Lesley Stahl of "60 Minutes" has a history of giving bigots a pass
Outrage ensued over her interview Sunday with Marjorie Taylor Greene. How is it tied to the interview she had with Donald Trump days after the 2016 election, and again in 2020?
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Marjorie Taylor Greene was given a platform this past weekend to spew her hate and conspiracy theories on CBS’ "60 Minutes."
Many people believe she should not have been brought on the program at all, as it only elevates her, and there are plenty of other members of Congress to interview.
I disagree. Greene is no longer on the fringe but a powerful member, bowed to by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and sitting on the House Oversight Committee and the House Homeland Security Committee. Unfortunately, what she says matters, especially as she incites violence while sitting on the Homeland Security Committee, which is tasked with taking on threats to the nation.
She should be exposed to the American people, and the dangers should be elevated so people can see and understand them. So, yes, interview her.
But what Lesley Stahl did was the opposite: she elevated Greene rather than the threat she poses to the nation. Sure, Greene was caught in a few lies and Stahl fact-checked them, but overall, Stahl allowed Greene to get away with saying horrendous things.
When she called all Democrats "pedophiles," Stahl just sat there bewildered, whispering, "Wow," and giving Greene a chance to take it back. But Greene reiterated her demented claim by pushing the anti-LGBTQ "groomer" smear, which has its roots in the right's vicious attacks on gay men in years past and, via QAnon cultists' lies and distortions about transgender people, has morphed into an all-out attack on every member of the community.
Greene actually claimed that Joe Biden’s support of gender-affirming care for trans youth proved her point that Democrats are pedophiles—which makes no sense as, even in the ugliest attacks on trans youth and their parents and doctors, no one is claiming people are raping the kids. This was just beyond idiotic. And Stahl seemed not to understand she had a golden opportunity here and just allowed Greene to push the anti-LGBTQ smear, as Greg Sargent lucidly explained in the Washington Post.
Instead of taking her on, Stahl elevated Greene greatly in that moment. Greene, the following day, doubled down with a sick tweet in which she said, "I’ll say it again: Democrats are the party of pedophiles," showing an image of President Biden comforting a young boy who, like him, struggles with a stutter.
Some say viewers are smart enough to see the hate, bile, and sheer stupidity, and Stahl didn’t need to go hard. But I think that’s wrong. In this atmosphere of lies and conspiracies, subtlety no longer cuts it. You have to make it all crystal clear.
And I’m not giving Stahl the benefit of the doubt in describing her subtly trying to take down Greene. No, she purposely gave her a softball interview, and there is a pattern there.
First, let’s ask: Why did Greene agree to an interview with Stahl? Why would a hardcore MAGA extremist who attacks the press and knows the best among them will expose her go on "60 Minutes" with Stahl?
The reason is because she knew she’d "win" no matter how it went—whether Stahl was aggressive or soft. If it was soft, she’s legitimized, and if it was hard, she could have a tantrum and walk off, and her base would rally fiercely. And she knew that because her mentor, Donald Trump, had both experiences with Stahl in two different interviews and probably advised Greene to do the interview.
Trump gave his very first interview after winning the 2016 election to Stahl on "60 Minutes." Why did Trump give the interview to Stahl, of all the various journalists he could have gone to? Because he knew it would be a softball interview. Stahl may or may not have "negotiated" that. It may very well have been implicit or something Trump knew from his experience in the past.
Journalists who get the "first" interview, most of the time, aren’t getting it because they’re great journalists. They’re getting it because they trade that access for a puff piece. And we see this every day with major news organizations.
In that interview with Trump, Stahl allowed him to claim that he was "fine" with "marriage equality"—when he had opposed it throughout the campaign, promising to appoint judges who would overturn it—and just accepted it when he said it was "settled law."
"It’s irrelevant because it was already settled. It’s law," he said. "It was settled in the Supreme Court. I mean, it’s done... These cases have gone to the Supreme Court. They’ve been settled. And I’m fine with that."
Of course, we all know what happened when he put extremists on the court who had little regard for "settled law" and overturned 40 years of precedent by throwing out Roe v. Wade and other precendents.
Stahl just let it go by, as she did after she asked Trump about Hillary Clinton and he implied he wouldn’t focus on Clinton any longer and "locking her up," and laid out other priorities:
"I’m going to think about it," he said. "Um, I feel that I want to focus on jobs, healthcare, the border, and immigration, and do a really great immigration bill. We want to have a great immigration bill. And I want to focus on all of these other things that we’ve been talking about."
Clinton "did some bad things," he said, but added that ultimately the Clintons are "good people."
"I don’t want to hurt them," he said. "They’re, they’re good people. I don’t want to hurt them. And I will give you a very, very good and definitive answer the next time we do 60 Minutes together." "
That is even more laughable in retrospect. Yet Stahl just let it go unchallenged.
Trump said he was "saddened" and "surprised" to hear that his supporters are inciting violence after his victory, especially targeting minorities or gay people. Asked whether he had any message for those supporters, Trump replied, "Stop it."
"I would say don’t do it; that’s terrible, because I’m going to bring this country together," he responded. Told that they were harassing Latinos and Muslims, he added, "I am so saddened to hear that. And I say, ‘Stop it.' If it-- if it helps. I will say this, and I will say it right to the cameras: Stop it."
Stahl was called out at the time, too, including by the Washington Post's media critic, Margaret Sullivan, when she allowed Trump to claim he always opposed the Iraq War. The headline said it all: "‘No, Mr. Trump, that’s a lie’: What Lesley Stahl should have said Sunday night."
Two years later, in 2018, Stahl, seeing where the winds were blowing on Trump—who proved to have completely lied to her—revealed that Trump told her during that 2016 interview of his plan to destroy the credibility of the media:
CBS "60 Minutes" correspondent Lesley Stahl has revealed a candid remark made to her by then-presidential candidate Donald Trump in 2016. Stahl told a group of fellow journalists at the Deadline Club Awards Dinner in New York City earlier this week that Mr. Trump had admitted his consistent attacks on the media were meant to "discredit" journalists so that negative stories about him would not be believed.
Why didn’t she tell us that in 2016, when it happened?
In 2020, Stahl got another chance to interview Trump, and this time he used her in a different way: to ramp up his base against the "liberal media." He walked off the set and refused to answer any more of her questions, ostensibly irritated by what Stahl was asking. He didn’t return for the second part of the interview along with Mike Pence, who sat there alone with Stahl.
It’s not even clear that Stahl was actually that much more aggressive. Whatever the case, Trump knew that Stahl was useful. No matter which way things went, he could use it to his advantage. And he may well have told that to Marjorie Taylor Greene for her interview last weekend.