They didn’t listen to me over at CBS, not that I’m surprised.
The fact is, though, “60 Minutes” producers and correspondent Lesley Stahl probably were already at work on Sunday’s prime-time 14-minute tribute to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene when I wrote here a month ago that we Americans should ignore the extremist Republican congresswoman as much as possible. That we should adapt her bonkers idea of “a national divorce” — a severing of red states from blue — to instead quit her.
The inordinate attention Greene gets is her oxygen, allowing her to spread the outrageous, divisive messages and far-right conspiracy theories that endear her to white nationalist audiences, and make her a fundraising juggernaut.
And now here I am, (sheepishly) feeling like Michael Corleone in “The Godfather Part III”: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”
However, “they” isn’t so much Greene and her antics as it is the media. Too many reporters, assignment editors and producers are obsessed about covering attention-addicted, anti-democratic demagogues like the congresswoman and her idol, Donald Trump. Tuesday was a two-fer: Reporters swarmed Manhattan to cover both the arraignment of the former president on criminal charges, and the pro-Trump rally there for which Greene was the self-appointed head cheerleader.
“Trump is joining some of the most incredible people in history being arrested today,” she told Right Side Broadcasting Network. “Nelson Mandela was arrested, served time in prison. Jesus! — Jesus was arrested and murdered by the Roman government.” (Not only did Greene not get any pushback for those idiotic parallels, she got a peck on the cheek afterward from the interviewer for the right-wing network, a man she has been dating.)
The Trump Show was back, and the star was sharing the limelight with a real-life Apprentice and successor in waiting.
For a while, I thought the media, especially the cable news networks, were repenting of their journalistic sins in 2015 and 2016, when news outlets lavished billions of dollars worth of free air time and countless inches of print on the performative Trump and his hate-mongering. Even Fox News is no longer carrying every Trump rally live and in full.
Or maybe they hadn’t seen the light, just that the ratings, clicks and ad dollars weren’t what they used to be.
Whether an indicted Trump reclaims the media’s attention on the old scale or not, Greene represents new material and a fresh face for news outlets that thrive on controversy and conflict.
I’m reminded yet again of what disgraced former CBS chief Les Moonves said back in 2016 about hyper-covering Trump: “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”
His successors at the network must be saying the same thing about Greene. Yes, she’s a newsmaker, but that doesn’t justify the coveted prize of a profile on the venerable “60 Minutes.” And it really doesn’t justify so lightly challenging a woman who still considers Trump the real president.
Just a week before the profile aired, Greene led a tour of the D.C. jail, to visit the defendants there — “political prisoners,” she calls them — charged with crimes related to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. In December she said that if she’d organized events that day, “We would have won… Not to mention, it would have been armed.”
Yet interviewer Stahl didn’t ask Greene about the 2020 presidential election or the terrorist assault on the Capitol, even though she and like-minded Republicans are using their House majority to rewrite history on both.
Instead, Stahl sympathetically repeated to a stricken-looking Greene some epithets that folks in both parties have used against her. But she didn’t follow with examples of the many attacks Greene has dished against others. Later in the piece, Stahl did confront Greene about calling Democrats “pedophiles.” But when Greene unabashedly owned the statement, Stahl was literally — and naively — rendered nearly speechless. “Wow,” she muttered, and rolled her eyes.
So predictably emboldened was Greene by the exchange that she tweeted this the next day: “I’ll say it again: Democrats are the party of pedophiles,” linking to a reprehensible video titled “The Predator President.” It mashed up clips of Biden with children — including his poignant encounter with a boy who, like the president, stutters — as evidence of the president’s purported depravity.
Greene denied to Stahl that she had once “liked” a social media post suggesting someone fire a bullet into then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s head. Maybe her staff did it, she claimed. Stahl might have followed up with something more current: like whether Greene takes any responsibility when such attacks encourage an unhinged extremist to pound a hammer into the head of Pelosi’s husband Paul. But no.
Clearly Stahl spent lots of time with Greene. There was video of the two women talking in Washington, at Greene’s white-columned manse in Georgia, on the streets in her rural district with Greene’s admiring constituents, and even in the gym, where Greene lifted weights.
But Stahl apparently didn’t spend as much time researching Greene’s record. She introduced Greene with the discordant observation that she’s “known to be smart and fearless, and has a history of believing in conspiracy theories.” Stahl said Greene is “influencing the direction of Republican policies” but didn’t say which ones. In fact, Greene (like Trump) reflects a Republican Party that has become policy-phobic. Culture wars are their thing.
At least Stahl brought up the looming showdown with President Biden and Democrats in Congress over raising the nation’s debt limit so the government can pay its bills. Greene reiterated Republicans’ ransom for their votes — big spending cuts — and Stahl pushed for specifics. But when Greene replied with the weak party line — cut Biden’s green-energy programs — Stahl failed to note what’s been widely reported: One of the biggest beneficiaries so far is a job-creating solar-panel manufacturer in Greene’s district.
Late Sunday, Greene told the news website Semafor that she liked the “60 Minutes” piece. No wonder. If you’re trying to normalize the egregiously abnormal, what wasn’t to like?