How big of a credibility hit does CBS' "60 Minutes" now face?
The most popular and respected television news magazine took the extraordinary step of apologizing publicly when Executive Producer Jeff Fager acknowledged that the program erred in its reporting of the Benghazi terrorist attacks.
Yes, Fager and "60 Minutes" deserve credit for stepping forward and admitting their wrongdoing. As any politician should know by heart, the cover-up is what gets you in bigger trouble than the crime itself, in most cases.
When someone runs from the truth and insists that nothing us wrong, the public feels snookered. And when someone feels foolish, he or she tends to want to get even.
"60 Minutes" is among the most watched TV shows, which is impressive because it goes against the grain of the usual entertainment fare. Other networks have tried hard — in vain — to come up with rival news magazines that scale the heights of "60 Minutes." But they ultimately failed because only this show knows the secret sauce.
Sure, rival networks can find photogenic, affable, or crusty anchors. They can even uncover compelling stories now and then, too. But they can't imitate the iconic appeal of "60 Minutes."
The show reeks of style and class, whether it is exposing a crooked politician or a sleazy company or whether it is profiling a new rock star. When something is so special and distinctive, it's useless to try to break it down and analyze it. It's much better just to enjoy and appreciate it.
But when "60 Minutes" messes up so publicly, there have to be repercussions. Will heads roll at CBS News? You'd have to think so. But more crucial that unloading an errant journalist or two, we have to wonder whether "60 Minutes" deserves our rapt attention and praise.
The show messed up, and it should be penalized for its sins. Maybe some of us won't believe every word we had on the program from now on.
What CBS cares the most about is not journalistic integrity. It is money.
If this credibility hit touches the ratings of "60 Minutes," the network will take a strong interest. But it's probably unlikely that the public will turn away from the show. Remember, CBS did try to right a wrong. Perhaps the public will move on now.
But "60 Minutes" learned, too, to be more diligent in trusting its sources. This is journalism 101. I learned this lesson in journalism graduate school: When in doubt, leave it out. You'd think that CBS learned that lesson long ago, too.
Jon Friedman writes the Media Matrix blog for Indiewire.com. He is also the author of "Forget About Today: Bob Dylan's Genius for (Re)Invention, Shunning the Naysayers, and Creating a Personal Revolution." Read more reports from Jon Friedman — Click Here Now.
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