In this golden age of journalistic low points, the decision by 60 Minutes to give a soapbox to the garbage bag full of old taco meat that is Steve Bannon might be the lowest yet.
CBS gives airtime to people like Bannon in the hopes of boosting the flagging ratings afflicting much of the mainstream media. NBC did the same recently when it aired an interview with anthropomorphic sweat gland Alex Jones in a desperate attempt to lure people into watching Megyn Kelly's already failed show with the promise of a good train wreck.
But what major news outlets do when they hand the megaphone to white supremacists and conspiracy pushers is desensitize audiences to hearing those views in the mainstream.
Spare us the nonsense about how Bannon deserves a platform, and 60 Minutes was merely doing its journalistic duty. Through Breitbart, not to mention six months in the White House, Bannon already has the ability to spew his brand of pseudo-intellectual nativism far and wide. CBS is under no obligation to give him an even bigger stage on which to perform. They brought him on for the promise of getting some juicy, shareable quotes – maybe even some shouting! – to revive interest in a proud but increasingly marginalized news program. It's the same reason the show now interviews Tom Brady biannually.
CBS's Charlie Rose certainly is among the more traditional journalists working in Washington, and his interview strategy appeared to be to allow Bannon enough rope to hang himself. Rather than challenging him aggressively throughout, Rose seems to trust the audience to spot a fool when it sees one. If so, he has badly miscalculated.
The more Bannon talked, the more he proved himself to be exactly what his critics claim. However, a measurable minority of the (largely older, white) audience of a show like 60 Minutes is predisposed to believe the white-dominant, Euro-glorifying view of history as competitive cultural eugenics that he espouses. Imagine how excited they must be to see it legitimized by such a venerable news program.
Even capitulating to common sense and decency didn't earn CBS any good will from the viewers who find someone like Bannon appealing. Given that the far right considers the media establishment to be the enemy, it was inevitable that some aspect of the segment would be singled out, criticized and offered by fans as evidence of the insidious Liberal Media agenda. After the interview, they were aglow with conspiracy theories that the network intentionally lit Bannon, a man famous for looking like he has just finished a ten-day bender in Mos Eisley, in an unflattering way. It may not make sense to normal people, but to people who believe chemtrails are a real thing, this is no doubt a persuasive argument.
The forces of responsibility and ethics in journalism are fighting a losing battle against the free market's demand for audience share. Some part of journalists like Charlie Rose must know that the Steve Bannons of the world represent a fringe, ahistorical, conspiracy-pushing viewpoint that is not worthy of discussion in any half-serious venue. This worldview's natural home is the John Birch Society newsletter or white supremacist message boards. Now that he is a private citizen unaffiliated with the White House, any legitimate reason for granting him an audience outside of his own Breitbart-centered orbit is gone.
Although taking men of this type seriously may offer TV news a brief reward in the form of an uptick in ratings, the long-term consequences of a journalism that treats White Nationalist History for Dummies as a legitimate viewpoint worthy of consideration by the body politic won't be pretty. People do not believe everything they see, read or hear, but they do notice that it is being offered up for their consideration. The current administration demonstrates just how successfully historical revisionism and various flavors of bigotry have infiltrated the mainstream.
We are already in trouble, with a generation of Americans seeing that "We must defend the purity of our sacred soil for the white race" is an acceptable viewpoint to express in public, from the street corner to the Internet to the White House. The racist genie is already out of the bottle; it certainly doesn't need any help from CBS to reach an audience.