Topic: Media

Clemens, Wallace and CBS

You may have detected some interesting sounds while you listened to Mike Wallace interview his good friend Roger Clemens on “60 Minutes.” One of them might have been the sound of Edward R. Murrow rolling in his grave, as CBS News jettisoned whatever small shreds of credibility and journalistic integrity Dan Rather left in his wake. You certainly detected the sounds of silence, not the Simon and Garfunkle song, but rather the absence of certain tough questions that would have forced Clemens to be candid about his alleged steroid use or look guilty. And you heard the sound of exploitation. Clemens mercilessly exploited the reputation of an 89-year-old legend who has lost his fastball to get a deceptively easy interview that will bolster his efforts to counter the damning evidence of the Mitchell Report that he, Roger Clemens, baseball legend, is a cheat. And CBS exploited Clemens’ desperate need to do PR repair so it could make money on a highly-rated segment of “60 Minutes” while the network is taking a financial bath during a writer’s strike.

You might have smelled something too, because ethically, the whole thing stank. Once upon a time, “60 Minutes” would sic bulldog interviewers on suspected wrong-doers to ask the questions that would make them sweat. Wallace or Rather or Morley would grill their prey without mercy, as the camera showed the executive or politician sweating. It looked adversarial, and it was; there was no hint of bias or conflict of interest. The integrity began unraveling around the time of the “60 Minutes” tobacco fiasco, when CBS pulled its interview with whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand in fear of a lawsuit from Big Tobacco. Then Viacom bought CBS, and sympathetic interviews with authors—especially authors critical of the Bush administration—whose books were being sold by Viacom-owned publishing houses became routine fare. Dan Rather championed a story that was broadcast in the midst of the presidential campaign in 2004, attacking President Bush and based on unauthenticated documents obtained from an unreliable source. Now an accused steroid-using baseball star, Roger Clemens goes on “60 Minutes” and can choose his interviewer. Not an adversary; those days are gone. A friend. A fan.

I’m sure Wallace, an amazingly vital old war horse who probably reviles retirement, was inclined to leap at this chance to get back into battle, but his judgement in accepting Clemens’ offer was atrocious. He is conflicted beyond fixing. He likes his subject; they are friends. He undoubtedly hopes to see Clemens cleared: so much for journalistic objectivity. He wants the Mitchell Report to be proven wrong. He could be counted upon to ask the tough questions that Clemens needs to answer; in fact, that’s why Clemens insisted that he do the interview. The interview took place in Clemens’ home, another requirement insisted upon by the Rocket for CBS to get its ratings booster: his domain, where he is comfortable, chatting with a friend, and not in a studio, being interrogated, in the classic “60 Minutes” fashion. If “60 Minutes” had any integrity left, it would have said, curtly, “Sure, Roger. We’ll do an interview. But leave the choice of the interviewer to us.” Would Clemens have accepted those terms? We’ll never know. Personally, I think he would have passed and tried Larry King. “So, Roger, why do they call you ‘the Rocket'”?

The January 6 interview confirmed all fears. Brian McNamee, Clemens personal trainer whom he personally brought with him to New York from Toronto, testified that he had repeatedly injected Clemens with steroid beginning in 1997. After Clemens stated that he “never” took steroids or human growth hormone, Wallace said, “Swear?” Clemens responded, “Swear.” What did that mean, exactly? “Swear” means a binding oath. Clemens didn’t put his name on a notarized affidavit, or swear in court. Did Wallace ask him to do any of those things? No. Clemens said that the only thing his trainer, who told the Mitchell Commission that he had repeatedly injected steroids into Clemens, had injected was lidocane and vitamen B12. Did Wallace press on, while pointing out to Clemens that B12 is regarded as a steroid masking agent, often used by steroid-users to pass urine tests? No.

Later, Wallace mentioned that Andy Pettite, Clemens’ pal, training partner and fellow Yankee pitcher, had confirmed McNamee’s claim that he had injected him with Human Growth Hormone. Doesn’t that make McNamee more credible, Wallace asked? Pettite’s situation was completely different, answered the Rocket. That was good enough for old Mike. The Wallace who made white collar crooks squirm in the salad days of CBC News would have pounced. “What do you mean, completely separate? The trainer for both of you testified that he shot illegal and banned substances into your butts. Pettite says he was telling the truth. Why would he tell the truth about Pettite and lie about you?” But that Mike Wallace is long gone. Besides, that’s no way to treat a friend.

Wallace did ask what McNamee gained by lying, and Clemens replied, “Evidently not going to jail.” But that is completely backwards: “not going to jail” was McNamee’s reason for telling the truth. He cooperated with Mitchell as part of a deal to avoid federal prosecution, with the understanding that if he lied, the deal was off. Later, Wallace asked Clemens if he knew why McNamee was facing prison and the Rocket responded, “Well, I think he’s been buying and movin’ steroids.”

“Are you really saying that your personal trainer was buying and distributing steroids, that he helped your training partner use a banned substance, but he never discussed them or made them part of your training schedule?” Mike asked.

Well, no, actually, he didn’t.

While pointing out the complete journalistic ethics abdication of CBS, “60 Minutes,’ and Mike Wallace, the Scoreboard cannot leave this sordid episode without a word for Roger Clemens. The word is “louse.” Whether Clemens is or isn’t a steroid user as his trainer has sworn, he has used his stardom and supposed friendship with Wallace to manipulate the elderly investigative reporter into scarring his reputation by becoming a pawn in the pitcher’s attorney-crafted defense strategy. Unkind, unfair, disrespectful and unforgivable.

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