CBS’s esteemed newsmagazine broadcast 60 Minutes has spent decades building a strong reputation for journalistic “objectivity” and hard-hitting news. But on Sunday, during a widely mocked profile of Marjorie Taylor Greene, the program’s apparent aversion to bias backfired spectacularly after Lesley Stahl, one of its most distinguished correspondents, let Greene spew baseless invective with little to no pushback.
At one point Stahl specifically asked the Georgia Republican why she doesn’t use a lighter touch in wording her “over-the-top” smears. She also went so far as to describe Greene—a former QAnon enthusiast who once endorsed calls to execute top Democrats—as “smart and fearless.”
Perhaps most notable, though, was Stahl’s rather toothless response to Greene’s claim that Democrats support children “being sexualized and having transgender surgeries”—with the lawmaker adding that sexualizing kids “is what pedophiles do.”
“Wow. Okay,” Stahl replied. “But my question really is, can’t you fight for what you believe in without all that name-calling and without the personal attacks?” In other words, Stahl, the 81-year-old embodiment of Washington’s old guard press corps, was troubled not by the substance of Greene’s lie—the depiction of gay and transgender people as inherently predatory—but by the unpleasant name-calling used in its packaging.
Even 60 Minutes’ on-air fact-check, the esteemed antidotal device for right-wing disinformation, seemed comically inadequate. When Stahl raised Greene’s past claim that the 2018 Parkland school shooting was a false flag designed to induce gun control laws—a screenshot of which was shown during the segment—the lawmaker flipped the script. “I never said Parkland was a false flag…. Have you fact-checked all my statements from kindergarten through 12th grade? And in college?” she said. “And as I’ve paid my taxes and never broken a law, and the only—I got a few speeding tickets. Do we need to talk about those too?” Wow. Okay. Next question.
Altogether, the segment proved a massive success for Greene, as noted by Trumpworld puppeteer Steve Bannon. “A Classic Moment in TV News History,” he wrote in a social media post.
Meanwhile, journalists and other media figures criticized Stahl’s approach, with many contending that the interview itself was a mistake. “How are you going to tee Greene up with the pedophile stuff and not be willing or able to quickly dismantle it?” tweeted Washington Post columnist Philip Bump. “If you’re new to it and find it disdainful, OK, sure, but you owe viewers more.” Stahl’s approach to the “grooming” discourse was “an abuse of media power,” argued author and Vanity Fair contributor Jeff Sharlet, who also deemed it an example of “the vanity of the ‘center’ that refuses to see the rising tide.” Former Republican congressman Adam Kinzinger likewise condemned the interview as “insane” on the part of 60 Minutes.
For what it’s worth, the episode did appear to cool Greene’s ire toward the press. “I thought it was pretty good,” the congresswoman told Semafor on Sunday, noting that the term “fake news” is no longer in her lexicon. “And I’ve gotten nonstop text messages from, golly, so many people in my district and my family and my friends.” Shortly before the interview aired, Greene called it an “honor” while hailing Stahl as a “legendary icon.”