60 Minutes continues to come under fire for censoring facts and manufacturing only news its producers, including Mike Wallace and Leslie Stahl, want viewers to see.
Manufacturing the News
Just when you think the media has hit bottom, something happens to let us know that we havent yet excavated the last layer of pointless excess. Not by a long shot.
The Washington Post
December 2, 1998
by Richard Wieland
illions of American 60 Minutes viewers watched Jack Kevorkian put Thomas Youk to death with a lethal injection of potassium chloride. Kevorkian claimed to have participated in 130 similar deaths, in which cases the deaths were self-administered by the individuals concerned. With Thomas Youk, debilitated by Lou Gehrigs disease, Kevorkian did the deed and videotaped the entire eventincluding the preparation of the poisons, administering the lethal injection, and finally a remorseless on-camera demand to be prosecuted for murder.
Kevorkian sent the tape to 60 Minutes and it was promptly aired.
The backlash from critics and peers condemning the broadcast was almost immediate. A group of six CBS affiliates refused to air the segment. The Washington Post and U.S. News and World Report published articles sharply critical of 60 Minutes decision to broadcast the Kevorkian video.
Executives at 60 Minutes arrogantly brushed off criticisms of the show. As soon as I saw the tape and saw that it didnt make me squeamish, I knew we had to run it, said program producer Don Hewitt.
Mike Wallace, who narrated the segment and provided the chilling voice-over, Hes dead, when Youks head lolled lifelessly on camera, was equally blase.
If it made me uncomfortable, I wouldnt have run it, he said. I didnt think twice.
In a notorious December 1998 edition, 60 Minutes aired a videotape sent in by Dr. Death, Jack Kevorkian, documenting his killing-by-consent of patient Thomas Youk. Questions of media ethics in forwarding Kevorkians macabre campaign of euthanasia continue to haunt 60 Minutes in light of his murder conviction.
I didnt flinch. Why should I?
Those statements say a great deal about the program which for years has set an industry standard of television journalism. That standard is easily called into question when journalists report with the attitude that they do not have to be held accountable for the consequences of stories they produce.
That lack of accountability underscores journalistic excesses and fills the gap that divides reality from events the way journalists want them to be seen.
A classic case in point of that journalistic divide was 60 Minutes segment on the former Cult Awareness Network. The very premise of the show meant that producer Richard Bonin and Leslie Stahl had to discard the unanimous findings of two courts about the organization, in order to present their own account of history. That account, aired in December 1997, was since mimiced by other TV news magazines, further perverting history.
The story involved Jason Scott, a young Christian man from Washington state who had been kidnapped by a team of deprogrammers recommended to his mother through the CAN anti-cult hotline.
After being held against his will for five days, Scott escaped. He subsequently brought suit against both CAN and the deprogrammers and won a $4.85 million judgment in a jury decision which implicated CAN in the kidnapping.
Members sought various ways to deny and avoid the consequences of their actions. Federal Court Judge John Coughenour pointed out that each of the defendants seemed incapab[le] of appreciating the maliciousness of their conduct....
The judgment in the Scott case followed a long chain of arrests and convictions of more than a dozen of CANs deprogrammers around the nation, revelations of a hidden arrest record of the groups president, and the FBI arrest of the groups chief of security.
Reams of evidence, including statements from CANs own executives which supported the conclusions of the jury and the courts, were supplied to 60 Minutes. Most of it was ignored.
CAN appealed the case but the 9th Circuit Court upheld the jurys decision. CAN subsequently requested a rehearing before the full panel of all 21 judges of the Court. On August 26, 1998, the panel issued its decision affirming the Courts previous ruling; on March, 22 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court denied CANs final appeal.
The case against CAN was ironclad from everyones perspective except 60 Minutes.
Support for Kidnapping and Assault
When 60 Minutes examined CANs demise, the story they presented reflected little of CANs criminal past. Instead, the shows producers portrayed the group as victims, as Stahl described it in her program, of a deliberate attempt to harass and intimidate them into silence.
That allegation was made even more sensational by the inference that members of the Church of Scientology were behind those efforts.
Facts told a different storyone of CAN trying to silence the Church.
For years the Church and its members had exposed CANs long-term association with a criminal clique of kidnappers. In an effort to stifle this criticism, former CAN leader Cynthia Kisser brought a libel lawsuit against the Church of Scientology International and its president, Rev. Heber Jentzsch.
That case went before a jury in 1997 in Chicago, then CANs home turf. During the trial, approximately three feet of written evidence was presented to the jury to refute Kissers casemuch of which was also later supplied to 60 Minutes and its producers.
On July 31, 1997, after both sides had fully presented their arguments, the jury handed down a unanimous verdict in favor of the Church and Rev. Jentzsch, leaving intact the conclusion that Cynthia Kisser, executive director of CAN since 1987, has been another long-time advocate of forcible restraint and assault conducted under the guise of deprogramming.
Yet none of this information was presented on 60 Minutes. Rather, 60 Minutes tried to convince its viewers that the organization was, in Stahls words, never involved in illegal deprogramming.
Manufacturing The News continued...