For decades, CNN used the stentorian voice of James Earl Jones to proclaim its majestic slogan -- "THIS...is CNN." If that wasn't already in retirement, they can bury it now.
The other day I posted an article about how reprehensible I thought it was that CNN was giving a “Town Hall” to Trump – and that was written before he’d been found guilty of sexual assault. And before I knew that the audience would be made up of only Republicans and independent voters who leaned right.
I didn’t watch the event, needless-to-say. Though I did see a few clips, and read a lot of commentary about it. So, while I didn’t see enough of it to know how it all went, I did see and learn enough to know that it confirmed my worst suspicions. Because my worst suspicions had a really low bar to meet – and it met them.
To start with, this wasn’t a “Town Hall.” An actual Town Hall opens its doors to the town, anyone there is welcome to come, whatever their politics, free to ask questions. This, however, was an invited audience with no intention to have the mix of a town, but rather be essentially Republican. It was only a “Town Hall” because that’s the name that CNN gave it – sort of like the old Republican “Clean Air Act” which actually undercut the environment. This was a Trump rally, which CNN willingly gave over to him.
Gave over to him the day after he was found guilty of sexual assault. Sixteen months after he directed an assault on the American government and democracy. And a year-and-a-half after he began trying to undermine democracy by falsely claiming with zero evidence and 60 lost court cases that the election was stolen, a lie he has continued to this day.
And CNN gave him the microphone and said, “Go ahead, lie some more. Undermine democracy to your heart’s content. The floor is yours. Here’s the key to CNN. Turn the lights out when you’re done.”
One of the clips I did see was Trump swearing on his children’s lives – something he insisted he never, ever does, which I suspect is a lie, though it doesn’t matter, although it may to his children since their lives are now at risk because what he said next was a lie – he swore on his children's lives that he DOES NOT KNOW who E. Jean Carroll is, DOES NOT KNOW who that woman is, he swears, he swears on his children, he never saw her in his life, he never met her, it’s so outrageous, she’s a nut, he NEVER MET her ever in his life – except,,,except, well, you see, the problem here is that there's a photo of him and his then-wife laughing together with E. Jean Carroll and her then-husband, who Trump recognizes, perhaps from TV, but he does know who he is. And who he is, is E. Jean Carroll’s husband, who is standing right next to him, everyone laughing along with Trump.
It's not a photo op with a random stranger. It's two couples together. Having a laugh together. At an NBC party.
And when Trump swore on his children’s lives that he DOES NOT KNOW her, that he has NEVER MET her, he actually, really knows that he’s in the photo with her and her husband laughing with Trump and his wife – because he’s testified to it in a deposition.
And there was no push-back on this during the CNN Trump Rally. Moderator Kaitlin Collins let it slide. As the Republican-based audience there laughed it up with Trump ridiculing Ms. Carroll, asking what kind of woman does "hanky-panky" in a department store, once again defaming the women who a jury unanimously voted Trump guilty of sexually abusing. And guilty of defaming. And there was no follow-up, "Just to clarify about the trial, but E. Jean Carroll didn't sue you because she was trying to seduce you, trying to have 'hanky-panky' with you, but because she swore under oath that you had sexually abused her. And to be clear, a jury of six men and three women unanimously agreed that's what happened and found you guilty."
In fairness to Ms. Collins, she did try to fact-check Trump in real time throughout the evening. But unfortunately that's not enough when you're given the assignment of hosting a Trump Rally, with a fervent Trump crowd cheering him on and booing you. Probably no one short of Mike Wallace or Jon Stewart would have been able to hold their own under the one-sided, pathological lying conditions CNN created. (Or also perhaps Mehdi Hassan.) And even they would have been hard-pressed with an auditorium booing and hissing at them.
And CNN knew all this, because, while they’re irresponsible, they’re not total idiots. They know who Trump is. They know what he’s done. They know who they invited. They know the unanimous jury verdict said Trump was guilty of sexual abuse.
And they also know democracy is on the ballot in 2024.
No, CNN is not total idiots. Just partial ones. Because it’s appeared for a while that they’re trying to position themselves away from the center, since that isn’t working for them, and coddling a touch more to the right. And this effort providing Republicans with a Trump Rally was clearly to draw far-right viewers to watch CNN and hopefully get them to stick around. Except that far-right viewers hate CNN. In fact, I'd almost go so far as to say far-right viewers HATE CNN more than they do MSNBC. They dismiss MSNBC as "libs" and hate it for that, but they seem to viscerally hate CNN on a guttural level. And CNN has to know this. Yet they think they'll win them over.
In the end, this event last night, despite being a Trump Rally, wasn’t about Trump. We know who he is. This was about CNN. And we now know more clearly who they are.
As we remember who they once were.
CNN Gets Licht'd
For a while now, after Chris Licht was named the new president of CNN in February, 2022, it’s been clear that the news channel has been shifting to the right. Although it was sort of, kind of clear what they were thinking – they didn’t want to be a “liberal” news organization, and didn’t want to be a “conservative” one either, and being in the middle wasn’t working, but felt that meant getting rid of any personnel who were too liberal, though not seemingly anyone too conservative, since apparently that would upset conservatives more than liberals who, being liberal, are less rigid – thought it wasn’t clear why CNN thought this was good thinking and would work. After all, firing some people but moving to the right is another matter entirely, and that would lose some viewers. And not only would they not be moving far enough to the right to appeal to today’s extreme right, but it seems that CNN hasn’t figured out that Republicans hate CNN even more than more-liberal MSNBC for some reason.
So, I get it. Sort of, kind of.
But the other day, CNN announced something near-inexplicable. They’re going to be hosting a Town Hall with Trump next month.
“Inexplicable” is the politest word I can think of.
After all, Trump is not the Republican nominee, just one of several announced candidates. Certainly he’s the favorite, far-and-away, but the first Republican primary is still eight months away. The GOP convention is a year away. I can only imagine how angry the other Republican candidates are. What Trump is, though, is a private citizen. Yes, he’s a former president, though one who was defeated and twice impeached. He also is under indictment. And under investigation in four other cases – including trying to overthrow the U.S. government and democracy. And a defendant in a fifth. And, by the time of the CNN Town Hall, could be found guilty in a civil case for rape and defamation.
So, yeah, let’s invite Trump to have a Town Hall and give him the one thing he seems to want more than anything else in the world (other than money) – attention and a national platform to spout more of his 31,000+ lies, hate, white supremacy, and racist, anti-Semitic fascism.
I don’t know what CNN is thinking.
I suspect they think maybe they’ll get some Fox “News” viewers to tune in to watch. And maybe they will. But they’re not going to stick around because, as noted, they hate CNN. Meanwhile, CNN will lose some liberal (and maybe even moderate) viewers during the Town Hall – and there’s a reasonable chance that many of them will stay away.
If Trump becomes the Republican nominee for president, then, yes, I can see CNN giving him a Town Hall at that point. And I can see them also giving the Democratic nominee for president, who I assume will be President Biden, a Town Hall, as well.
My one hope is that, being a live event, taking questions from the audience, CNN allows a true, fair mix of questions – including those about January 6, refusing to return classified documents when asked, the Manhattan indictment and, if found guilty, the rape verdict.
Being CNN, though, I don’t know if they’ll edit the questions first.
Of course, being CNN, there’s a whole lot I don’t know. Starting with – what on earth are they thinking??
But yeah, CNN, let’s give the fascist, private citizen who tried to overthrow the government and democracy and is on trial for rape a national platform because we might get some fascist viewers who don’t usually watch us to tune in.
Never mind all the people who refuse to watch and not tune back in for a long time.
All Tuckered Out
I haven’t written about Tucker Carlson being fired by Fox “News” because I just haven’t cared enough. To be clear, I’m thrilled he was fired – it’s good for democracy – but to me, that’s pretty much the end of the story. The “Why?” is of little interest to me. If you have fallen off a cliff and are hanging on to a ledge by a hand, with a 10,000 feet drop below, and someone above yells, "I'm throwing a rope down,” the idea of yelling back, “Why?” probably will not occur to anyone. The fact that someone threw a rope and saved you is all that matters.
Now, yes, the “Why?” behind Tucker Carlson being fired is something fun to ponder. But that’s largely all it is, something to ponder. And honestly, I not only don’t think most analysis of The Reason is anything more than just guesses – my sense is that there isn’t any One Reason, but rather that were a lot of reasons that built up over time, and something else happened, and it wasn’t The Reason, but just finally too much, the last straw and “Goodbye, don’t let the door hit you when you leave.”
For that matter, most of the reasons guessed at are things that had been going on for a long time and Fox likely knew all about. His misogyny, his conflicts with his bosses, his still pushing election fraud, his toxic workplace, his emails that got released during the Dominion lawsuit, his lack of sponsors, most of whom had dropped him. None of these came as a sudden, shocking surprise to the powers that be at Fox “News.”
More to the point, whatever reason he was fired for, it was not because of his fascist, near-treasonous views. He’s been slamming Ukraine, supporting Putin and Russia, criticizing vaccines (despite getting vaccinated himself), insisting there was no Insurrection, encouraging belief that the election was stolen, smearing women and minorities and more. And it never got him fired.
So, whatever The Reason he finally did get fired, it wasn’t for any of that. Which means The Reason is pretty unimportant. At worse, it was because – to Fox “News” he finally crossed the line and went too far. But of course, in the real world, Tucker Carlson went too far long ago. He’s been fascist, misogynistic, racist, anti-Semitic, White Supremacist, Russia loving, near-treasonous for years.
And Fox “News” will remain who it has always been. Just without Tucker Carlson.
By the way, that’s no small thing. As extremist and divisive as Fox “News” is, Carlson had a deeper reach into fascism and conspiracy theories and giving those idea and those voices a platform than the others at Fox. So, while Fox “News” was fine with tolerating a Tucker Carlson for years – and may find another one eventually – the overall channel generally focused more on their basic extreme-right, divisive agenda of Democrats being evil, Joe Biden being horrible and liberals are woke panderers and destroying what was good about America in the 1840s.
So, in the end, I’m just glad that Tucker Carlson is gone from Fox “News.” He show up someone, probably on his own online service like Glenn Beck, Alex Jones Mark Levin, Joe Rogan and others. Or something else. Like enter politics. Or whatever. But “Why” he is gone just doesn’t matter to me. I just like that he’s gone, and it was done by Fox.
In fact, I think I’ll the best explanation of why Tucker Carlson is gone comes from lunatic MAGA pastor Shane Vaughn who pouts out lunatic videos. And so, I think his views on the subject are the best way to go out, and we’ll give him the final word.
"Tucker Carlson is gone because of spiritual warfare. I want you to listen closely to me. There is something much bigger than the elites. There's something much bigger than Charles Schwab, George Soros, or Rupert Murdoch.”
Wait, Charles Schwab?? Never mind, back to Pastor Vaughn.
"There is something that is working for the destruction of America. It works in the background. You don't see it. You like to call it the Cabal, all the podcasters love to talk to you about the Cabal, they love to talk around about Black Rock, and that's fine, and it's all true. But ladies and gentlemen, you are focusing on the symptoms, rather than the disease.”
And what is that disease? It goes beyond Q, he says. Indeed, it goes to Alpha and Omega. And finally, he gets to the nub of it all.
“Beyond all of that, there are some people that know what's going on, and we know how to fight against it because we know that Tucker Carlson was a victim of demonic power."
Demonic power got rid of Tucker Carlson. That explanation of The Reason is as good as any. Especially when fascist, misogynistic, racist, anti-Semitic, White Supremacist, Russia loving, near-treasonous and reality are too hard to face.
It’s very weird to feel disappointed by a settlement of $787.5 million. But it seems that a whole lot of people are understandably disappointed by the Fox-Dominion $787.5 million settlement.
The money is monumental. No matter how much money a company has, paying out $787.5 million has to have some impact. But, of course, “some” is likely minor and short term, because, after all, the parent company, Fox Corporation, has a valuation of $23 billion, and the ad revenue keeps rolling in.
(Side note: What kind of negotiation went into that “.5 million” part of the settlement. “No!! We will not accept $787 million. It’s $787.5 million, or we’re going to trial!!!” Either that or, “No!! We will not ever, never pay $788 million. But make it $787.5 million, and we’ve got a deal.” “How about we split the difference -- $787.7 million?” No!! We’re holding firm. $787.5 or we’ll take our chances in court!”)
It's a two-fold disappointment. The first goes beyond the $1.6 billion originally sued for compensatory damages, and includes looking forward to how many billions a jury might have awarded in punitive damages. But it’s the second that’s harder to take – that Fox “News” does not appear required to make any acknowledgment of lying on air (let alone repeated acknowledgements for several weeks), and so the vast Fox audience will likely go blissfully unaware and ignorant of reality. Which, of course, is on-brand for Fox.
Unfortunately, for better or worse, Dominion was suing on behalf of its company, and not for the country. And the company is valued at $80 million. So, when uncertain how a jury will decide, no matter how much evidence makes you confident you’ll win – and knowing how many appeals there will be, which might take years -- getting a guaranteed settlement right now of $787.5 million is disappointing to many others, but utterly understandable for the company.
All this said, although it’s likely that just having to pay money (even that much money) and not acknowledge lying means Fox “News” will be close to business as usual, it also seems likely that this settlement will not have zero impact on how Fox “News” does business. After all, should election fraud and Dominion voting machines come up in the 2024 election and beyond (and sorry, “should” is the wrong word, because “when” is the right one, since it will come up in today’s Republican Party), Fox knows that all its private emails and other evidence that came to light during the Dominion discovery process are still on record – as is the judge’s ruling that Fox “News” did lie to the extent that they weren’t even allowed to argue that they didn’t. So, while I’m absolutely sure that Fox will be Fox, there has to be a certain wariness now at the channel that there’s a limit how far they can go without again putting themselves at risk.
All the more so because there is still a pending lawsuit against Fox “News” by Smartmatic about its voting machines. And this suit is for even more – $2.7 billion.
Moreover, although Smartmatic too is, of course, suing on behalf of the company, it says it has a different perspective. And after the settlement was announced, Smartmatic released a statement that said, “Dominion’s litigation exposed some of the misconduct and damage caused by Fox’s disinformation campaign. Smartmatic will expose the rest.”
So, yes, the settlement is disappointing to many Americans. And no, it’s not likely that Fox “News” will change its business practices all that much.
But – they are now on notice that here is much more they can lose. So, it is no unreasonable to think that how Fox “News” deals with election fraud in the future will, at the very least, be done more carefully than before.
On the other hand, it can’t be done much less carefully than before…
On Sunday, Fox “News” media critic Howard Kurtz and Federalist writer Emily Jashinsky complained about MSNBC not airing Trump’s lie-filled rant from Mar-a-Lago after being indicted.
Jashinsky suggested that that decision was “really insulting,” and that I mean, that speech got really big ratings for a lot of folks."
Not mentioned was that those “a lot of folks” were Trump acolytes who hang on every word he says, including the 30,573 lies he told while in office, the base of whom Trump says he wouldn’t lose any support from even if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue. The “lot of folks” who still believes the election was stolen. The “lot of folks” of whom many think JFK, Jr. will come back to life and run with Trump. Those “a lot of folks.”
Jahinsky added that MSNBC’s refusal was telling the audience that it “can't be trusted to know that this guy might be exaggerating like politicians do.” Never mind that Trump doesn’t exaggerate, he lies. This is a similar gambit used by the extreme right to bizarrely defend serial fantasist George Santos. But to be clear, “exaggerating” is saying you got an A on a test when you really got a B. “Lying” is saying you graduated from college when you didn’t even go. Missing, too, in her self-serving slam is that it’s not a serious news organization’s job to report lies. It’s to report news. And to be factual.
Kurtz built on Jashinsky’s point. “It seems almost condescending to me. You know, we don't want you to hear what the Republican frontrunner has to say because you might fall for it."
As opposed to, “We’re not going to broadcast what the Republican frontrunner has to say because his history shows it will be filled with lies.”
To his credit, Howard Kurtz has actually criticized Fox “News” in the past, though only on rare occasions and only gently. And he used this to make the point of his occasional semi-fairness (which only leaps out compared to the rest of "Triple-Down Fox") that "When Fox didn't take the two January 6th committee hearings in prime time, I was critical of that.” But equating the two is utterly disingenuous. The hearings were the end result of a year-long, official bi-partisan government investigation into an Insurrection to overthrow the U.S. government and democracy. The Mar-a-Lago event was a self-serving speech by a known-liar just indicted for tax fraud, trying to justify himself. Not quite the same.
There are a few very important other things of note here.
To start with, to her credit (and in this case, actual credit), the Fox Business host Liz Clayman pushed back and actually defended MSNBC. “I’m wondering if Emily would think it's insulting that Fox News in the past has decided on occasion not to cover a Donald Trump rally or speech," Clayman noted. "That has been happening in the past. And you know, I love people who don't, who just want to throw that out there and say the editorial decision was supposed to be this. Editorial decisions are made for all kinds of reasons."
And then she rightly added, "And MSNBC feels that their viewers probably didn't want to see what maybe they felt was going to be the same old grievances or some lies.”
Boy, did Liz Clayman nail that on the head. Good for her. Good as it was, though, left out were some other critical factors --
The election is a year-and-a-half away. Trump isn’t even the Republican nominee yet, just a candidate. The leading candidate, certainly. But in 2016, Jed Bush was the leading GOP candidate at one point. In 2008, Rudy Giuliani was the leading candidate early on – before crashing and burning. No news show has even the slightest obligation to broadcast an entire speech by a political candidate this early. Or even the entire speech of a nominee a month before the election. What most do is record a speech and show excepts – which is, in fact, exactly what MSNBC did.
And almost most hilarious of all is this criticism of MSNBC to not air live an entire self-serving rant by someone just indicted was done by those on a network that is pretty much not reporting on a $1.6 billion lawsuit by Dominion against that very network, in which text messages between their own on-air reporters showed that it was relentlessly lying to its viewers.
Man, talk about actually “condescending,” “really insulting” and showing as clearly as anything that you believe your viewers “can’t be trusted.” There is nothing “almost condescending” about it. That is pure-grade, 100% condescension – topped only by fear of exposure.
In the end, Kurtz defended his position. “I just think, let the viewers decide. They're smart, and you don't have to shield them from this sort of thing."
“They’re smart” is always good for a laugh. Because it lets me point out again that back in Fairleigh Dickinson University released the results of their survey of TV news which showed that people who watched no news at all were better informed than people who watched Fox “News.”
Ah, the ol’ “We report, you decide” gambit. Though of course, as their own private texts show, what Fox reports often has little bearing on the truth. Making the whole “you decide” thing a wee bit skewed.
On the other hand, MSNBC does let viewers decide. And what they’ve decided is that when someone has lied to you 30,573 times, they don’t need to hear it all yet again live.
Because when you do keep listening to it, you become less informed than those who watch no news at all.
And think the election was stolen. And that JFK, Jr. will come back to life. And Jewish space lasers caused the California wildfires. And Anderson Cooper eats babies.
And think that Trump only exaggerates.
But still, it’s good to see Fox attempt to criticize actual news channels on the question of standards. Good because it wasn’t clear that Fox was aware of the concept.
"60 Minutes" Gets Stahled
Edward R. Murrow is one of my journalism heroes. I’ve read four books on him – two major biographies, a history (Murrow’s Boys) on his time organizing CBS News team in London during WWII, and the memoir Due to Circumstances Beyond Our Control by producer Fred Friendly who was his partner. This latter has the most-detailed telling of their famous See It Now broadcast (the precursor of 60 Minutes) that documented the grave actions of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, devoting a full chapter to it. The show is considered one of the seminal steps in helping end McCarthyism by showing his reckless brutality for what it was. It is also part of the CBS legacy for high-end journalism.
(In fact, when I was at Northwestern, I did a one-on-one independent study with a new professor, Sig Mickelson, who had been president of CBS News when Murrow was there. We never talked about the McCarthy broadcast, but did talk about Murrow, though only briefly. By the way, if you ever saw George Clooney’s movie, Good Night, and Good Luck, Sig was played by Jeff Daniels – who looks absolutely nothing like him. Rather, he looked a lot like the actor John Randolph, who you’d recognize. But I digress.)
I didn’t watch Lesley Stahl’s interview with Marjorie Taylor Greene on 60 Minutes this past Sunday. I have my standards, and even at their lowest level, I'm afraid that ignorant, anti-Semitic, conspiracy-minded, Insurrectionist fascists aren't able to reach them. That, and I just didn’t have the stomach for it. As a result, I can’t comment on the specifics and won't.
What I did see, though, was the promotion they did, and I know the show’s long history of promoting their segments. And when they have something controversial or that has conflict, they make sure to let the audience know. But when they’re doing more of a puff piece, they make that clear with friendly footage. This had warm footage of Lesley Stahl walking around the street with Greene with happy smiles. And the text wasn’t about how 60 Minutes was sitting down with one of the more divisive members of the House, but instead about her getting the “nickname” of MTG. (A particular warning light because she didn’t “get” the “nickname,” but gave it to herself out of jealously after seeing all the attention Alexandria Ocasio Cortez was receiving as AOC. While I hoped dearly that the broadcast would be an heir to the See It Now "Tiffany network" legacy of Murrow-like shredding of Joe McCarthy, I didn’t have those expectations. The show's promotion for this looked a whole lot closer to a puff piece than an insightful look at someone who was a divisive danger to the country.
Further, I have since seen several articles on the Stahl-Greene segment and read comments from people who did watch. And like many things in the news, we often rely on what little we do know and what is reported by others we trust. And if it wasn’t my worst fear of a puff piece, it seems to have been a cousin dancing in the neighborhood.
A good friend, who knew my concerns, wrote – “So I saw the 60 Minutes interview, and I thought that it was not good at all. She did hit Greene with quotes and debated her, but she let Greene get the last word which implies a logic and elevates her bullshit to a respectful level as you feared it would.” He later went into more detail when we spoke, and explained how Lesley Stahl would occasionally show footage of Greene, but not use it as the foundation for a more involved discussion, or not use video of Greene to contradict something disingenuous she tried to pass off as the truth. And that Stahl seemed to try to make the piece -- both out on the street walking among the people and when inside for the more direct interview -- charming, which ultimately humanized the anti-Semitic, fascist Greene. Stahl would also ask a hard question, but not follow-up with what was the obvious comeback you were waiting to hear.
(For instance, when Greene responded to a challenging question about some reprehensible comment she posted on Twitter by saying she didn't write all of her tweets and that some of her staff did, Stahl left it there. Nothing more. As if that explanation was reasonable and the accepted final word. Left unasked and hanging in the air were such blatant, follow-up questions as -- Do you read the tweets posted under your name? And do you none-the-less agree with that tweet that was posted under your name? If not, why didn't you delete the tweet? Or why not publicly respond that a staffer posted that and explain what your real position was? And did you reprimand the staffer? Have they continued posting some of the other problematic things under your name that you don't agree with? And how do we know they were posted by a staffer and not by you, since after all they are under your own name? We just have your word for it with no evidence to suggest anyone else wrote it.)
When Stahl asked Greene about her repugnant charge that Democrats were the "party of pedophiles," she not only doubled-down on the charge but even included President Biden in her weird, reprehensible definition that somehow involved the concepts of sexualizing children and transgender. Stahl's response was an almost-whispered, "Wow." While I'm sure to many, Greene's own incoherent words were damning, but it left uncertain viewers with her explanation as the final arbiter. Since this wasn't a live broadcast, and 60 Minutes could have put together the segment in as informative a manner as they wanted, perhaps editing in a brief interview with an expert in the field talking about how damaging such horrific mis-representations are might have been more pointed.
And then there was a far-more damning tweet written by respected scholar Norman Ornstein, who wrote – “I have known Lesley Stahl for more than forty years, worked alongside her for many election weeks. She has been a great journalist, but this is a disgraceful, cringeworthy performance. Shameful to the max.”
All the more shameful because Lesley Stahl is, as Ornstein noted, an excellent journalist with a long, admirable career. And shameful, too, because she seems to have ignored a story she's told on herself. It’s from the time she did what she thought was a blunt, critical 60 Minutes piece on President Ronald Reagan, which included footage of him giving a speech at Mount Rushmore surrounded by American flags. The next day, she got a call from a White House advisor she knew, and was sure he’d be screaming at her. Instead, though, he told how great he thought it was. She couldn’t understand why, she’d said such harsh things about Reagan. "Oh, Lesley,” the official told her, “the American people don't listen to what you say; they only see those great pictures of Ronald Reagan." As she wrote later, she realized it's all about the visuals. And so, there she was on Sunday, giving the lovely visuals of walking around, smiling with Marjorie Taylor Greene.
As I said, I didn't have it in me to watch. So, the specifics are not as issue here. What is clear is that the show was not an exposé on Marjorie Taylor Greene, but an attempt to offer a balanced look at her. And at that, I don’t have a clue what 60 Minutes thought it was doing – and why? After all, they’re not idiots. They know who Marjorie Taylor Greene is. They know she helped enable the Insurrection to overthrow the government. They know she’s still enabling the GOP to undermine democracy. They know she’s a Q-Anon conspiracist. They know she’s ignorant and an anti-Semite, who pushed Rothschild-backed space lasers, among many other lunacies. They know all this – so, I have no idea what they were doing???
And that's the point. Even if they were trying to do a “balanced” piece, this isn’t a balanced person -- in more ways than one. This is a crazy, ignorant, divisive person who is a danger to democracy. And they know that. Balanced is good in journalism. But so it truth and accuracy. Sometimes, there are "both sides" to a story.
The Murrow-McCarthy broadcast is a master class in journalism, showing how this kind of thing should be done, fairly and accurately, with meticulous research and video using Sen. McCarthy’s own words. And importantly, compared to what Lesley Stahl did with Greene, it wasn’t interview, but rather an exposé. My recollection is that Murrow and Friendly had no intention of inviting McCarthy on as a guest. (It’s possible they asked, and he refused, but I don’t think so. They kept it very secret, except from the top network executives. They didn’t want anything to leak, so that McCarthy could get out ahead of it.
To be clear, Marjorie Taylor Greene is no Joseph McCarthy. Though – if she had a clue who he was, which I’m not certain of, other than him being a “name” she’s heard – she probably would love to be. And is divisive and dangerous and fascist on her own terms.
Murrow and Friendly had been talking about doing the show on McCarthy for a while, but weren’t sure of the right now, or focus. They’d done a couple of shows that touched on McCarthy – one about an Air Force lieutenant, Milo Radulovich, who McCarthy tried to destroy because his immigrant father subscribed to several Yugoslavian newspapers to stay in touch with his homeland, one paper which was designated Communist, and another broadcast about a black woman named Annie Lee Moss, who was a low-level clerk at the Pentagon who McCarthy tried to paint as a national security threat. (When his mistakes surfaced, and the hearing turned into a disaster for McCarthy, he left the room and turned the rest of it over to his counsel – Roy Cohn, later Trump’s mentor.)
But these shows about newsworthy miscarriages of justice were just precursors to the ultimate See It Now broadcast that focused solely on McCarthy, one which was long-planned as something debated internally for a while to do.
As I noted, the broadcast was considered one of the first efforts to erode McCarthy’s power. CBS was very concerned with the broadcast and wouldn’t even take out ads for it. Murrow and Friendly had to take out their own ad in New York and pay for it themselves.
Murrow and Friendly made an offer to McCarthy that he could respond on the show any way he wanted. A few weeks later, See It Now turned over their full 30 minutes to McCarthy, who sent them a half-hour film to air. There was a slight bit of criticism about the “reply” not being totally fair, since Murrow-Friendly were professional broadcasters who had all the technology at their disposal, while McCarthy just sat and talked to the camera for 30 minutes. In the end, though, McCarthy came across so badly in his response that that was almost as damaging to him as the Murrow-Friendly report. And then, to reinforce the difference between then and now, in a subsequent broadcast Murrow got the last word, correcting the lies and mistakes that McCarthy had tried to attack with.
In fact, here is the way Murrow began his six-minute reply. Compare it to Lesley Stahl response of "Wow" after Marjorie Taylor Greene ranted about Democrats and President Biden being pedophiles. Murrow began this way -- and went on for another 5-1/2 minutes. (Which you can listen to here.)
Last week, Senator McCarthy appeared on this program to correct any errors he might have thought we made in our report of March 9th.
The larger point of all this is that knowing what CBS/60 Minutes/See It Now once did at its peak, that’s why it was all the more shameful the way the show and Leslie Stahl, an otherwise excellent journalist, didn’t come close to their legacy of how to deal with dangerous, divisive fascists. All she had to do was sit down in the CBS archives and watch how Edward R. Murrow did it. Not that she had to do it the same -- journalism has changed, and few people are like Edward R. Murrow, nor have the gravitas and public support he did to go up against someone so powerful. But she could have seen that you don't have to be ingratiating with the person you're interviewing, and you're allowed to ask follow-up questions and not let someone who is lying or just plain ignorant, racist and fascist get away with it. It's harmful to Lesley Stahl's legacy and to the high-end legacy of CBS and 60 Minutes, which got its start with See It Now.
This is how you do it.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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