“60 Minutes’” Steve Kroft and the Embarrassing Interview of President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton


–Richard E. Vatz

     What great promise this interview had: the President and his reputed life-long nemesis, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, together in an interview for the first time.

     Unfortunately, there was no serious journalism evident; it was a lovefest, with very little interference from the usually excellent Mr. Kroft.

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     There was a hint of what was to come from the segment’s preamble, within which Mr. Kroft sort of apologized for the fact that there were limits on topics due to the fact that the White House permitted only 30 minutes for the broadcast.

     That doesn’t excuse the interviewer’s complete dereliction of inquisitorial responsibility.

     The president speaks of wars that he and Mrs. Clinton have ended and the lack of terrorist attacks.

     There was no probing of the ending of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with the prospects of success being quite questionable at best.  The future status of Iraq and Afghanistan?  Maybe there was too little time to ask about that.

     After a fairly lengthy uninterrupted expression of mutual admiration, Mrs. Clinton was to be questioned on Benghazi and the hearings at which she testified now-famously (and aired in this segment): “We have 4 dead Americans…what difference does it make? Was it because of a protest or because 4 people were out for a walk?”

     She also testified that President Obama had said within 24 hours of the attack that it was an “act of terrorism.”

     Mr. Kroft never questioned Mrs. Clinton’s claim that it made no difference if it was an act of terrorism.  Finding out whether it was terrorists or 4 people “out for a walk” can help you stop it in the future. It makes a not inconsequential difference as to whether murders are performed by a terrorist group that is a future, systematic threat, or whether it was committed by an ad hoc crowd of common criminals.

     And no serious journalist should leave unquestioned Mrs. Clinton’s claim that President Obama called the attack an act of terrorism since he made that statement with no reference to the attack in Benghazi.  Moreover, for 2 weeks following the 9/11 attack, the Administration maintained that the attack was in response to an anti-Muslim tape, including the President’s address to the United Nations 14 days later.

     It is no secret among my friends and acquaintances that I am a big admirer of the segments produced on “60 Minutes.”  One could say this was an aberration, and indeed it was followed by a truly exquisite interview by Scott Pelley of Travis Tygart, the
United States Anti-Doping Agency head.  Parenthetically, what a wonderfully extensive interview that was, analyzing the evidence that Lance Armstrong’s intimidation and prevarication continues, only slightly abated.

     But the interview of President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton together? Let me drag up an expression of years ago: “Gag me with a spoon.”

     Mr. Kroft rarely interrupted, save his asking tough questions like “What is your biggest success?” and the weak “Do you blame yourself that you didn’t know?”

     To call this softball is an insult to that relatively violent game.

     Regarding Benghazi, the president and his new best friend’s “ironic” conclusion was to quote Bill Gates that there is always “someone screwing up…it’s a dangerous world.” 

     Inappropriate and tasteless.

    This interview was an embarrassment to a great franchise, “60 Minutes.”

Professor Vatz teaches Media Criticism at Towson University and is author of The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion (Kendall Hunt, 2012, 2013)

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