The late Don Hewitt created 60 Minutes and it debuted on the CBS network on September 24, 1968. It has won more Emmy Awards than any other primetime broadcast, and was even honored with the Lifetime Achievement Emmy. Among its other accolades are 19 Peabody and 14 DuPont Columbia University awards for excellence in broadcasting. They were the standard bearer for all television newsmagazines to come. They were known for their techniques of re-editing interviews, hidden cameras, and “gotcha” visits to the home or office, all part of the reporter-based investigational style.
As a child growing up in the 1970s CBS was one of only 3 television stations that provided America with broadcast news. Cable television and the invention of the internet were far off into the future, and Americans depended on CBS, ABC, and NBC to be our eyes and ears not only for the world, but for our government. They were our voice. They were there to ask the questions we wanted to ask, but could not. We depended on them to provide us with the truth and to keep our government officials honest, or be exposed, but also as a consumer watchdog and advocate.
Of course this new style of 60 Minutes ruffled some feathers. Many traditional news organizations didn’t approve of this more aggressive, confrontational style by reporters to get to the truth of the story. Yet it was pioneers such as Edward R. Murrow that furthered along the evolution of reporters to vocally confront business’s and government’s actions to expose fraud, abuse, and lies. 60 Minutes mixed that hard hitting Murrow style reporting with their softer segments on celebrities, but still set many historical markers regarding legal issues of press freedom. Some of these cases have set precedents for legal aspects of broadcast journalism. It is this type of reporter style investigational journalism that helped expose Watergate and Big Tobacco.
Starting in the late 1980s, 60 Minutes ran into issues with background checking their stories and supporting documents, such as, internal company memos and film footage. The first being the Audi 5000 automobile’s ‘Unintended acceleration’ segment from 1986. 60 Minutes aired footage of a car accelerating on its own. It was revealed that a concealed device caused the vehicle to appear to accelerate on its own. It took Audi 15 years to recover and these incidents were attributed to operator error, and all that CBS did was issue a partial retraction.
In 1995 there was the Brown and Williamson (Big Tobacco) story that 60 Minutes did not air; particularly because of Don Hewitt fearing a lawsuit and to protect CBS President Laurence Tisch who also controlled Lorillard Tobacco at the time. They feared that Tisch was at risk of being caught having committed perjury. Instead the story was broke by The Wall Street Journal which prompted The New York Times to write: “the traditions of Edward R. Murrow were diluted in the process”. The story about 60 Minutes refusal to air this segment was so huge that a movie was made about it called “The Insider” which received 7 Oscar Nominations.
The U.S. Customs Service was the next controversial story by 60 Minutes in 1997. They alleged that agents ignored drug trafficking across the Mexico – United States border in San Diego. Rudy Camacho, who was the head of the San Diego branch office, had written a memorandum that 60 Minutes had received from Mike Horner, a former Customs Service employee, and they used it to alleged that Camacho allowed trucks belonging to a particular firm to cross the border unimpeded. 60 Minutes never consulted Mr. Camacho, his career was devastated, and the memo turned out to be forged by Mark Horner. CBS was sued, lost, and Hewitt was forced to issue an on-air retraction.
They ran into controversy by airing an interview with Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City Bomber in 2000 after he was convicted and sentenced. After this interview, the Special Confinement Unit Media Policy was enacted by the federal government prohibiting face-to-face interviews with death row inmates. Even after many court challenges and appeals, this policy still stands today.
Then we have the Killian Documents Controversy which was the first time 60 Minutes involved themselves into Presidential politics during a Presidential Election. Less than two months before the 2004 Presidential Election, 60 Minutes aired a program that involved 4 out 6 documents critical of the incumbent President George W. Bush and his service in the Air National Guard from 1972-1973. 60 Minutes presented these 4 documents as authentic, when in fact, it turned out that they did not authenticate these documents, yet aired them anyway.
So over the years, we’ve had a veracious 60 Minutes putting out ‘the story’, sometimes incorrectly and at times suppressing a story to protect their own, but for the most part successfully as an advocate for us. Exposing wrong doers, and standing up for the little people. They’re aggressive style has been emulated throughout the world, and for the most part, we could count on 60 Minutes to get us the story, until now.
Less than two months from the 2012 Presidential Election, CBS has again engaged in controversial behavior. On September 11, 2012, a consulate in Benghazi housing US Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens and several State Department employees was attacked which resulted in the death of our Ambassador, and 3 other Americans. On September 12th, in the White House Rose Garden, President Obama addressed the world about the incident. That statement would come up during the second Presidential debate due to the controversy surrounding the administration’s handling of the incident, and the subsequent statements made by the President, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Steve Kroft from 60 Minutes immediately interviewed the President after his Rose Garden address and asked President Obama:
KROFT: Mr. President, this morning you went out of your way to avoid the use of the word terrorism in connection with the Libya Attack
KROFT: Do you believe that this was a terrorism attack?
OBAMA: Well it’s too early to tell exactly how this came about, what group was involved, but obviously it was an attack on Americans. And we are going to be working with the Libyan government to make sure that we bring these folks to justice, one way or the other.
Clearly the President agreed with Steve Kroft that he did not use the word terrorism in connection with Libya attack or else he would have corrected Mr. Kroft. Instead you, hear the President in the background state, “Right” and again not classify this as a terrorist attack in his answer to Mr. Kroft. This question was nowhere to be found for 6 weeks, while we had changing stories from the Obama administration with no clear explanation given other than it was a spontaneous reaction to an offensive video. 60 Minutes shortened the interview and only aired a portion of it, not including this exchange. The transcript that 60 Minutes released was also different than what was aired. This latest release is now the 3rd version of that interviewed.
Then we had the second Presidential debate in which foreign affairs were addressed, in particular Libya. When confronted by the GOP Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney about the Sept. 12th Rose Garden address, the President adamantly proclaimed he called this a terrorist attack. Even the moderator stepped in to defend the President which was completely out of standard protocol in Presidential debates. There was an audible response from the audience, and Mitt Romney was left out to dry by Candy Crowley. This was a game changer for an extremely tight and hotly contested election where President Obama was still reeling from his admittedly horrible first debate performance. After this debate, Romney was slammed in the media for being a liar, when in fact; the liar was President Obama and Candy Crowley.
CBS and 60 Minutes suppressed the truth for 6 weeks ignoring the moral obligation and journalistic integrity that CBS used to stand for; a stance that should have caused them to release this footage and transcript immediately following this debate. They had a moral and journalistic obligation to exonerate Mitt Romney, and show us, the American people, the little guys, that our President lied to us and continues to lie to us. We had, and still have, the right to know. CBS is guilty of corruption, suppression, and has forever changed their reputation for millions of Americans. Their executives should be called to Washington D.C. to explain their decision. For me, I will boycott CBS and 60 Minutes because they cannot be counted on to give us the truth any longer, and have solidly shown themselves to be the propaganda mouth of the DNC.
I call upon our representatives to subpoena the heads of CBS and 60 Minutes to explain why they would suppress crucial information that has forever affected the 2012 Presidential Election in favor of the incumbent President Obama.