Tom Snyder is exhibiting signs of becoming a corporate Charlie McCarthy for NBC. In the middle of an otherwise interesting "Tomorrow" show interview the other night with three newspaper editors, Snyder, the host, suddenly asked: "How come the newspapers a lot of them, are so upset that NBC has hired Henry Kissinger and Gerald Ford?"
The three editors, Michael O'Neill of the New York Daily News, James Hoge of the Chicago Daily News and Sun Times, and Eugene C. Patterson of the st. Petersburg (Fla.) Times and Independent, tried to give Snyder a quick course in Introductory Journalism. It was so persuasive that in less thatn two minutes Snyder was doing what he always does when the people he is bullying start to strike back. he was agreeing with them and trying to find the nearest intellectual exit out of the trap that he had builf for them an fallen into himself.
Hoge put the matter in its true perspective when he told Snyder that, It's a breakdown between those who cover news and those who make news; and to have a Henry Kissinger and Gerald Ford, who have just finished serving the nation as public servants, now commenting, as if they were news people, with the objectivity that's supposed to go with the detachment that goes with that role may be a bit too much for the average viewer to accept."
As Snyder struggled to find safety between the twin dangers of obvious ingratiation of his employers and the insulting of his guests, I kept asking myself if he was shilling for the house or simply lacked understanding of journalistic standards. I arrived at a split decision.
NBC's decision to hire Ford and Kissinger was solely that of president Herbert S. Schlosser. Whatever doubts may have been entertained by NBC News president Richard C. Wald and others within the NBC corporate structure were swallowed in due course. Not digested. Just swallowed.
Schlosser clearly thinks that Ford, Kissinger - and Snyder - will help in uplifiting the image of NBC News, which for at least five years has been second to CBS News in both ratings and critical esteem.
One of the rumors that constantly prowls the correidors of pwer at NBC headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Plaza is that Snyder will joint with John Chancellor and David Brinkley as an anchorman on the NBC Nightly News.
Snyder has a kind of club that hangs over Schlosser and some NBC executives. Namely, that when his contract is up in two years, he will go to ABC and team up with Barbara Walters - assuming she is still doing nightly news - and trounce NBC and CBS in the nightly news ratings.
This says a good deal about the future of television news, when somebody like Synder can exhibit that kind of clout. NBC's news department no so long ago set a standard of excellence that was the envy of not only CBS, but large numbers of print journalists as well.
It is both said and frightening. There has always existed, in broad-casting, a kind of lively tension between the demands of journalism and the imperatives of show business. I do not count myself among those who are journalistic purists - those who say news is pure and must never be tainted by the brush of entertainment.
It is no accident that Graham Greene, who is at his best as a novelist when he is being a journalist, calls some of his novels "An Entertainment." But there ia a vast difference between journalists who understand what they are doing and those who understand neither journalism nor entertainment - only ratings.
That is what was frightening about Snyder's question the other night. Sensing a prevailing wind, he put out more sails. The newspaper editors instinctively knew that his course was false by the navigational standards of what passes for conventional journalistic standards. And they sought to correct his course.
My instinct, however, is tht Snyder knows the revised sailing charts of contemparary television journalism better than they do. He is proceeding with the boldness and brass of a buccaneer. At NBC, Snyder knows that the future of television news is very much like an old Danny Kaye description of an oboe: It is an ill wind that no one blows good.