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The 60 Minutes interview with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene was yet another example of how the mainstream news media has proven it can’t handle the moment.
I’m not someone who thinks that interviewing MTG is inherently problematic because it “platforms” her. MTG is a member of Congress—she already has a huge platform, and ignoring her isn’t going to make her go away. She’s obviously newsworthy.
Likewise, I am not suggesting that 60 Minutes was somehow trying to “mainstream” or “normalize” Greene. What I am suggesting is that our antiquated 20th century figures and institutions (yes, with its still consistently high ratings, name recognition, and prestige—60 Minutes is still one of the closest things we have to a broadly respected institution that remains in this country) are no longer equipped to respond to the challenges of the moment. The sooner we admit this, the sooner we can fix it.
If you watched Sunday night’s episode, you know what I mean. What you saw was an interviewer who was likely air-dropped into a segment that was prepared and staged by a crack production team, using an antiquated style of semi-confrontational interviewing that’s ineffective on a politician as oft-removed from reality as Greene.
If 60 Minutes once made powerful people squirm and melt down, it now makes them boast, “It wasn’t so bad!”—as Greene told Semafor after the segment aired. “I don’t call you guys ‘fake news.’ I used to,” Greene also said.
Whether she will hold to her newfound civil respect for the Fourth Estate will be put to the test on Tuesday, when she’s scheduled to appear in New York to protest the “witch hunt” against Donald Trump—the same day Trump is set to be arrested, booked, and arraigned on charges relating to his payoff to a porn star with whom he allegedly had a brief affair. (Whether MTG uses the phrase “fake news” or not, I’m willing to bet there will be some Jan. 6-style “media is the enemy of the people” rhetoric!)
Part of 60 Minutes’ appeal is (like another CBS institution, The Price Is Right) the format is almost exactly the same in 2023 as it was in 1973.
You probably already know all the beats of the tired, worn formula. Here’s the part of the segment where MTG listens to mean things people have tweeted about her. Here’s b-roll video of MTG lifting weights (see, she’s just like us!). Here’s MTG and Lesley Stahl walking down the street in MTG’s Georgia district.
I mean, an AI bot could have produced it.
Many extremely online progressives were livid with the lack of pushback from Stahl. Instead of tough follow-up questions, we got shots of the long-time CBS News correspondent furrowing her brow and making faces, presumably, to let us know when she didn’t agree.
To her credit, Stahl did ask Greene about some of her crazy past comments, such as referring to Democrats as “pedophiles.” Greene went on to rationalize the slur by explaining that “Sexualizing children is what pedophiles do to children.” This left Stahl essentially speechless—her comeback consisted of saying, “wow,” and then, “okay.” Mike Wallace, this was not.
A better-equipped reporter (and let’s be clear, while Stahl was once a reporter, but at this point in her distinguished career, she is more of a TV news personality than a dogged muckraker) might have landed a coup de grâce here. One suspects that ex-Axios reporter Jonathan Swan would have lit MTG up as he did with Trump—asking devastating follow-ups, armed with receipts. Instead, the interview just sort of moved on without much meaningful combat. Someone watching at home could be forgiven for thinking that Stahl and Greene simply agreed to disagree.
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Perhaps the most controversial missed opportunity came when Greene denied her past comments about the Parkland school shooting. “I never said Parkland was a false flag,” MTG insisted on air. The show’s producers added a video clip of a tweet where MTG agreed with someone else’s tweet calling Parkland a “false flag planned shooting.” But that evidence went unremarked upon at any point thereafter in the segment. This was, shall we say, a missed opportunity.
Stahl tried to put Greene on the spot by telling her that 60 Minutes had “fact checked” her Parkland comments, but Green quickly hijacked the moment, asking if Stahl had also “fact checked all my statements from kindergarten through 12th grade.” Stahl never bothered to point out that what Greene might have done 30 years ago in high school (Greene is 48) is not the same as suggesting a school shooting that happened in 2018 was a “false flag.”
As a conservative who has long criticized liberal media bias, it feels weird to chastise the mainstream media for finally giving a Republican a softball interview.
But the goal should not be for the MSM to go from unfairly attacking Republicans to wrongly coddling them. The goal should be to inform the viewers and accurately portray the subject. If the goal of those weightlifting clips was to help us “find the real MTG,” well, that didn’t happen.
Greene is not a normal Republican or member of Congress. She is not a normal person. She is a conspiracy theorist who has advanced a conspiracy theory about 9/11, suggested Barack Obama was a Muslim, and that the Clintons are guilty of murder. And of course, there’s the QAnon thing, the Jewish space lasers thing…but we don’t have all day.
We’re witnessing a larger systemic issue here. Instead of relying on the same old packages they’ve been producing since Gerald Ford was in office, 60 Minutes (and the mainstream media, writ large) should rethink everything.
They can start with this: Instead of using media personalities and TV hosts who formed their opinions about politics decades ago, it’s time to pass the torch to a new generation of journalists who are well-sourced, real-life reporters, and not afraid to ask tough follow-up questions. For whatever reason, interviewers who are not from the United States (see the aforementioned Australian-born Swan—or British-American journalist Mehdi Hasan) seem to have fewer reservations about asking uncomfortable follow-up questions.
This doesn’t mean the MSM should hire journalists who are more liberally biased; it means finding journalists who are more aggressive, more prepared, and just plain better at their jobs.
Right-wing populists like Greene have long argued that American institutions such as the mainstream media and establishment elites are decadent and soft and impotent.
The irony is, as 60 Minutes demonstrated, they’re right.
Whatever the institution is that you want to preserve, doing so will require fighting to keep it. Otherwise, it won’t survive this moment.
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