Time up for 60 Minutes?

  • 23 December 2013
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60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace signs books in 2005.
Critics contend that 60 Minutes hasn't been the same since Mike Wallace left

The New York Times' David Carr had a fairly scathing takedown of 60 Minutes on Monday. The venerable CBS News programme recently had to apologise for a poorly sourced story on the Benghazi consulate attack and faced criticism for what was considered an overly complimentary piece on the National Security Agency.

According to Carr, it all comes down to the correspondents shying away from the sort of hard-hitting journalism on which 60 Minutes' reputation was built.

"In the last few months, there have been significant lapses into credulousness, when reporters have been more 'gee whiz' than 'what gives?'" he writes. "The news that 60 Minutes is calling could be viewed as less ominous and more of an opportunity."

He concludes: "60 Minutes is a calling, not an assignment, and the programme should not be the kind of outfit that leaves its scepticism at the door to get inside."

This caps a week during which the news programme has become a punching bag for both the left and the right.

The National Review's media editor, Elaina Johnson, highlighted another recent 60 Minutes segment, featuring a glowing portrait of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

"Over the past year, the program has made it look as if there is virtually a quid pro quo: If you let 60 Minutes in on the inner working of your affairs, the show's reporters will check their journalistic judgment at the door," she writes.

Scott Shackford in Reason writes: "60 Minutes ran not one, but two full segments about the NSA's data collection and Edward Snowden scandals, told entirely from the NSA's perspective and with absolutely no critical voices."

And Politico's media critic Dylan Byers:

60 Minutes is desperately in need of a news package that earns it praise rather than criticism. It needs to put up a hard-hitting investigation, fact-checked to the teeth, that doesn't come off as a promotional puff-piece. Because its reputation as the gold standard of television journalism has taken some serious hits of late.

It's hard not to detect a certain amount of glee from conservatives on this topic, as they've long viewed 60 Minutes as having a left-leaning bias (of course, they feel that way about most of the mainstream media, but that's beside the point).

In particular, they cite a 60 Minutes II story in 2004 on President George W Bush's Air National Guard service, in which the authenticity of a document used in the report was cast into doubt. The resulting scandal ended with the forced resignation of long-time CBS News reporter and network anchor Dan Rather (who continues to stand by the story).

For the show also to have its credibility questioned from the left does not bode well. The clock is ticking for 60 Minutes to figure out how to recover.