'60 Minutes' Misplaces Its Skepticism

By Carr, David | International New York Times, December 24, 2013 | Go to article overview

'60 Minutes' Misplaces Its Skepticism


Carr, David, International New York Times


Viewers expect and deserve the show to bring its best when it takes on a huge issue like the N.S.A., to serve as a stand-in for the American people and ask the uncomfortable questions.

Last week, a study commissioned by the president concluded that the National Security Agency had reached too far into the private lives of Americans. The study, which came after a series of journalistic revelations exposing the agency's surveillance practices, recommended numerous reforms that would curb the N.S.A.'s prerogatives. President Obama said he was "open to many" of the suggestions.

It was exactly the kind of news-making moment that "60 Minutes" - - America's leading purveyor of serious television news -- has often been responsible for creating. For more than four decades, the program has exposed C.I.A. abuses, rogue military contractors and hundreds of corporate villains.

But where was "60 Minutes" on the N.S.A. story? The Sunday before the damning study, the program produced a segment that scanned as a friendly infomercial for the agency. Reported by John Miller, a CBS News reporter, the piece included extensive interviews with Gen. Keith Alexander, the director of the N.S.A.

In a scene that served as something of a metaphor for the whole segment, the producers negotiated access to the Black Chamber, a supersecret area where the nation's top code breakers work. The door is briefly opened, we see a deserted office hall that looks like any other and then the door is closed. We get a look in, but we learn nothing.

Coming as it does on the heels of the now-discredited Benghazi report -- in which "60 Minutes" said it had been fooled by an eyewitness who was apparently nothing of the kind -- the N.S.A. segment raises the question of whether the program has not just temporarily lost its mojo, but its skepticism as well. It didn't help that the day after the piece aired, a federal judge ruled that the agency's program of collecting phone records was most likely unconstitutional.

In between its coverage of Benghazi and the N.S.A., "60 Minutes" drew criticism for letting Amazon promote a drone delivery program that is years from actually happening, if it happens at all. It was a fanciful look at the commercial future, though Charlie Rose, the reporter, also asked Jeff Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon, some tough questions: whether providing cloud services to the C.I.A. was a conflict, and whether the company's "ruthless" pursuit of market share was fair.

Let's stipulate that "60 Minutes" has been and continues to be a journalistic treasure, which just this year has done hard-hitting pieces on the damaging practices of credit report agencies, the high rate of suicide among returning veterans and how tainted pain medication that caused fungal meningitis killed dozens and sickened hundreds. Mr. Rose also landed an interview with the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, about chemical weapons. At a time when both the definition and execution of news has dimmed, "60 Minutes" stands out.

Historically, the news that "60 Minutes" was in the lobby or on the phone has struck fear in the hearts of both the stalwart and the venal. The show made its targets quake and audiences thrill as it did the hard, often amazing work of creating consequence and accountability.

But in the last few months, there have been significant lapses into credulousness, when reporters have been more "gee whiz" than "what gives?" The news that "60 Minutes" is calling could be viewed as less ominous and more of an opportunity. More than once this year, the show has traded skepticism for access.

When it comes to the access game, everyone, even "60 Minutes," plays ball on occasion. When it seeks to lighten things up, as it did with Taylor Swift, or Maggie Smith of "Downton Abbey," no one expects hidden cameras or brutal interrogations. Everyone, including the audience, knows the score.

But viewers expect the show to bring its A game, and deserve it, when it takes on a huge issue like the N. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

'60 Minutes' Misplaces Its Skepticism
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.