Smothers Brothers: The Missing Story
For decades, I believed, as I think almost everyone who followed the issue did, that the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was yanked by CBS because of CBS’s objection to the Smothers Brothers’ edgy commentary about social issues. Various “public” television stations, in their December fund-raising, are showing a documentary special that pushes that view. WGBH in Boston, for example, will show it on December 11. The documentary is entitled Smothered: The Censorship Struggles of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.
It is true that CBS had a lot of difficulty with the Smothers Brothers’ edgy looks at politics and religion. But that’s only part of what got the show yanked. The other part was a humorous bit done by guest Dan Rowan. Rowan gave the “fickle-finger-of-fate” award (i.e., the finger) to John O. Pastore, a U.S. Senator from Rhode Island. Why did Rowan single out Pastore? Pastore was the chairman of United States Senate Subcommittee on Communications. In that role, he had a great deal of power over the Federal Communications Commission, the federal agency that censors radio and television. In other words, Rowan “fingered” a man who had a great deal of power over television content.
That man was not even mentioned in the documentary. Why not? Here’s my “public choice” speculation. Pastore is also known for pushing hard for subsidies to public broadcasting. Indeed he did so only about a month after CBS yanked the Smothers Brothers show. He became a hero to those who believe in tax-financed subsidies to public television. So the stations have probably never wanted to look at the truth because it would mean admitting that their hero was a nasty censor who, like most politicians, couldn’t stand being made fun of. Ironically, while the various public broadcasting stations try to come across as open-minded people who want the truth to come out, by trumpeting this movie and not mentioning one important thing left out, they are not trying to broadcast the whole truth at all.
[Thanks to Brian Schwartz for catching the broken link. Now fixed.]