Accuracy in Media

This year marks the 30th anniversary of 60 Minutes, the highly successful forerunner of the many TV magazine shows like 20/20, PrimeTime Live and Dateline NBC that have copied it and become big moneymakers for the networks. CBS marked the anniversary with a two-hour “60 Minutes” special that reminded viewers of many of the most memorable and influential “60 Minutes” shows. There have been a lot of good ones that have helped individuals and even the general public. The special reminded viewers of those.

What was totally missing were those shows that unfairly hurt people and were contrary to the best interests of the public and the nation. One of these was a program titled “What Happened to Vince Foster?” that was first aired in September 1995. It was an attack on Chris Ruddy, the young investigative reporter whose stories in The New York Post had forced the reopening of the investigation of the death of Vincent Foster, the deputy White House counsel who was ruled by the U.S. Park Police to have shot himself to death.

Only two newspaper reporters took the trouble to check out allegations that the Park Police investigation had been slipshod and that the suicide conclusion was not supported by the evidence. Chris Ruddy was the first to do this. His stories were devastating to the official findings. In September 1996, the Foster death was still being investigated, now by independent counsel Kenneth Starr. Starr was desperately trying to find the bullet that killed Foster, because without it, he had no proof that Foster died where his body was found. He didn?t find the bullet.

While the search for the bullet was going on, 60 Minutes aired its hatchet job on Chris Ruddy trying to make it appear that his criticisms of the official findings were baseless. Although 60 Minutes had given Ruddy the impression that they wanted to tell his side of the story, “A Washington Tragedy,” a new book on the Foster case, reveals that an associate producer told one of the U.S. Park Police officers, “We just want to nail Ruddy.” That officer, Kevin Fornshill and his attorney, were in the hotel suite where Mike Wallace interviewed Ruddy and unbeknownst to Ruddy they could hear what was being said.

The book says they and the producer were upset because Mike Wallace was impressed by Ruddy?s knowledge of the case and was departing from the game plan. It claims that during the lunch break, they worked on Wallace to get him back in line and that his questioning was tougher in the afternoon. Ruddy denies that, saying that Wallace was even less adversarial after lunch.

I asked Wallace if he was impressed by Ruddy. He admitted that he was, but he complained that Ruddy?s mind was closed. He said, ” Nothing I could say would persuade him anything was different.” That is a tacit admission that his assignment was to nail Ruddy. He failed in the hotel room, but the producers edited the tape to make it appear that he had succeeded. “60 Minutes” joined the Foster case cover-up.

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