Officials of the State Department and the White House, including Press Secretary Jody Powell, tried for two weeks, but without success, to get CBS News' "60 Minutes" to drop a critical segment on U.S. involvement with the former shah of Iran that aired last Sunday night.
CBS News president William Leonard yesterday would confirm only that "some White House ofificals had expressed concern about the '60 Minutes' segment in advance of the broadcast although they had not seen the interview."
Sources indicate that the phone calls from Powell and other, including Henry Precht of the Iran desk of the State Department, began during the week of February 11 after "60 Minutes" staff members began making inquiries at State and the Central Intelligence Agency about various aspects of the story.
At that time, the 30-minute segment was scheduled to air on Feb. 24, on the eve of the New Hampshire primary election.
But because of editing difficulties the segment was rescheduled at the last minute for the next Sunday evening, on the eve of the Massachusetts primary election.
Officials of CBS News were careful yesterday to avoid suggesting they'd "prevailed" following a "confrontation" with the White House over the segement, as indicated by Leonard's brief statement.
But sources at the network did suggest that the repeated calls amounted to considerable pressures to drop the segment.
One source, who asked not to be identified, said that the callers varioulsy suggested that "it was the wrong weekend to do it," implying that "some kind of delicate negotiations were underway for the 50 American hostages held at the embassy in Tehran to meet the United Nations commission," or that it was a matter of "patriotism" not to broadcast an anti-shah program at this time.
One person who talked to Powell said yesterday that the press secretary "was really saying in effect 'don't do it' but frankly I never fully understood what his arguments against our running the segment were."
The source, who also asked not to be indentified, apparently in keeping with CBS News' desired not to get into a shouting match with the White House, said that "as far as [he] knew, Powell was pretty circumspect in his calls, although I did hear that he and Don Hewitt finally had a shouting match."
Neither Powell, Hewitt nor Wallace was available for comment late yesterday.