The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes
Friday, September 17, 2004
Previous 60 Minutes fakeries, actual and supposed
Naturally, Rathergate makes one curious about the august news show's track record. There should be a consolidated list of 60 Minutes controversies, but I can't find one.
A little online mooching produces:
A 1989 report on alar, a pesticide used by apple growers. Apparently, the show's claims of health hazards were well-founded, but an industry PR campaign (Hill & Knowlton, the incubator kings) established a Conventional Wisdom that they were phoney .
A 1997 report on a Colombian cartel running heroin into the US in the stomachs of mules actually was phoney .
A 1979 report on the Clinton nuclear site of the Illinois Power Company apparently included an interview with the company's president edited to have him say the opposite of what he did say .
A 1986 report in which an Audi 5000 was tested for, supposedly, accelerating at random, even when the driver was stepping on the brake pedal; apparently, the car was modified by the show to make this happen .
A 1997 report alleging US Customs Service collusion with Mexican cartels importing drugs at San Diego was based on - ta da! - a faked memo ostensibly from local Customs honcho Rudy Camacho but in fact cooked up by one Michael Horner, a supposed whistleblower .
(There will undoubtedly be other cases.)
The point is that the programme has a long history which is exceptionally hard to get at; the relevance of its history is enhanced by the fact that so many of its leading lights have been working on it for decades; but, in any case, past performance provides context for current controversies.
It's scarcely surprising that the show should embrace the oblivion of the memory hole with some vigour; and there's not much that the little people can do about it, except try to conserve what records there are.
(CBS do sell videos of past shows back to 1997 - at $30 per item - almost a bigger insult to the little people than not having them available at all.)
A 1993 New Republic piece by Jeffrey Goldberg on a PBS documentary, The Liberators, on the segregated USA 761st Tank Battalion, a unit which it (apparently falsely) suggested had had a hand in liberating Dachau and Buchenwald.
I was waved off on my trip down Memory Lane by the transcript of a NewsHour discussion on Rathergate. One of the panel mentions the Food Lion case - where ABC's PrimeTime Live broadcast a report on poor conditions at a supermarket footage for which was obtained by undercover reporters. The supermarket sued - for fraud and trespass, rather than libel - but its award of substantial punitive damages was overturned on appeal.
The appeal decision (Food Lion v Capital Cities); CJR pieces here, here, here - and piece on the WCCO-TV/Northwest Airlines arbitration case; Food Lion's side of the story by Joseph Goulden ; a couple of post-Food Lion pieces on undercover reporting and ethics and the law (PDF); and this may have something of value.
A more general lecture, TV News Magazines and the Credibility Issue: The Scope of the Problem by Tony Silvia of URI, mentions Food Lion.
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