The best way to mainpulate public opinion, in the words of an old pop tune, is to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. Applying this principle, the nuclear industry has brought pressure on the TV networks to eliminate telecasts that are critical of nuclear power.
The manipulators are using methods as ultra-modern as the nuclear age itself, complete with an instant telecommunications system that can mobilize the faithful to protest against undesirable TV newscasts and even dramas.
The suppression campaign has been directed against the networks, their local affiliates and commercial sponsors. THe targets have ranged from NBC's Special Reports and CBS's Hawaii Five-O. Any television show that reflects unfavorably on nuclear power can expect to be hit.
Suppression is a preverse plant that thrives best in the dark. The nuclear industry, therefore, hasn't advertised its manipulation of the media. But with the help of Ralph Nader's Critical mass Energy Project, we have pieced together the story.
The pressure on the networks has been organized behind the scenes by the Atomic Industrial Forum and the American Nuclear Society, which promote nuclear power and profits. The forum operates the telecommunications system known as "Infowire," which is used to coordinate the campign.
In late 1976, for example, the forum learned the CBS was about to broadcast an objectionable episode of the TV series, Hawaii Five-O, dramatizing the efforts of a band of criminals to contruct a crude atomic bomb. This was the sort of TV fare that might raise questions about nuclear safety. So the forum brought heavy pressure on CBS to postpone the scheduled episode. In this case, CBS rejected the pressure.
One week later, the forum turned its pressure on ABC to preempt an episode of the series Most Wanted. The plot ahd plutonium hijackers threatening a large American city with destruction. ABC also registed the pressure, but, according to program director Robert FOuntain, several local stations took the show off the air.
NBC was next to come under nuclear attack after broadcasting an hour-long documentary, entitled Danger: Radioactive Waste, on Jan 22. For the first time in network television, the potential hazards of the growing radioactive build-up were described in stark detail.
This was followed immedialety by a confidential telex flashed over the Infowire, urging the forum corporate subscribers to bring pressure on NBC president Herbert Schlosser and NBC News president Richard Wald. The nuclear executives were also advised to express their indignation to the Federal Communications Commission, House Communications Chairman LIonel Van Deerlin (D-Calif.), House Commerce Chairman Harley Staggers (D-W. Va.) and Senate Commerce Chairman Warren Magnusin (D-Wash.)
More devious, they were asked to contact the show's two sponsors, Textron., and Northwertern Mutual Life Insurance Co. The American Nuclear Society also fired off a "Special Bulletin" to its members about the NBC documentary with these instructions: "AN effective way of expressing your displeasure at this TV show is to WRITE THE SPONSORS."
The bulletin advised nuclear advocates not to write an elaborate letter full of "inaccuracies and emotionalism" but to end a "simple one-page letter expressing your outrage at the shallow or biased treatment." They were also urged to send "as many letters as possible.
Some nuclear executives tried to recruit their employees to write letters to the network. "I intend to express my feelings to the management of NBC," decalred Jospeh C. Rengle, executive vice president of Westinghouse Nuclear Energy Systems, in a confidential memo to all employees. "I hope you will join me in this effort."
ONe sponsor, Northwestern Mutual, was hit by a blizzard of letters from the nuclear industry, Complaining about the documentary. The president of the company, F.E. Ferguson, told our associate, Larry Kraftowitz, that his company will be "a lot more cautious" about the shows it sponsors in the future. Ferguson said he concluded the documentary was "unfair and onesided" before the protests began to arrive.
The other sponsor, Textron, also was deluged with critical mail. The company signed an agreement, meanwhile, to invest $2.7 million in Allied Chemical, which has large nuclear holdings. This will not prevent Textron from sponsoring nuclear programs in the future, said a spokesman. But an NBC official told us that Textron "pobably will be more cautious." As he put it: "They're not used to this kind of heat." NBC has provided a point-by-point refutation, incidentally, that the show was biased.
Again last February, the Infowire began buzzing after the Public Broadcasting System aired a news film about a damaging fire at the Brown's Ferry nuclear power plant in Alabama. It cost $200 million to repair the plant and replace the fuel.
The nuclear crowd detected an "anti-nuclear tilt" to the newscast. "We suggest," counseled a telex, "that you work with local media to call their attention to the program's lapses." The confidential Infowire message added: "Because the . . . programs are syndicated for school use by Time-Life, we intend to be in touch with them as well as PBS."
Footnote: A spokesman for the Atomic Industrial Forum told us the nuclear industry wanted to postpone the embarrassing episodes of Hawaii Five-O and Most Wanted until the recent referenda on nuclear power was concluded. The broadcasts, he said, were an "unfair intrusion on the election campaign." The industry protested the NBC documentary because it contained "15 specific errors and misrepresentations. "We don't want to intimidate," he insisted. "We just want to get [accurate] news on the air!"