Winners & Sinners

Kaiser on Lesley Stahl, Barney Frank, Ruth Marcus, and others

Sinner: When Lesley Stahl profiled House Financial Services chairman Barney Frank for 60 Minutes earlier this month, she seemed shocked that the politician didn’t show more deference to such a famous television correspondent.

The following line was used twice—in the opening teaser and in the body of the piece—as an example of Frank’s rudeness:

Frank: “Let me start with that second despicable comment you just made; I am surprised at you that you would do something like that.”

The trouble was, nowhere in the piece did the viewer learn what Stahl had said to provoke such a sharp reaction. So it was impossible to know whether Frank really was overreacting, or if Stahl had said something genuinely outrageous.

FCP decided to satisfy its curiosity by calling its old friend, Lesley Stahl. But she refused to repeat the question that provoked the congressman. “We decided it didn’t belong on the air,” she said—and that was all she said.

FCP’s old friend Barney Frank was much more forthcoming: “She said, ‘Some people say the reason you were soft on Fannie Mae is that you had a relationship with a high level official of Fannie Mae.’” Frank added that his ex-boyfriend, Herb Moses, was a low level official, not a high level official; that he left his job at Fannie Mae ten years ago; and their relationship also ended more than a decade ago. Naturally, places like Fox News have repeated the “high level official” accusation without contradiction. Stahl apparently decided her piece was better off without it—but, in that case, she should have omitted Frank’s response to the invisible question as well.

Sinner: Ruth Marcus, for an exceptionally nonsensical Washington Post column in which she started by equating the illegal break-ins of the Watergate years with the war crimes to which Dick Cheney has copped, and then implied that she would prefer to see Cheney pardoned than face any punishment for his crimes, because it’s “more important” to ensure “that these mistakes are not repeated” than it is to punish “those who acted wrongly in pursuit of what they thought was right.” So, because Cheney didn’t think it was wrong to torture—and murder—prisoners in American custody, why not forget the whole thing? FCP thinks the only way to ensure that these things don’t happen again is to punish everyone who was responsible for them this time. Wasn’t that the theory behind the Nuremberg Trials? They actually worked quite well as a deterrent for several decades—until the current administration took office.

Winner: The New York Times, for another fine editorial dissecting several (space did not allow them to cover all of them) of Cheney’s more outrageous lies in the series of farewell interviews he has been giving this week.

Sinner: Chris Wallace, who conducted one of those interviews and managed to let Cheney get away with nearly all of the lies the Times called him on. But Chris did manage to get one extraordinary answer out of the vice president:

CHENEY: Highest moment in the last eight years? Well, I think that the most important, the most compelling, was 9/11 itself, and what that entailed, what we had to deal with, the way in which that changed the nation and set the agenda for what we’ve had to deal with as an administration.

So there you have it: Cheney’s favorite day was the one when thousands of innocent Americans were murdered by terrorists—because it made it possible for him and his henchmen to wiretap innumerable Americans without obtaining warrants, commit war crimes, and destroy America’s reputation in every corner of the world.

Happy Holidays.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Charles Kaiser is a former media critic for Newsweek and the author of three books, most recently The Cost of Courage, about one family in the French Resistance.