Bipartisanship is a rare thing, but this past week CBS’s “60 Minutes” managed to pull it off. Its allegation that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s vaccine distribution was corrupt earned sharp accusations of peddling innuendo or flat-out falsehoods from Republicans, the Poynter Institute, Democratic officials and politicians, and even CBS’s colleagues in corporate media.
So did the once-esteemed show explain or retract its reporting Sunday night during its first show since the DeSantis story? Nope, not at all. Instead, they read a few comments from viewers on the story and moved on. This isn’t an aberration: It’s a new reality that Republicans and conservatives alike will have to contend with in the years to come.
Sunday’s @60Minutes ended with @Sharyn_Alfonsi reading comments about her shoddy hit piece on @RonDeSantisFL. She didn’t acknowledge doing anything wrong. “Some viewers, including a retired newsman, applauded the story.” #60Minutes pic.twitter.com/v5qEwT5PXc
— Brent Baker (@BrentHBaker) April 12, 2021
“In the mail this week, comments about our story about disparities in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccine in Palm Beach County, Florida,” correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi, who is responsible for the story in question, opened the segment.
Viewers focused on an exchange with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at a press conference. Some viewers, including a retired newsman, applauded the story: ‘Ron DeSantis will continue to deny, refute… call your reporting a witch hunt… I can only hope… that you continue to investigate and expose the truth.’ – Nick Boryack, Vero Beach, Florida.
But many more comments condemned our editing and reporting.
This is a great look at how little CBS thinks of its critics, so let’s unpack it. To start, since Boryack’s old job is mentioned solely to bolster the legitimacy of his observation, it would be helpful to know what his experience is.
There’s reason not to call undue attention to a retired citizen just to justify CBS’s shoddy reporting, but notice he’s the only person whose career is listed at all. Why? To make clear he knows what he’s talking about, just as CBS does — and just as you and I don’t.
But then again, WashingtonPost.com media writer Eric Wemple didn’t get his comments mentioned on CBS. He had said that, rather than doing their job as investigative reporters, CBS “left [the facts] floating in a plume of innuendo.”
Nor did the Poynter Institute’s Tom Jones, who spent decades reporting in Florida and Minnesota and wrote that “it doesn’t appear as if DeSantis did anything wrong. If he did, ’60 Minutes’ failed to provide enough information, context or evidence that he did.”
Nor did they tackle CNN Editor-at-Large Chris Cillizza, a flagrant liberal who wrote that CBS report insinuated corruption “without any other facts or context to back it up,” and (gasp!) its sloppiness is “a massive gift to DeSantis as he looks to his reelection race next year and, he hopes, a 2024 run for the Republican presidential nomination.”
Even CNN’s Oliver Darcy, by any stretch a partisan scold, criticized the report, writing that it “never offered any substantive evidence to support the significant assertion and link the donation with the partnership.”
None of this is to tout the credentials of any of the critics, but since we don’t have any credentials for Boryack, it’s worth wondering what makes one “newsman” greater than another — other than agreeing with CBS, of course. So what did “60 Minutes” have to say for itself besides that? Nothing much: Rather, in a statement earlier in the week the company claimed the story “speaks for itself.”
That part of the statement is completely true, but what the story really says is that both CBS and “60 Minutes” are willing to publish sloppy hit pieces on Republicans and conservatives who defy their narratives, that CBS no longer thinks it necessary to even remotely justify its propaganda, and that the majority of corporate media are shameless even in the face of the extremely rare sight of bipartisan, media-wide condemnation.
This is the new normal. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick was not beaten to death with a fire extinguisher, former President Donald Trump did not ask Georgia’s secretary of state to “find the fraud,” an activist writing for The Atlantic did not watch as a policeman shot a child for skipping a sign-in sheet, Hunter Biden’s laptop did not come from the Kremlin, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo did not do a remotely decent or heroic job of fighting COVID in his state, to name a few.
Corporate media was eventually exposed on every one of these falsehoods, either by outside pressure or quiet alterations and “corrections,” but how many reporters or editors were actually held accountable for news cycle-dominating falsehoods? What lessons were learned if no one was held accountable? How many Americans even know these stories have been demonstrably proven false? Does anybody even care?
“An overarching media rule in many sectors of U.S. journalism,” investigative reporter Glenn Greenwald correctly observes, “is if you recklessly publish a story that maligns people hated by the outlet and its readers/viewers, and the story turns out to be false, the audience doesn’t mind, so the outlet also doesn’t.”
He’s right, but Republicans, conservatives and the rest of the country need to understand this: An already liberal and left-wing corporate media was fully radicalized even farther under Trump. Once illiberal absolutists hijack newsrooms, alternative viewpoints are banned, dissent is censored by corporate titans to reporters’ cheers, and this is taught as normal in the country’s top journalism schools.
The disinformation machine built to fight Trump contributed a great deal to his defeat, but far from disassembling their new weapon after the battle, corporate media simply turned it on the next targets: Republicans like DeSantis and conservatives like Tucker Carlson.
This is the new reality, and there’s no going back so long as corporate media’s liberal audience continues to clamor for more blood. We can’t wish it away, so we must recognize it as true — and be prepared to fight it boldly, loudly, publicly, and ruthlessly every single step of the way.