James J. Kilpatrick, best known as the conservative-curmudgeon commentator on "60 Minutes" in its "Point-Counterpoint" segment in the 1970s, has died at the age of 89. Washingtonians also remember his years as a panelist on the local weekly political talk show "Agronsky & Company." His column "A Conservative View" was syndicated in hundreds of newspapers.
The Washington Post obituary on Tuesday focused heavily on his role in promoting segregationism in the 1960s at the Richmond News-Leader and concluded with his story that he was asked to "take the side of 'The Conservative's View of Watergate.' And I asked myself, 'Just what is a conservative's view of burglary?'"
Kilpatrick's "Point-Counterpoint" commentaries were satirized by "Saturday Night Live" in which Dan Aykroyd began his rebuttal of Jane Curtin with the phrase "Jane, you ignorant slut." Kilpatrick was also parodied in the movie "Airplane" where a balding, crusty conservative claims that people knew what they were getting into when they bought their plane tickets: "I say let 'em crash." In his book Tell Me A Story, Don Hewitt wrote that Saturday Night Live only prolonged the segment's tenure.
The death of columnist and reporter Bob Novak was a sad occasion for conservatives who voraciously read his columns and cheered his verbal punches on cable television for decades. On TV, Novak’s passing was treated with respect, but only briefly: ABC, CBS, and NBC all noted it on their evening news on August 18, but by the next morning, NBC offered only a sentence or two. ABC and CBS had nothing at all. (All three squeezed in the mandatory daily update on Michael Jackson.)
Perhaps this wouldn’t be surprising for a newspaper columnist, since it’s unrealistic to expect self-adoring TV people to think a mere national print journalist would be worth much air time. After all, who even knows what these newspaper people look like? But Novak wasn’t just a newspaper man, but he was a TV personality as well – starting with almost 250 appearances on NBC’s "Meet the Press," many of them well before he became known as a cable gladiator for conservative principles. (This makes is stranger for "NBC Nightly News" to offer him a mere 67 words on the night of his death.)
In a Thursday New York Times appreciation of CBS producer Don Hewitt, television writer Mike Hale avoided the whole concept of liberal bias in the work of Hewitt or his creation, 60 Minutes. Instead, Hale suggested that in threading the needle between an "increasingly radicalized" audience and stuffy advertisers, CBS and Hewitt created a "kinder, gentler, more conservative take" for 60 Minutes than controversy-stoking British and Canadian shows that inspired it. (Hewitt represented "cautious CBS News values, the kind exemplified by that other recently deceased titan, Walter Cronkite.")
How hard was it for CBS to be "more conservative" than the Canadians? Consider this brief explanation of the "slyly subversive" film Mills of the Gods: Viet Nam, produced for the TV show that inspired CBS: "Working without a script, [filmmaker Beryl] Fox went to Vietnam with portable equipment and shot two kinds of cinema verite footage: placid images of the ordinary life of the Vietnamese peasantry and shocking images of the war’s carnage and destruction as wrought by sometimes disturbingly cheerful American pilots and soldiers." These were then edited together for propaganda impact.
Thursday's Washington Post obituary on CBS News producer Don Hewitt included a mention of the "pointed questioning" CBS 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft offered Bill and Hillary Clinton to save their presidential campaign in 1992. But it also underlined how Hewitt offered the Clintons his political advice on how to use his CBS time as the only answer needed for his record of adultery and sexual harassment:
Before filming the segment, Mr. Hewitt leaned down to the future president with advice: "I think, at some point, you should be as candid as you know how to be, and from then on, you say, 'I said it on "60 Minutes," and if you want to know what I think or have said on the subject, then go get a tape and run it again. I've said it all.' "
Clinton did exactly that -- he spoke vaguely of causing "pain in his marriage," and then claimed he said it all on CBS. As the obituaries report, Hewitt was a television pioneer -- and a pioneer in hard-hitting liberal attack journalism on "60 Minutes." But for favored Democrats, from the Clintons to the Obamas, "60 Minutes" was a supportive platform to sell their wares.
Don Hewitt, the creator and long-time Executive Producer of CBS's 60 Minutes, who passed away this morning (Wednesday) at age 86, had recognized the bias which led Dan Rather to target President George W. Bush with a 2004 story based on forged documents, as he suggested such a flimsy hit piece damaging to the liberal candidate would have earned more scrutiny for accuracy before it ever got onto the air: “Does anybody really think there wouldn't have been more scrutiny if this had been about John Kerry?” (Rather's piece aired on the weekday 60 Minutes, which Hewitt did not oversee, four months after Hewitt's retirement.)
Though in 2004 he predicted “I would bet I'll probably vote for Kerry” since “I know why I don't want to vote for George Bush,” in 2007 he recalled how in the aftermath of the Bush National Guard story he had proposed to Rather: “If this had been John Kerry, wouldn't you have been more careful about the story?” He also defended CBS's decision to fire Rather: “Any news organization, print or broadcast, has the right to protect its reputation by divesting itself of a reporter, irrespective of who he or she is, who it feels reported as fact something that reflected his or her biases more than the facts bear.”
In a Friday afternoon Newsweek web exclusive, reporter Johnnie Roberts talked to CBS insiders about Dan Rather’s lawsuit against his long-time employer. Don Hewitt, the founder and long-lasting executive producer of 60 Minutes, told the magazine he asked Rather the big bias question: "If this had been John Kerry, wouldn’t you have been more careful about the story?" It’s certainly true that 60 Minutes went easy on Kerry on 2004, with a soft-soap Ed Bradley interview in January, and a syrupy and supportive Lesley Stahl interview in July.
Another anonymous CBS insider says Rather looks "pathetic...the musing of an older man who can’t let go." Roberts reported that while the network wouldn’t comment beyond saying it was old news, others were more forthcoming: