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60 Minutes and the Mainstreaming of Marjorie Taylor Greene

Updated: Sep 5, 2023

The title of Lesley Stahl's interview with Marjorie Taylor Greene on Sunday's episode of 60 Minutes gives the game away: "from the far-right fringe to the Republican Party's front row." The implication is that Taylor Greene has become a respectable figure within a respectable party whose views and policy proposals are to be considered matters for serious debate. This is journalistic malpractice. J'accuse!

The far-right fringe is the Republican Party's front row. Taylor Greene draws the line herself when she says, "They failed us?" "Who?" Stahl asks innocently. "Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham. Those, yeah, those types of Re— Mitt Romney. I'm not even sure why he calls himself a Republican." Ryan and McConnell are not exactly fringe, but they are not flaming moderates either, nonetheless insufficiently MAGA for Taylor Greene. As for Lindsey Graham, he has been out where the buses don't run since he first bent the knee in fealty to Donald Trump back during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Stahl's conduct of the interview played to an ideal of fairness and balance that has been blown up by a faction whose members lie without compunction, indifferent to quaint notions of fact and truth, honesty and integrity, anything of the kind. As I watched Stahl's feeble efforts to rebut Taylor Greene, I thought of Judy Woodruff near the end of her tenure as anchor of the PBS NewsHour. Woodruff is a respected journalist with a long and distinguished career. Too often in recent years she appeared clueless about what to do when interviewing Republicans she knew were lying to her face and courteous pushback proved ineffectual.

Stahl was unprepared for a performance by Taylor Greene that was entirely predictable. Responsibility for this is not hers alone. Everyone at 60 Minutes associated with the production bears the stain of Stahl's failure to come to the set better equipped to shine the spotlight on the congresswoman's denials and evasions, demonstrations of ignorance, disdain for truth, and embrace of victimization.

Greg Sargent illustrates this in his discussion of the "pedophile" slur. The real problem with the exchange, writes Sargent, "is that Stahl did not show any signs of understanding the longtime role of the 'pedophile' insult in right-wing discourse as an expression of deliberate bigotry against transgender Americans."

Not only did Greene casually conflate “sexualizing children” with transgender care, but she also is being despicably dishonest by reducing gender-affirming care to "surgeries." Yet this conflation of support for trans youth with pedophilia slipped by, unrebutted, to a national audience. No wonder Greene told Semafor she was pleased with how the interview went.
Calling this mere "name-calling," as Stahl did…implies a lack of awareness of the slur’s role in a discourse of deliberate dehumanization of trans people and those who minister to or validate gender dysphoria, who are said to be "grooming" children for nefarious purposes.

Sargent goes on to note, correctly, that gays and same-sex marriage have long been targeted in the same fashion with a smear that evolved into QAnon conspiracy theories about child trafficking.

Taylor Greene's response to pushback such as it was on the pedophile charge was to double down. She is also adept at deflecting questions she does not want to answer, as with the exchange about fact checking the claim that Parkland "was a false flag planned shooing," where Taylor Greene accused Stahl of "going down…the same attacks that people have attacked me with over and over and over." Stahl protested mildly, then moved on. Taylor Greene takes responsibility for social media posts such as the one liking a post about Nancy Pelosi and a bullet to the head, but not really: "Well, of course I stand for what's on my social media. But at times not—you're not always in control. We have all kinds of people that work on our social media." All of this was entirely predictable. Yet somehow Stahl had nothing substantive to offer in response.

Elaina Plott Calabro relates being turned down by Taylor Greene when she requested an interview while working on an article that appeared in the January/February issue of The Atlantic (Why Is Marjorie Taylor Greene Like This?}:

In her speech at the Cobb County GOP breakfast, Greene bemoaned "the major media organizations" for creating a caricature of her “that’s not real” without ever, she said, giving her the chance to speak for herself. Afterward, I introduced myself, noted what she had just said, and asked if she was willing to sit down for an interview. "Oh," she said, "you’re the one that’s going around trying to talk to [all my friends]. This is the first time you’ve actually tried to talk to me." I explained that I had tried but had been repeatedly turned away by her staff. "Yeah, because I’m not interested," she snapped. "You’re a Democrat activist."

It might not be unreasonable to wonder whether Taylor Greene received some reassurance from 60 Minutes that this would be a softball interview. More to the point, it appears that Taylor Greene, a shrewd operator, has learned that the desire of journalists like Stahl to be perceived as fair and balanced makes it possible to manipulate them for her own ends. This was on display before the show aired when she referred to Stahl as a "legendary icon" and said it was an "honor" to participate (Goba, 'Fake news' no more). Taylor Greene says she no longer refers to the media as "fake news." She has found a more effective way to advance her agenda and her position as the face of the Republican Party.

There is no foolproof formula for interviewing individuals like Taylor Greene. Outright confrontation is no more the solution than misguided fairness and balance that provides a forum for dissimulation and promotion of an agenda rooted in fanatical demand for religious and moral orthodoxy dictated by a fundamentalist minority and enforced by authoritarian government, misrepresentation of history and science, know-nothing foreign policy, what at times seems willful ignorance, and wholesale disdain for decency, integrity, and scruple. Journalists have a responsibility to face this unpleasant situation better prepared to counter it than Lesley Stahl was. Beyond that there should be some obligation to refrain from airing or publishing an interview that has been hijacked.

Stahl concluded her interview with this statement: "The question for her, and the country, is can she expand her brash MTG brand beyond the right wing, populist base?" Did she have no clue that she had just helped Taylor Greene take a step in that very direction? Reputable journalists and media organizations owe their audience better than this.


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