Recollecting the time Mike Wallace and 60 Minutes actually apologized.
We were told it was the first time Mike Wallace had ever apologized to an elected official on air on 60 Minutes. For all I know, it still might be the only time. And 15 years later, in this age of Obama when the establishment media is hostile to conservatives, the episode still can teach lessons about how to fight back with the truth.
If the story is straight enough, there do remain honest liberal reporters and columnists who will come to your aid.
The year was 1993. I was working as a press secretary for U.S. Rep. Bob Livingston, of Louisiana, a strongly pro-military but carefully budget-cutting veteran of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. Our top legislative aide, Paul Cambon, told me that 60 Minutes had been snooping around a small medical-research project back in Louisiana funded through a military grant.
The medical researcher was seeking better ways to treat brain injuries of the sort soldiers often suffer. The problem, Cambon said, was that the researcher’s thesis did not seem terribly original. It had something to do, as I best recall, with how some brain injuries that otherwise would not be deadly could cause the heart to stop beating. The idea—again, this is from memory—was to show that emergency medical personnel should work just as fast to ensure and stabilize respiration as they do to treat the site of the head injury itself. Cambon told me, though, that other specialists had informed him that these same findings had already been proved nearly a full century before, in the late 1890s.
Meanwhile, this particular research was drawing protests because—get this—the doctor’s method involved repeatedly shooting cats in the head with BB pellets. The cats would be placed in a head vise so the doctor could precisely aim the pellets, and then…Boom! Then he’d study the results. Animal rights activists, for obvious reasons, were outraged. And since this research was being funded by the U.S. government, in Livingston’s backyard, through the military over which Livingston’s subcommittee had jurisdiction…well, some of the protests were aimed in Livingston’s direction.
Again, this was shooting cats, on the taxpayer dime. Oddly enough, though, 60 Minutes wasn’t interested in blasting Livingston for allowing the cat shooting. The TV show wasn’t outraged that the goal of this cat shooting reportedly was to prove something already understood for 95 years. Instead, 60 Minutes wanted to know why Livingston was not supporting the cat-shooting experiments. The news magazine’s staff seemed to assume that soldiers’ lives would be dependent on this one scientist’s experiments.
What Livingston had done, as a careful appropriator, was pretty standard stuff. In the most recent military funding bill, he had inserted language suspending that project’s grant until the research could be scientifically peer-reviewed. He didn’t kill the project entirely. He just caused a pause so he could learn if the experiments actually had real military/ medical usefulness. If not, then it was both a waste of taxpayer money and outrageous cruelty.
For whatever reason, 60 Minutes was lining up with the cat shooter. (We never nailed down rumors that a CBS News producer was related to somebody close to the scientist.) All we knew was that the show’s snoopers seemed intent on a morality play in which a purportedly pro-military congressman was blocking research that could save soldiers’ lives. Bizarre.
ANYWAY, CAMBON’S INFORMATION proved accurate. A 60 Minutes assistant producer finally contacted our office directly. To this day, I can remember the attitude: aggressive, imperious, accusatory. No matter what I said about how a temporary suspension of the cat shooting was just simple common sense, it fell on deaf ears. A Republican congressman was in the show’s sights—oddly enough, not for being too heartless, but for supposedly pandering to touchy-feely animal rights extremists. And the producer was demanding an on-camera interview with Livingston.
I drew on my experience as a research assistant for a widely used text on journalistic ethics, The Virtuous Journalist by Stephen Klaidman and Tom Beauchamp, in which CBS News and 60 Minutes had been used in several case studies of what not to do. I advised Livingston that he should demand the right to have our own camera tape any interview ourselves, so we could have irrefutable evidence if the show unfairly spliced several interview segments together, out of context, to make him look bad. Livingston declined. He had nothing to hide, he said. Tell the producer he would gladly do the interview— as long as it was aired either live or entirely unedited. Pre-taped and edited, no. Live or fulllength, fine.
I called the producer back with our terms. She laughed nastily. She said I’d regret it.
I went to work. With Cambon’s help, I gathered every conceivable document on the cat project. I spent days putting together pages of evidence showing that everything we were doing was prudent, unremarkable, fair to both sides, and representative of good fiscal stewardship. I then offered the report to the producer. She scoffed.
Some days later, CBS star Mike Wallace himself called me. He pretended to be my buddy. It was a tough act to carry off when his words carried a veiled threat.
Speaking in a faux-avuncular voice, Wallace said almost these exact words: “Look, how old are you?…. Just 28? Well, let me give you some advice. You seem like a smart young man. But let me tell you what I’ve learned in 50 years in this business. What I’ve learned is that you’re always better off answering all the questions. And you’re always better off if you cooperate with people who have a lot more experience than you. There’s a good reason why I and 60 Minutes have such an excellent reputation. Just cooperate with us, and you’ll be just fine.”
Gee, how nice.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online