Sixty Minutes: Fading to black

A week after 60 Minutes re-ran its tribute to founder Don Hewitt (reminding us of what a great, groundbreaking program it used to be) last night’s show was a severe disappointment.

You used to be able to rely on 60 Minutes to keep their celebrity puff-pieces to a minimum. No more than one per episode, and generally far less than that. An in-depth look at an actor or artist with a lifetime of work behind them, tucked into a dozen or so hard-hitting stories about Government or Corporate corruption or other malfeasance.

But not these days. We had profiles of Beyonce and snowboard champion Shaun White. and, almost and afterthought, a somewhat puff piece on the Green Berets efforts to train Afghan special forces. How does this all disappoint? Let me count the ways:

1) doing a segment on singer Beyonce right before the CBS hosted Grammy Show meets my definition of the highest standards of journalistic integrity. Maybe, just maybe, the entire segment was a promo for upcoming  CBS programming.

2) And CBS chief Foreign Correspondent Lara Logan’s piece on the Green Berets in Afghanistan fell dangerously close to becoming the sort of “war porn” that is an enabler of institutionalized cultural militarism.

While personally likeable, I question Logan’s effectiveness as a reporter. Did she ask a single “tough question” of anyone involved in this segment? No. Instead she simpered and smiled at the soldiers, tossing them softball questions designed to show what good-hearted, thoughtful professionals they really were.

The operations shown in the segment were, not to put too fine a point on it, a series of military disasters.   In two of the operations the only casualties seemed to be “friendly fire” – and in the next, we see a Green Beret opening fire on a speeding truck and critically wounding two (innocent) Afghan teenagers.  In response to the first “friendly fire” incident the Green Berets resort to yelling and swearing at the bewildered Afghan conscripts.

One of the Green Berets interviewed by Logan indicated that prior to enlisting, his job had been “parking cars.” The young man in question obviously was not stupid – anyone with the drive and intelligence necessary to become a Green Beret is a seriously above-average individual. And yet “parking cars” was the best civilian occupation available to such a young man in 21st century America?

Lastly, the training, and in fact the entire mission of the Green Berets in Afghanistan seems fatally misguided to me. Afghans have successfully defeated every foreign invader of their country for the last thousand years or so. And we think that turning them into ersatz Americans is going to work? America’s soliders are superbly trained, led, and equipped. But Afghan soliders are going to have a totally different cultural viewpoint. And they are going to operate in a military structure that is going to be radically less well-equipped than the Green Berets who are training them.

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