with the nascent concept of free people and free markets — the foundations of our US democracy. I have addressed this subject in a couple of past Clyde Fitch Report columns: I Wish Liberals Would Act Like Liberals and Politics – The Only Game In Town.
Sarnoff and McClure’s solution was to utilize the most advanced technology of the day to educate our adversaries; or in the vernacular of the military, to change the hearts and minds of the enemy.
Under direction of General McClure and Colonel Weaver, my dad (Capt. Robert Asti) was selected to command a group in Europe that engaged in psychological operations. As noted in an earlier column, Dad’s group employed informational pamphlets, loud speakers on tanks, and took over radio stations and newspapers and eventually engaged in “information control” in Europe following the war.
After the War
Most of those involved in the Psychological Operations went back to their civilian lives after the war: Sarnoff back to RCA and NBC, Colonel Weaver back to working for Mr. Sarnoff, and Dad back to the States to get married, continue his education, and begin a family. General McClure stayed in the Army.
During this period, Mr. Sarnoff expressed his prophetic concerns and proposed solutions for a post-war America. He believed that we would need an international radio presence that could transmit our policies and positions. In 1943, he tried to get Secretary of State Cordell Hull to include radio broadcasting in post-war planning. And by 1947, he urged Secretary of State George Marshall to increase the roles of Radio Free Europe and Voice of America. Due to Sarnoff’s power and prodding — along with the continuous efforts of General McClure to convince the Army that our nation needed a standing cadre trained in Psychological Warfare — it was decided to start a new Psychological Warfare school.
McClure tapped Sarnoff’s friend Colonel Weaver for the task. Weaver needed a team of those with experience from the war, so Dad was called back to the Army to work for Colonel Weaver. Under General McClure’s direction, they set about to create the school. But first they had to write the definitive curriculum, i.e. they had to figure out what they were going to teach. According to my mom, the process was dreadfully arduous. A story my brothers and I look back on and laugh about because of mom’s tea-totaling ways.
After the course was developed, the manuals written, and the school launched at Ft. Riley, Kansas, General McClure ordered Dad to be sent to Washington, DC and attached to the State Department. It was suspected that Mr. Sarnoff finally got his way with those in power. Dad was sent to teach State, Radio Free Europe, and Voice of America the underlying Psychological Warfare principles and methods as a front in the information war against the encroachment of anti-democratic eastern European authoritarianism; in particular, communism. As Dad said, he was there to help spread the truth; “VERITAS,” the foundation of Psychological Operations.
When it was decided that the Psychological Warfare School was to move to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, Colonel Weaver pleaded with General McClure to send Dad back under his command to get the school up and running. General McClure complied with the Colonel’s plea.
The original printed Psychological Warfare course was kept by Dad, and some years after his death was donated to the Army history archives at Ft. Bragg. But one of the early copies found its way, via Colonel Weaver, to NBC and Mr. Sarnoff. It was a document considered essential for “advertising and promotion” for the coming television broadcast revolution. Eventually the original Psychological Warfare principles via Sarnoff and Weaver were integrated into Madison Avenue ad agencies’ sales and marketing efforts when dealing with the masses; sinisterly referred to as “corporate propaganda.“
By 1959, Sarnoff opined in an essay in Life Magazine about the timid stand being taken by the United States in fighting the political and psychological warfare being waged by Soviet led International Communism against the West; a situation remarkably similar to today in our war with Radical Islam.
Mr. Sarnoff was an unapologetic advocate of American freedoms. He was concerned that those with authoritarian tendencies would prevail if we as a nation weren’t uncompromisingly vigilant in our response to their infringements. He strongly advocated for an aggressive, multifaceted fight in the ideological and political arenas with a determination to decisively win the Cold War; a similar stance for which I have advocated in our efforts to eradicate Radical Islam in an earlier CFR column.
Contrary to all that General Sarnoff and others of that generation stood for, a small portion of the following generation, fueled by the very medium Mr. Sarnoff developed, began to embrace authoritarian principles as a backlash to the war in Vietnam. For the old guys and gals who fought fascist authoritarianism to sustain freedom in the West, they were disheartened by what they saw in their own country. And even more heartbreaking for General Sarnoff was to watch the companies he helped birth turn against the most important principle that he thought he had so keenly implanted since emigrating from Eastern Europe: a quest for truth.
NBC, ABC, and CBS had become flagrant in their disparagement of our democracy by embracing an anti-democratic movement that was eventually responsible for the non-action on the part of the free world. It resulted in the subjugation and slaughter of millions of people in Indo-China, similar to what had occurred in Germany and Russia; and is occurring in the Middle East today. By the time General Sarnoff retired in 1970, the industry he created had abandoned his desire to educate the world to the advantages of free people and free markets. It had begun to embrace the decline in individual freedoms and reject the struggle for our unalienable rights for which he and so many others had fought.
The industry today, that David Sarnoff helped to create, has finally abdicated truth to the statistical analysis of Nielsen and willingly panders to Madison Avenue. The industry has abandoned their responsibility to broadcasting the truth in part due to the politicization of the government watchdog, the Federal Communications Commission; which is the antithesis to the principles articulated by our founding fathers. (See the CFR column on the Corrupt Price of Free Speech in America.)
Mr. Sarnoff’s industry has deserted the doctrines of molding democratic beliefs and free markets and has transitioned into a purely entertainment medium which advocates for old-world forms of government, supposing that “fairness” can only be accomplished through authoritarian government control. The raping of Mr. Sarnoff’s foundational beliefs is now systematic in the industry, especially when you consider the current lies and long-term institutional cover-up of the Brian Williams debacle.
It seems that the quest of the press is no longer for the truth; which is the foundation of our democracy.