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I was glad to see that 60 Minutes admitted that their source for what happened during the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya is not credible and retracted their story.  

Perhaps uncoincidentally their source was the author of a memoir on the subject, The Embassy House: The Explosive Eyewitness Account of the Libyan Embassy Siege by the Soldier Who Was There’’, published by Threshold Editions, an imprint of Simon and Schuster which in turn is owned by CBS.  (60 Minutes failed to disclose this conflict of interest during the broadcast.)  The editor-in-chief of Threshold, which specializes in conservative and Republican books, is the former GOP strategist, Mary Matalin. Threshold authors include Glenn Beck, Herman Cain, Dick Cheney, Jerome Corsi, Sean Hannity, Stephen Moore and Karl Rove.   Simon and Schuster has recalled the book from stores and suspended publication in the wake of the scandal.  

This episode reminds me of another time when 60 Minutes got a story radically wrong, apparently relying on a conservative activist group as their primary source. The segment was part of the roll out of a new agency of the Religious Right in the Reagan era, the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD).


I published an essay a few years ago in The Public Eye magazine in which I mentioned this important episode -- the broadcast of a major smear of the mainline Protestant churches in the U.S.  

"Make no mistake," wrote Avery Post, the national president of the United Church of Christ in 1982, "the objectives of the Institute on Religion and Democracy are the exact opposite of what its name appears to stand for. The purpose of its leaders is to demoralize the mainline denominations and to turn them away from the pursuit of social and economic justice.

"We must not wait for this attack to be launched in the congregations of the United Church of Christ. I urge you to move quickly to tell the ministers and members of the churches in your conference about this campaign to disrupt our church life and to explain to them how and why the National Council of Churches has been chosen to be its first victim and the opening wedge for attacks on the denominations themselves."

Post's letter to regional leaders of the 1.3 million-member church followed the Institute of Religion and Democracy's (IRD) media attacks against the National Council of Churches (NCC) and its member denominations in Readers Digest and on 60 Minutes. Both were smear jobs, alleging that money from Sunday collection plates were financing Marxist guerrillas. 60 Minutes producer Don Hewitt told TV talk show host Larry King in 2002 that it was the one program he truly regretted in his career. Twenty years late, but at least he acknowledged the error.

IRD claimed that it sought to "reform" the social witness of the mainline churches, including The Episcopal Church, United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church USA, and the United Church of Christ. These denominations and the National Council of Churches had been at or near the forefront of major advances in civil and human rights for much of the 20th century, as well as opposing many of the excesses of American corporations and U.S. foreign policy, notably the war in Vietnam.

Neoconservatives decided to push back.

IRD has been led primarily by conservative evangelicals and Catholics who have had no interest in making the churches better, or stronger, or even more conservative. They were interested in neutralizing and displacing the churches from the center of American culture, to make way for the growing evangelical/Catholic alliance. Leaders over the years have included former president Jim Tonkowich, who had never even been a member of any of the churches he sought to reform; and board member Robert P. George, a neo-conservative Catholic strategist who went on to found among other groups, the National Organization for Marriage.

The late Methodist minister, Rev. Dr. Andrew Weaver, co-authored a blog post in 2006, Being 60 Minutes Means You Never Have to Say You are Sorry - Except Once, which underscored the catalytic role of 60 Minutes in seriously damaging the major institutions of mainline Protestantism.  He quoted from the transcript of Larry King's  interview with Hewitt:  

"We once took off on the National Council of Churches as being left wing and radical and a lot of nonsense. And the next morning I got a congratulatory phone call from every redneck bishop in America and I thought, oh, my God, we must have done something wrong last night, and I think we probably did."
60 Minutes has updated many lesser stories over the years. But the most prestigious TV news magazine in the history of television has never looked back or returned to this subject.

Crossposted from Talk to Action

Originally posted to Frederick Clarkson on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 07:45 PM PST.

Also republished by Street Prophets .

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