Accuracy in Media

A new book, “A Washington Tragedy” by Dan Moldea casts new light on the 60 Minutes hatchet job on Chris Ruddy, the courageous young man whose investigative reporting forced the reopening of the investigation of the death of Vincent Foster in 1994. Moldea interviewed Kevin Fornshill, the police officer who found Foster?s body, and his attorney Phil Stinson. They had filed a libel suit against Chris Ruddy.

Stinson said that when he learned that 60 Minutes was working on a segment about Chris Ruddy, he wrote to Executive Producer Don Hewitt and faxed him a letter in which an organization with which Ruddy was connected claimed to be working with “60 Minutes” on the Foster story. According to Stinson, Hewitt was furious. Almost immediately, Stinson received a call from a 60 Minutes producer who told him, among other things, “We just want to nail Ruddy.”

Moldea says that producer Robert Anderson and an associate met with Stinson and Fornshill, and concocted a plan to accomplish the “60 Minutes” objective. The plan was to attempt to catch Ruddy off guard. They would interview him in a hotel suite while Fornshill and Stinson waited in the next room. At some point they would ask Ruddy if he had any questions he wanted to ask Fornshill. When he said he would, Fornshill and Stinson would enter the room and confront Ruddy. As it turned out, they sat in a bathroom where they could hear the interview.

But the interview did not go as expected. Moldea says, “Wallace started buying into what Ruddy was saying about the problems with the Foster case. For over two hours, Fornshill and Stinson listened with stunned disbelief as Ruddy appeared to be persuading Wallace, who, according to Stinson, seemed ?confused and unprepared.?” During the lunch break, Anderson, Stinson and Fornshill put together talking points for Wallace and convinced him to ask Ruddy the hardball questions. Wallace became more aggressive with Ruddy, enough at least to abort the surprise confrontation.

When we asked Wallace about this he admitted that he was impressed by Ruddy, but when he realized that the call was being taped, he quickly changed his tune. He said the trouble with Ruddy was that his mind was made up, and nothing he could say would change it. We thought the purpose of an interview was to find out what was on the interviewee?s mind, not to change it.

Ruddy says that he understands that after the morning session, Mike Wallace ran into Andy Rooney, who told him that the Foster investigation “smelled.” He said the afternoon session actually went well. And that when he was asked if he wanted to meet Fornshill, he told them he would have to ask his attorney because Fornshill was suing him. He said that when the producers pressed him to agree to talk to Fornshill, Wallace told them to lay off. Ruddy says the hatchet job was not done in the hotel room, it was done in the editing room, where what he said was taken out of context. That?s how the producers, not Mike Wallace, nailed Ruddy.

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