The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Thursday, November 25, 2004

The cesspit that is 60 Minutes: a floater I hadn't heard of

In the light of Rathergate, I culled a small selection of past 60 Minutes snafus (September 17).

Dan Kennedy offers one I'd missed - the case of Carl A Galloway:
In a 60 Minutes program in December 1979, Galloway, a private Los Angeles medical doctor, was portrayed as a dishonest physician who had signed a false medical report on an insurance claim. Such an act would have been a violation of California law and a serious violation of medical ethics.

In fact, Galloway's name had been forged on the medical report that CBS displayed in the 60 Minutes program. Neither CBS correspondent Dan Rather nor the producer had reached the doctor in the several months the program was in production. The signature wasn't verified by a handwriting expert before the show was aired, and no attempt was made to reach Galloway with a registered letter or similar means. Galloway's effort to obtain a correction was rejected by CBS officials, although his demand for a retraction included signed affidavits by workers at the clinic saying that Galloway had not been involved with the false report.

Sounds familiar?

Galloway sued for libel - and lost because
Despite the fact that Galloway was a private physician, the trial judge gave the jury the New York Times v. Sullivan instruction.

Rather and 60 Minutes seem to have enjoyed a charmed existence. Incompetence, arrogance, untouchability: for decades, these icons of the American establishment foreshadowed the Bizarro World of the Bush Administration!

And, like the IRA, they haven't gone away, you know...

They offer yet more evidence against the proposition, commonly spouted by those wishing to reform American journalism, that its present dire state is something new - the result of 9/11 or the advent of Dubya.

As J-prof Jay Rosen who, addressing the proposition that
the impartial, unemotional postwar model of mainstream journalism simply may not be up to covering the current political climate,
Not mainstream journalism the practice, but the contraption it has for explaining, situating and defending itself has in 2004 finally broken down, given out after 40 years of heavy, reliable use. And nothing did more damage to the taken-for-granted world of the American press than the shocks of September 11th. Part of the problem is philosophical, which almost guarantees a chronic lack of attention in newsland.

Complete bollocks!

Forty years takes us back to 1964, a year when the press failed its readers in allowing a fatal escalation in the Vietnam War - notably, the retaliation on August 5 against the illusory second of the Tonkin Gulf Incidents - without doing anything approaching a plausible definition of journalism. (The kow-tow was every bit as abject as that Bush has enjoyed.)

For most of those 40 years, Sixty Minutes has been the broadcast champion of American journalistic vainglory and conceitedness.

Rather's ignominious fall [1] has served at least one purpose in putting a modest crimp in its ill-deserved reputation.

  1. A gallimaufry of Rather flakiness.


A 1984 interview of Rather from, of all places, Playboy perhaps gives a hint of the mindset of journos during Rosen's quarante glorieuses:
Playboy:...You yourself were one of the defendants in a suite brought against it by Carl Galloway...some interesting issues were raised. One of them is the notion that 60 Minutes has, to some extent, become a parody of itself--that, as former CBS News president Fred Friendly has said, it has become an entertainment show in which the avenging angels descend, throw a net around the bad guys and leave in a blaze of glory.

Rather. Untrue...I believe that 60 Minutes is one of the few places in American journalism that will still take on gutsy, tough stuff. It may be the only place in broadcast journalism that does that consistently. It's a risk to do it at all. One reason is that you know you can't do it perfectly, and so some of it is going to blow up in your face. Management doesn't like it; people you work around don't like it. you get bad publicity out of it, even when you do it reasonably well, and other in your own profession are going to be jealous and will try to pull it apart. Journalistically, it's a dangerous line of work.

Mistakes have been made--including, in some cases, its becoming what Friendly and other call a parody of itself. But I deeply believe that this is a case of looking through the wrong end of the telescope. The proper end is the one through which you see that 60 Minutes is one broadcast that [has] guts. It has encouraged, even forced, other networks to experiment with the same kind of material. It has even encouraged some of the better local stations to try it. Now, certainly, some of the imitators have compounded some of the mistakes that 60 Minutes made and have done awful things. But as for 60 Minutes, if it's not a national treasure, it's certainly a national asset.

William Randolph Hearst had his Orson Welles: who'll do as much for Rather?

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