60 Minutes is the name of several television
newsmagazines, the first of which has been produced by CBS News since
1968. That show, created and made successful by producer Don Hewitt, begin
and end with the image and sound of a ticking stopwatch, an image that in
the 1970s became symbolic of investigative journalism on U.S. television.
In 1999, a second edition of 60 Minutes was started in the U.S., called
60 Minutes II. This edition was later renamed 60 Minutes by CBS for the
fall of 2004 in order to signify its quality. CBS News president Andrew
Heyward said, "The Roman numeral II created some confusion on the
part of the viewers and suggested a watered-down version." However,
after a well-known controversy regarding a report that aired September 8,
2004, the show was soon renamed 60 Minutes Wednesday to differentiate
itself and to avoid tarnishing the Sunday edition, as the editions were
editorially independent from one another. The show reverted back to its
original title on July 8, 2005, when the show moved to a Friday night 8pm
ET timeslot to finish its run. It lasted until 2005.
60 Minutes is noted for its unique style and ability to generate
news and controversy. As of 2004, the program and its contributors have
won a total of 75 Emmy Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award
presented in 2003 to creator Don Hewitt. It is one of the oldest surviving
investigative journalism shows on television, having first aired in 1968.
The format consists of three long-form news stories, without
superimposed graphics. The stories are introduced from a set which has a
backdrop resembling a magazine story on the same topic. The show
undertakes its own investigations and follows up on investigations
instigated by national newspapers and other sources.
Many stories' topics center on allegations of wrongdoing and corruption
on the part of corporations, politicians, and other public officials. Said
figures are commonly either subjected to an interview, or evade contact
with the 60 Minutes crew altogether, either by written notice or by
simply fleeing from the approaching journalist and his camera crew.
Historically, alleged wrongdoers are often made to look bad on television,
and 60 Minutes is well-known for its potentially damning interviews of
various people and organizations.
60 Minutes also interviews celebrities and well-known politicians on a
frequent basis, documenting their history and philosophical viewpoints.
These segments are rarely accusatory in the way that their more pointed
In tone, 60 Minutes blends the probing journalism of the seminal
1950s CBS series See It Now with Edward R. Murrow (a show for which
Hewitt was the director its first few years) and the personality profiles
of another Murrow program, Person to Person. In Hewitt's own words,
60 Minutes blends "higher Murrow" and "lower Murrow."
Other themes which have been associated with the show include its
"Point-Counterpoint" debate segments, which originally featured
James J. Kilpatrick on the conservative side of the debate and Nicholas
von Hoffman for the liberals (Shana Alexander took over von Hoffman's
chair after he departed in 1974). This format was lampooned during the
early years of the NBC comedy series Saturday Night Live, with Jane Curtin
and Dan Aykroyd as the debaters (Aykroyd would begin his remarks with,
"Jane, you ignorant slut"); the 1980 film Airplane had a
noteworthy parody of Kilpatrick in which he had a pointed comment about
the passengers of an apparently doomed aircraft. The
"Point-Counterpoint" segments were recently revived for a few
months featuring Bob Dole and Bill Clinton.
Since 1978, the show has usually ended with a commentary by Andy Rooney
expounding on topics of wildly varying import, ranging from international
politics, to economics, to the supposed inferiority of women, and to
personal philosophy on every-day life. One recurring topic has been
counting the amount of coffee in coffee-cans. Rooney's pieces,
particularly one in which he referred to actor Mel Gibson as a
"wacko," have led to complaints from viewers.
Based on ratings, 60 Minutes is the most successful broadcast in
U.S. television history. For five of its seasons it has been that year's
top program, a feat only matched by the sitcoms All
in the Family and Cosby.
It was a top ten show for 23 seasons in a row (1977-2000), an unsurpassed
60 Minutes first broke into the Ratings Top 20 during the 1976-77
season. The following season it was the fourth-most-watched show, and by
the 1979-80 season, it was the number one
During the 21st century it remains among the top 20 programs in the Nielsen
Ratings, and the highest-rated news magazine.
Mike Wallace is perhaps the iconic representation of the style of
journalism for which the show is known. He's been on the show since its
inception in 1968. Other correspondents include:
The program's correspondents and commentators have included:
- Ed Bradley .... Correspondent (1981-)
- Steve Kroft .... Correspondent (1989-)
- Dan Rather .... Correspondent (1975-1981)
- Harry Reasoner ... Correspondent (1968-1970, 1978-1991)
- Morley Safer .... Correspondent (1970-)
- Diane Sawyer .... Correspondent (1984-1989)
- Lesley Stahl .... Correspondent (1991-)
- Meredith Vieira .... Correspondent (1989-1991)
Since 1978, Andy Rooney has contributed a somewhat humorous, often
annoying and sometimes cantankerous commentary at the end of each episode.
Other commentators include:
- Shana Alexander .... Liberal debater (1975-79)
- Bill Clinton ... Liberal debater (2002-2003)
- Stanley Crouch .... Commentator (1996)
- Bob Dole ... Conservative commentator (2002-2003)
- Molly Ivins .... Liberal commentator (1996)
- James J. Kilpatrick .... Conservative debater (1971-79)
- P. J. O'Rourke .... Conservative commentator (1996)
- Nicholas Von Hoffman.... Liberal debater (1971-74)
Some segments of the 60 Minutes program have drawn criticism.
Conservatives question the show's journalistic integrity, particularly
regarding political stories attacking conservative politicians.
One reason given by people for refusing to be interviewed by 60
Minutes is that the producers insist on reserving the right to edit
In 1986, Don Hewitt greenlit a story concerning the Audi 5000
automobile, a popular German luxury car. The story concerned a number of
incidents where the car purportedly accelerated without warning while
parked, injuring or killing people. 60 Minutes was unable to duplicate
this behavior, and so hired an outside consultant to modify the
transmission to behave in this manner, and aired a story about it.
The incident devastated Audi sales in the United States, which did not
reach the same level for another fifteen years. The initial incidents
which prompted the report were found by the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration and Transport Canada to have been attributable to
operator error, where car owners had depressed the accelerator pedal
instead of the brake pedal. CBS issued a partial retraction, without
acknowledging the test results of involved government agencies.
A rival to 60 Minutes, Dateline NBC, would be found guilty of similar
tactics years later regarding fuel tank integrity on General Motors pickup
Brown & Williamson
In 1996, former Brown & Williamson (B&W) Vice President for
Research & Development Jeffrey Wigand provided information to 60
Minutes producer Lowell Bergman that B&W had systematically hidden the
health risks of their cigarettes. Furthermore, it was alleged that B&W
had introduced foreign agents (fiberglass, ammonia, etc.) with the intent
of enhancing nicotine's effects. Bergman began to produce a piece based
upon the information, but ran into opposition from Don Hewitt. Because of
the hesitation from Hewitt, The Wall Street Journal instead broke Wigand's
story. The 60 Minutes piece was eventually aired with substantially
altered content, and was missing some of the most damning evidence against
B&W. The exposť of the incident was published in an article in Vanity
Fair by Marie Brenner, entitled The Man Who Knew Too Much. The New York
Times wrote that 60 Minutes and CBS had "betrayed the legacy of
Edward R. Murrow." The incident was turned into a seven-times
Oscar-nominated feature film, starring Russell Crowe and Al Pacino,
60 Minutes alleged in 1997 that agents for the U.S. Customs Service
ignored drug trafficking across the U.S.-Mexican border at San Diego.
The only evidence was a memorandum apparently written by Rudy Camacho, who
was the head of the San Diego branch office. Based on this memo, CBS
alleged that Camacho had allowed trucks belonging to a particular firm to
cross the border unimpeded. Mike Horner, a former Customs Service
employee, had passed the memos on to 60 Minutes, and even provided
a copy with an official stamp. Camacho was not consulted about the
article, and his career was devastated in the immediate term as his own
department placed suspicion on him. In the end, it turned out that Horner
had forged the documents as an act of revenge for his treatment within the
Customs Service. Camacho successfully sued CBS for an unknown settlement,
and Don Hewitt was forced to issue an on-air retraction. (The Washington
Post, April 13, 1999)
The show has in recent years been accused of promoting books, films,
and interviews with celebrities who are published or promoted by sister
businesses in the Viacom empire, without disclosing the journalistic
conflict-of-interest to viewers.