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Tom Smothers, Who Fought CBS Censorship of Civil Rights Leaders and Antiwar Voices, Dies at 86

HeadlineDec 28, 2023

The comedian and folk musician Tom Smothers has died at the age of 86. With his brother, he hosted “The Smothers Brothers,” a pioneering TV show in the 1960s which made headlines for its fights over censorship with CBS for tackling topics like the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War. In 1967, the Smothers Brothers convinced CBS to allow Pete Seeger to appear on the show even though he had been blacklisted from TV since the 1950s. While CBS finally said yes, the network refused to air the segment after Pete Seeger sang out against the Vietnam War. In 2003, Pete Seeger appeared on Democracy Now! and talked about what happened.

Pete Seeger: “Finally, in October, they said, 'OK, you can have him on.' And I sang this song: 'Waste deep in the big muddy, the big fool says to push on.' The tape was made in California, flown to New York. And in New York they scissored the song out. And now the Smothers Brothers took to the print media and said, 'CBS is censoring our best jokes. They censored Seeger's best song.’ And they got some publicity.”

Click here to see the whole interview. CBS finally allowed Pete Seeger’s performance to air months later, thanks in part due to pressure from Tom Smothers. Smothers died at the age of 86 on Tuesday in Santa Rosa, California.

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