As a newspaper editor and a journalist for more than 20 years, I’m highly critical of the press. I believe we owe it to not only our readers but perhaps more importantly our profession and the integrity of journalism in general to closely examine the work we’re producing for hints of bias and partiality.
By “we,” I truly mean we. I am human, and I make my fair share of mistakes, just like everyone else. It’s impossible to completely remove bias from the equation, and the legacy media has never been without bias — even in its golden era, which was really much of the 20th century. But I consider it a badge of honor that I’ve been labeled a “conservative” by liberals, and a “liberal” by conservatives. I’ll be the first to tell you that my political views skew conservative, so it’s my job to make sure that anything I write that’s presented as straight news isn’t skewed towards the conservative point-of-view. The same should be true for liberal journalists, who make up the vast majority of reporters, editors and publishers in this profession.
The first responsibility of the media isn’t impartiality but truth. NBC’s Lester Holt was exactly right on that point in his “Fairness is overrated” speech he delivered to Washington State University’s College of Communications last week. When former President Donald Trump made any of the outlandish claims that he was prone to make, the press didn’t owe him an obligation of equal time for his point-of-view. However, truth is often subjective and can be easily manipulated. And the examples of the press taking advantage of those facts are piling up.
That brings us to CBS’s 60 Minutes and its hit job on Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis over the weekend.
DeSantis has become a lightning rod in recent months — partly because he’s combative, much like Trump, and partly because his handling of the coronavirus pandemic has been offered as a sharp contrast to Democrat-led states like New York and California. The media’s handling of all things DeSantis is proof enough that truth and subjectiveness aren’t mutually exclusive terms, and the governor has finally had enough.
DeSantis has gone after CBS with the gloves off over 60 Minutes’ weekend expose of a so-called “pay-for-play” scheme involving the grocery store chain Publix and DeSantis. As 60 Minutes reported, the company donated $100,000 to DeSantis’ campaign, and he rewarded the chain with coronavirus vaccine distribution rights.
With DeSantis leading the way — accusing 60 Minutes of lying and pushing a false narrative — the story has generated tremendous backlash, with some Florida Democrats defending DeSantis.
DeSantis got the ball rolling Monday night, when he appeared on Tucker Carlson’s primetime Fox News Channel show to slam the 60 Minutes hit as a “smear” driven by “malicious intent.”
From there, the backlash gained traction not so much because of the Republicans who were coming to DeSantis’ aid, but because of the Democrats who went to bat for him.
Florida’s Emergency Management Director, Jared Moskowitz, a Democrat, came forward to say that he told 60 minutes that the Publix story was “bullshit.” And Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner, also a Democrat, said that the 60 Minutes story was “intentionally false.”
As the information continued to come out, the 60 Minutes scandal looked even more damning.
The Daily Caller, a conservative blog, put together a clip, showing first what 60 Minutes aired from DeSantis’ answer to a combative correspondent at a press conference, followed by the unedited version of DeSantis’ answer. It’s an eye-opener.
CBS has claimed that it used the substance of DeSantis’ answer for brevity’s sake, while ignoring the longer answer. That’s a common practice in journalism, even if it sometimes leads to charges that what was being quoted was taken out of context. But CBS’s trick wasn’t that innocent. CBS used two different segments of DeSantis’s answer. And not only did they use two different segments, but they did a seamless edit to make it appear DeSantis was saying something he wasn’t.
Media insider Steve Krakauer, a former employee of CNN and other leading legacy media companies, and creator of the “Fourth Watch,” a media watchdog newsletter, tweeted that the “remarkably damning” clip was “One of the most absurdly misleading 60 Minutes clips I’ve ever seen.”
Conservative commentator Stephen L. Miller correctly pointed out that stunts like the one CBS pulled “used to be enough to get everyone involved fired.”
Indeed it did. But CBS has doubled-down, defending 60 Minutes and claiming that its tactics and the report itself were justified and accurate.
60 Minutes has been one of network television’s leading news programs for a long time. It has long been highly-respected. But 60 Minutes no longer has any credibility. None. How could it? Forget impartiality. Forget fairness. With its stunt, 60 Minutes also threw truth out the window. That’s a cardinal sin, even for the news media in its current state.
Despite my criticism of the press, I usually feel that these media-out-to-get-us stories are long on hyperbole and short on substance. Donald Trump’s “fake news” slogan was a nonsensical term coined by the former president after he picked a fight with the media that he couldn’t win. And when Trump claimed that the news media was “an enemy of the people,” it was not only an inappropriate comment from a sitting president, but also a dangerous one.
Except that, in light of stunts like the 60 Minutes’ hit job on DeSantis, how is it even possible to dismiss Trump’s comment? Washington Post’s conservative-leaning columnist, Mark A. Thiessen, correctly pointed out that the 60 Minutes smear piece represents everything that is wrong with journalism today.
It’s a sad time for journalism. And it just keeps getting worse. CNN has lost all credibility. And it seems that a number of other legacy media companies are in a race to see who can be quickest to join the cable news giant. These companies are literally destroying the reputation of journalists everywhere, and of the news business.
A CBS spokesperson said earlier this week that the 60 Minutes story Sunday night “speaks for itself.”
That’s true. It did. And it spoke damningly, much to 60 Minutes’ detriment.