I haven't watched the CBS news show 60 Minutes in more than a dozen years, ever since the 1995 airing of a celebratory retrospective on the 20th anniversary of the fall of Saigon to the communists.
In that segment Morley Safer, Ed Bradley and others crowed about their efforts to undermine the US military in Vietnam. Naturally they avoided any meaningful mention of the resultant slaughter of millions of Southeast Asians after the efforts of communist propagandists in the American media and Congress led to the US abandonment of our ally in 1973, and the communists' victory over South Vietnam in 1975.
But I decided to watch the show Sunday night after I saw a promo for a Leslie Stahl interview with France's new president, Nicolas Sarkozy. Sarkozy's complete turnabout from the positions taken by his predecessors, and the prospects for a new and stronger alliance with our historic friends is of interest to me, as was the reason why he abruptly terminated his interview with Stahl.
But long before the show aired the Stahl-Sarkozy interview, viewers were subjected to one of the worst pieces of anti-American propaganda I have seen since the Vietnam days, or at least since Harry Reid, John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, Ted Kennedy, John Murtha and dozens of their cohorts last spoke on the floor of Congress.
In that segment, Scott Pelley went to Afghanistan to 'investigate' a report that nine civilians in a remote Taliban-controlled village had been killed in an air strike by US forces earlier this year. After watching it any reasonably intelligent viewer would have to conclude that Pelley is continuing the network's longstanding anti-American attacks.
The story was based on a US air strike against a house that was owned by a local Taliban leader and used as a safe house for terrorists in the area. A rocket was shot from the village toward a nearby military installation, and a mortar attack followed by an air strike was ordered in response. Pelley noted that the rocket didn't hit anyone, which apparently means our side is supposed to wait until the terrorists develop better aim and kill coalition troops before we respond.
The military said two men armed with AK-47 assault weapons were observed entering the house before the bomb was dropped.
Pelley rode to the village under the watchful eye of private security forces - oh, I'm sorry, let me rephrase that. They apparently were pro-government forces so he labelled them "paid mercenaries," which pretty much set the tone for the rest of the segment.
At the village he was shown what was purported to be nine graves, not in the village cemetery, but out in a corn field. No bodies, no pictures, no nothing except a highly suspect graveyard, and the ruins of one house.
Does Muslim law address the concept of desecrating a cemetery - say by using it to falsely portray an incident for propaganda purposes? Is this why these 'graves' were out in a cornfield, instead of the village burial ground where modern day Afghans can properly honor their ancestors?
Then we get a cute Afghan boy, often on the verge of smiling, sitting at his fierce-looking uncle's side relating how he lost his entire family. This was supplemented with interviews with several military-age men from the village - remember, it is a Taliban controlled village and we are talking about an attack on the Taliban leader's house. These men complained that the US policy of dropping bombs on Taliban sanctuaries makes us worse than the Russians who slaughtered more than a million civilians when they occupied the country in the 80s.
There were a number of issues that Pelley missed in his report. He showed the house but didn't question what happened to the two terrorists who were seen entering it before the bomb was dropped. Was there a tunnel that gave them a hidden means of egress?
Were their bodies included in the remains found after the dust settled? What about the Taliban leader? If he wasn't in the house, and this was his village, where is he now? If Pelley could go all that way to interview bystanders who quite likely were members of the Taliban themselves, why didn't he try to get an interview with the head terrorist?
Why didn't he make some kind of effort to verify the claims of the village men, and at least try to find out whether they were sympathetic to, or members of, the Taliban? Well, maybe he is just incompetent, or maybe that doesn't fit in with a very transparent agenda.
After watching this segment we have to question whether Pelley is one of those "citizen of the world" journalists who just happen to reside in America, and wouldn't warn our troops of an impending ambush.
The upshot of this story is that Americans are supposed to stop dropping bombs on enemy houses, which might cause civilian casualties because the Taliban are using them as shields. Instead, at the insistence of Afghan president Hamid Karzai, we are supposed to return to sending ground troops in, exposing our soldiers to court martial if they make split-second decisions in the heat of combat.
The guys who drop the bombs or fire artillery pieces aren't subjected to the same restrictions that hamstring our infantry because they aren't right on the scene. So it appears from here that Pelley and 60 Minutes are actually trying to again put our forces in harms way, either from terrorists or military lawyers.
Maybe I'll commission a poll asking people to watch the segment and vote on whether Pelley is an incompetent journalist or a transparent propagandist.
On the Stahl-Sarkozy interview, we got another look at the 60 Minutes anti-American agenda. After showing file footage on Sarkozy's rise to the French presidency - his Dad was a Hungarian immigrant, and nearly 100 of Sarkozy's Jewish forebears were murdered by the Nazi's in WWII - Stahl got down to the real reason for the interview.
First, they ambushed him by running the microphones and cameras when he was just settling in and getting prepped by makeup people. Sarkozy obviously did not want to do the interview and called his press secretary an imbecile (in French) for scheduling it before the interview started.
Stahl used that statement to bolster claim that Sarkozy has a temper. Then, she dumped on him about his recent divorce, noting that he and his now ex-wife had separated two years ago, but were reunited during his run for the presidency. France's first lady had missed some important functions, which is fair game I guess, especially for the French press.
But then Stahl headed right for the bottom of the journalism gutter, asking Sarkozy about his ex-wife's infidelity. As she stabbed him right straight in the heart, the monitor showed the two-year-old cover of a supermarket tabloid, featuring a paparazzi photo of the former Mrs. Sarkozy with her former lover.
Talk about the worst side of the media. Stahl showed in that one segment why she has no right to hold herself up as a model for the journalism profession, unless she is modeling yellow journalism.
At this point Sarkozy abruptly ended the interview. I don't blame him. Stahl could have handled his divorce with dignity and aplomb, but chose instead to go low.
So much for the betterment of Franco-American relations. Considering the show in its entirety, I'd have to question whether that was the intent all along.
Leslie Stahl showed all that is base, crass, mean and unsophisticated in her version of American journalism. No wonder so many French people are disdainful of the US, if she is the face of America.
By the way, I agree with Sarkozy about his press secretary being an imbecile for setting up an interview with 60 Minutes. Sarkozy would at least have had a fair and dignified session if he talked with Brit Hume, Chris Wallace, Neil Cavuto or John Gibson over at FOX.
Maybe next time.
Monday, October 29, 2007