60 Minutes is, quite simply, the best written and most skillfully produced show on television. Given the show’s prominence and the influence it often wields — the show’s founder, Don Hewitt, noted that the Maryland legislature at one point on Mondays introduced “60 Minutes bills” that resulted from the previous night’s broadcast –conservatives are often irked by its perceived bias.
While legendary 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace called the notion of such bias “damn foolishness,” Steve Kroft’s interview with President Obama and Secretary Clinton might have shaken his belief. Television is both visual and auditory and bias is conveyed through intangible qualities like tone and body language as much as through the substance of the questions posed in an interview.
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.