Recall that it wasn’t until one day before the election that 60 Minutes finally admitted what most of us already knew; after the attacks in Benghazi, Barack Obama initially refrained from calling the attacks an act of terrorism. This of course meant that Mitt Romney’s charge regarding the issue—allegedly “fact-checked” by Candy Crowley during the second presidential debate—was right all along. I’ll repeat what I wrote regarding this revelation:
The fact that this piece of news–which could have turned around the perception that Romney misstated the facts on Benghazi in the second debate–was not released until the day before the election is completely inexcusable and represents journalistic malpractice at its worst.
Of course, it ought to go without saying that I stand by those words. And of course, it ought to go without saying that 60 Minutes is nowhere near done shilling for the Obama administration.
Those who decided to sit through Steve Kroft’s interview with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton must have wondered why 60 Minutes was essentially giving free favorable publicity to both the Obama administration and to any Hillary-for-president campaign that we are forced to endure in the future. Eliana Johnson shows that when it comes to interviewing Democrats vs. interviewing Republicans, 60 Minutes has very different standards:
Because so much of an audience’s reaction hinges on these intangibles, it’s useful to compare last night’s interview with another, the one the program conducted last year with House majority leader Eric Cantor. I’ve put a number of clips from the two interviews side-by-side above.
The warmth Steve Kroft displayed toward Obama and Clinton was, to me, unmistakable; the three laughed together like old friends. Leslie Stahl, on the other hand, brought no such levity to her interview with Cantor, which aired on January 1, 2012. At times, Stahl seemed downright hostile, at one point narrowing her eyes and asking “What?”
Kroft asked questions such as, “Why did you want to do this together, a joint interview?” and “Why were you so insistent about wanting her to be secretary of state?” Kroft asked not a single follow-up question, even when the president made implausible assertions such as, “when it comes to Egypt, I think, had it not been for the leadership we showed, you might have seen a different outcome there.” This, by the way, as Muslim Brotherhood snipers gunned down protesters from the rooftops in Cairo.
Cantor, on the other hand, was challenged at every turn. He fielded questions such as, “Why go through this brinksmanship, gamesmanship, one-upsmanship? Explain it. Maybe there’s a real good answer,” and “Congress has a 9 percent approval rating. What do you think this conveys about confidence in our government? Don’t you think this is shredding that?” Stahl challenged Cantor on his assertion that he is willing to compromise with the president on fiscal issues: “Okay, but what about revenues? A compromise. You wanted the spending cuts, they wanted revenues,” and, later in the interview, offered, “But revenues reduce the deficit.”
Stahl did her job. Politicians should be subjected to tough questions and have their assertions challenged, not swallowed wholesale, as America watched Steve Kroft do last night.
No one should be surprised that Republicans get tougher treatment on 60 Minutes, but no one should complain about tough treatment per se. Politicians should be forced to go through the wringer when they sit down with journalists. The trouble is that in the world of 60 Minutes, the only politicians who appear to go through the wringer are Republicans. Imagine that.
Evidently, Steve Kroft is Barack Obama’s “favorite interviewer,” and the president “likes 60 Minutes.” It is not hard to understand why, but actual journalists should get at least a little bit worried if politicians claim to like being interviewed on their shows; it could be a sign that said politicians believe they are getting free passes from the journalists, and not being challenged on the issues of the day. I suppose that it is also worth noting that Kroft “thought” that the president and his Secretary of State were “very affectionate with each other.” How this is newsworthy is anyone’s guess.
I’ll tell you what is newsworthy when the president and the secretary of state sit down for an interview: Foreign policy! Here’s Kroft on why he decided to surprise everyone and upset the expectations of any substantive viewers that he had by not delving into any serious foreign policy discussions when he had the chance to hold the feet of both the President of the United States and the Secretary of State to the fire:
“I would have liked very much to delve into some areas of foreign policy and what is going on in the world, but it was not anything we could take on in 30 minutes,” Kroft said, noting the time offered by the White House.
Besides, he said, there are opportunities to ask those questions in presidential or state department briefings.
“What was not ever likely to present itself was the opportunity to sit down and talk to them about their professional relationship,” he said. “We thought that was the most important thing to do. You can watch their body language. You can judge what their relationship is.”
So, instead of discussing foreign policy, Kroft decided to be the Richard Attenborough of Obama-Clinton body language. And this is supposed to edify and educate us? This is supposed to ensure that we are caught up on the issues of the day? Given that Barack Obama, as president, is supposed to deal with foreign policy issues (and has a remarkably free hand to do so as president, compared to the constraints that are placed upon him by having to deal with Congress in the realm of domestic policy), and given that Hillary Clinton is the Secretary of State, for the love of all that is holy, one would think that foreign policy issues would receive some kind of serious attention. Alas, one would be wrong.
But at the very least, we might expect some attention to be paid to the prospect of Hillary Clinton running for president in 2016, right? Here’s Kroft on that issue:
“[Barack Obama is] not interested in endorsing somebody for president and she’s not, right now, interested in running, so the whole thing is kind of silly,” [Kroft] said.
It is not clear from that passage whether Kroft thinks that the discussion is silly, or whether the president does. If the latter, what does Kroft think of the president’s designation of the subject as “silly”? If the former, why does Kroft think that it is “silly”? Does Kroft really believe that the issue of whether the president supports a potential presidential run by his Secretary of State—with whom he is sitting down for a joint intervew, for the love of Heaven!—is silly? Can he defend that proposition? Can he defend it if it is the president who thinks that the subject matter is “silly”? If so, how? We are not told. Presumably, Kroft is still too busy focusing on Obama-Clinton body language signals to give us an answer.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that when it comes to criticism of Kroft’s style and lack of substance, Kroft says “This is something that has not been on my radar screen.” Because, you know, God forbid that Steve Kroft should be forced to take heed of criticism and improve his work product.