Vick Interview: Many Questions

Z ON TV

August 13, 2009|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,david.zurawik@baltsun.com

CBS News said there were no conditions placed on the interview with ex-NFL star and admitted dog killer Michael Vick that will air Sunday.

A spokesman also said that even though CBS Sports host James Brown has never done a report for "60 Minutes," he earned the right to do the Vick piece by getting the interview on his own.

In my first post about the interview, I raised questions about the choice of Brown rather than one of the CBS News correspondents who are regulars on the show, such as Scott Pelley or Steve Kroft - or Byron Pitts, who was named a contributing correspondent to the show this year. Brown is not a part of CBS News, which produces "60 Minutes."

"So, James Brown has never been on '60,' but this was his beat, he worked it for a long time and got the interview, and so, Jeff was pleased to put him on 60 Minutes with it," Kevin Tedesco, a spokesman for CBS News, said in an e-mail response to questions from me. "The interview had no conditions."

The "Jeff" to whom Tedesco refers is Jeff Fager, the executive producer of "60 Minutes."

Just as I acknowledged in the name of transparency that I'm an animal lover in my first post, let me also reiterate the tremendous respect I have for "60 Minutes." This blog includes several examples of that respect posted during the past year.

In my first post, I said I did not think I could watch as "60 Minutes" provided Vick with this prestigious prime-time platform on the eve of his return to the playing field. But as a media critic, I do have to watch and write about it Sunday night. There are serious journalistic and cultural implications related to the choices CBS News is making with Vick.

Should CBS, which has a huge interest in boosting the NFL by nature of its contract to televise games, be the network doing this interview?

Should Fager have erred on the side of journalism and not let a sports show host do the piece even if he did get the interview on his own? How do viewers know that Brown didn't get the interview because Vick (or Vick's handlers) thought Brown would be the most sympathetic? In fact, that's the way many publicists for celebrities play the media game - using access to try to control who will do the interview.

To what extent will "60 Minutes" include the gruesome and horrific nature of Vick's crimes in its piece Sunday night? Will "60 Minutes" think "balance" simply means having on a spokesman from the Humane Society of the United States as a talking head?

I have no doubt as pro football fever starts to build that "60 Minutes" will have a huge audience. I hope many media critics will be in that audience with me trying to assess what price "60 Minutes" did or didn't pay in credibility to get it.

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