What Next For “60 Minutes?”

60 Minutes was founded as a weekly news show from the premier broadcast news organization. The idea was that, as a news program with a full hour to devote to a few stories, it would have the time to thoroughly investigate issues and report beyond the headlines. It became a huge success. For decades, Mike Wallace, Harry Reasoner, Ed Bradley, Diane Sawyer, Dan Rather, Morley Safer and others broke stories of real substance, even when the subjects of the stories refused to cooperate.

Unfortunately, the program now seems a shadow of its former self.

In a short, ten week span, Lara Logan and Leslie Stahl showed us what happens when a reporter lacks a real curiosity for the subject matter and fails to follow the disciplines of basic reporting. Maybe they were deceived. Maybe they succumbed to the charm of their interview subjects. More likely they approached the story with preconceived notions. Whatever the reason, they turned in reports unworthy of those who established the once-proud tradition of CBS News and 60 Minutes.

Logan later apologized for her false story on Benghazi, and was given a leave of absence from the network. Stahl, however, has not commented on criticisms of her shallow and misleading story on “Clean Tech.” She was given no time off. And this past week she returned to the type of story for which I believe she is better suited…fluff. Her report on those who have superior autobiographical memory is the kind of insipid story at which she truly excels. Indeed, it was the kind of story best-suited for the new 60 Minutes…a story that requires no real reporting. No complicated technologies to grasp. No requirement to investigate and vet sources. No nuances of international politics.

The question is, were the recent failures solely the fault of the reporters? Or were they the failure of network management? Time will tell. In the meantime, I find myself missing the insightful reporting of Andy Rooney, he of large eyebrows who filed investigative reports about his shoes or the contents of his office. In many ways, he displayed better journalistic instincts than some of the show’s most recent stories.

CBS’ “60 Minutes” Fails Again!

After its well-publicized failure to report the truth about the attack on our Benghazi consulate, one would expect that CBS, particularly its 60 Minutes crew, would be careful to assure accuracy in future reports.

Yet, this past Sunday, just 10 weeks after its Benghazi debacle, 60 Minutes failed again.

In attempting to uncover government waste on the part of the Obama administration’s clean energy loan program, Leslie Stahl displayed her apparent bias and ignorance of the subject. Under the label “clean tech,” she conflated high-tech companies with clean energy companies. (Not every clean energy alternative is high tech.) She also conflated the failure of venture capital-backed start-ups with the failure of companies receiving federally-backed loans. In doing so, she implied that a majority of loans to clean energy companies were lost. She also implied that clean energy is a fool’s errand.

Further, Stahl failed to provide real context for her story.

She failed to report that when a federally-backed company fails it doesn’t always default on the loans. That’s because the loans are often recovered through the sale of assests. She failed to report the failure rate of federally-backed loans which, according to congressional testimony by the former head of the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program, is less than 3 percent. She failed to report that the loans to Solyndra began during the Bush administration. She failed to report that even companies that fail often create products and technologies that eventually benefit us all. She failed to report that, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, 2013 was a huge success. She failed to mention that nine states now get 10 percent or more of their electricity from wind and solar; that wind is now the dominant energy source in Spain; that solar and wind compete head-to-head with coal in places like South Africa.

Stahl also failed to report that approximately three-quarters of all venture capital-backed businesses fail. That’s across all industries. Not just in the clean energy sector. She didn’t recognize the ecological consequences of making fuel from trees (one of the “clean tech” start-ups she covered in her story). She failed to report the ecological consequences of basing our future on oil, most especially tar sands oil. More important, she failed to report the staggering amount of money that the federal government gives to the carbon-based energy sector with no expectation of repayment (estimates range from $14 billion to $52 billion annually).

Stahl suggests that taxpayers should expect more from our government than failures such as Solyndra (which was a superior technology that failed primarily because of our long-standing trade policies with China).

I’d suggest that we should expect better…much better…from Leslie Stahl and 60 Minutes.