Poynter Institute Debases Itself in Its Assessment of the 60 Minutes-DeSantis Fiasco

(AP Photo/Richard Drew)

By tepidly calling out the actions of the news program, they expose their bias.

The immolation of Sunday’s broadcast of the 60 Minutes report on Florida governor Ron DeSantis has been obvious to most. So bad were the tactics employed that complaints were being voiced ahead of the broadcast. Once viewed, the manipulation and hackery were laughably bad, and the malpractice used was made all the worse that it was delivered by the venerated news magazine. The excuses made by the production were initially lame, then they became desperate.

As blatantly bad as the execution ended up appearing, there was scant coverage of the show in the press. While this is not a jarring reality, it is a revealing one. CBS News, of course, had no comment, but most other objective news outlets also refrained from comment initially. Some joined in on the side of 60 Minutes, and Axios beclowned itself by resorting to the tired media trope, insisting DeSantis had “seized” on the chance to slander the press. It was only after the glaring behavior of the production was made worse by the steady stream of defenses from their team that some were willing to utter critical comments.

It took Politifact 3 days to issue a fact-check on the fact-free report, and even in its lengthy rundown of presenting both sides it completely avoided assigning any kind of FALSE banner to its report on the 60 Minutes piece. The harshest thing Politifact managed to say, in its study of whether this constituted manipulated video, was this summation midway through its piece:

The “60 Minutes” segment omits some of the background on why Florida partnered with Publix to distribute coronavirus vaccines. That omission could constitute “deceptive editing,” as some social media users have claimed.

That is a double-veiled conclusion. Saying it “could” be considered, based on what “some social media users” claim is a way of passing off judgment on what is an obvious piece of deception by the news program. The parent organization of Politifact is The Poynter Institute, and in a posting regarding the broadcast, and the fallout, they still could not bring themselves to be firmly critical of 60 Minutes in a meaningful fashion. The word choice above the column says it all: “60 Minutes Misses The Mark…” touts their headline, with the sub-header being just as spineless —A sloppy moment on Sunday’s show is raising serious concerns.” 

For a journalism organization, whose primary defining specialty is ethics and fact-checking in the industry, to issue this level of excusal for the program, all because of its vaunted status in the media landscape, exposes its own inherent bias. While the column does offer some critique of the DeSantis hit job, it falls well short of the needed condemnation. More than the content of the report, it was the behavior of all of those involved that needs to be called out. 

What makes the 60 Minutes report so unacceptable was not that it was error-filled but the activities behind the scenes in the attempt to craft a negative narrative on the governor. This Poynter column does nothing to address the video manipulation witnessed, nor does it even approach the sheer avoidance of any conflicting evidence. The broadcast accuses a corporation of bribery, but it does not even manage to explain how a retailer is somehow benefitting from the distribution of free vaccines, and it ignored that numerous other retailers are also involved.

Poynter was willing to include the state politicians who came forward and derided the report, but nothing is really spoken about the fact that the producers completely disregarded their testimony. State Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz completely contradicted their claims — explaining both the reasons behind the decision and clarifying that his office made the decision, not the governor. He was unable to appear on camera, according to the production. Moskowitz says he offered to appear on a video conference but was rebuffed and told that was not possible. (Tellingly, the production did manage a Zoom interview with a State Representative, Omari Hardy, who was critical of the governor.)

The biggest dose of media malpractice is the very fact that the 60 Minutes production was given all of the clarifying information — and they cast it aside. The producer of the segment admitted to speaking to Moskowitz and stated, “We have included the information he provided on background as it pertains to this story.” His testimony to the process matched that of the answer Governor DeSantis gave in the press conference, that was edited out of the report.

As Moskowitz put it, “They ran with pay to play, when I told them it was done by my agency and why and how. Did you see that perspective?”

The Poynter entry details many of the factual inaccuracies in the report, leaning mostly on the portion where it is alleged that Publix Grocery Stores may have benefitted from a political donation. “But, in this case, it doesn’t appear as if DeSantis did anything wrong,” reads the summary. “If he did, 60 Minutes failed to provide enough information, context or evidence that he did.” Yes, and Poynter failed to address the heart of this issue. 

Sure, the media organization has called out the meat of the report on a factual basis, but it speaks nothing regarding their execution of journalism. How can an outfit like Poynter completely gloss over these actions?

  • Deceptively edited a video to alter its content 
  • Accused criminal behavior without evidence 
  • Failed to establish a criminal act 
  • Ignored provided testimony from multiple sources 
  • Selectively granted access to particular interviewees 
  • Bypassed the information given at the Governor’s presser

These are serious ethical violations, and they go well beyond the inaccuracies in the report itself. Refusing to even address the manipulations done to create the fake narrative is the only way to explain Poynter making this farcical conclusion; This doesn’t ruin the”60 Minutes” brand, but this was not one of the show’s finer moments.

If Poynter can not be inspired to call out directly the actions and behavior of 60 Minutes, then we need to ask just how serious they can be as an authority on journalism ethics. If they cannot take these violations seriously, there is no reason to look at them as a serious source of journalism ethics, as they claim.