Lesley Stahl’s Giant Conflict of Interest–And A Lesson About Ethical Corruption

In General Interest by Jonathan Tasini4 Comments

Why is Lesley Stahl sitting on the Advisory Board of an organization deeply involved in a contentious political debate? And is her service on that Advisory Board blessed by “60 Minutes”? Or were Stahl’s superiors even aware of her service? In any case, if “60 Minutes” has any inclination to adhere to CBS’ ethical guidelines, Stahl must be forced to resign from the board.

Here is the straightforward story. Stahl is a member of the Advisory Board of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. As I wrote extensively in my book, “It’s Not Raining, We’re Getting Peed On: The Scam of the Deficit Crisis,” no person is more responsible for the hysteria around the phony debt crisis than Pete Peterson. He has bankrolled the campaign to the tune of tens of millions of dollars — a campaign that has been partly responsible for the attack against the social safety net and Social Security.

I would argue that, in as much as one person can be tagged with creating public policy reality, Pete Peterson has been singularly responsible for the continued misery of millions of Americans who can’t get work — because his maniacal promotion of the phony crisis has led to a failure on the part of the government to inject billions of dollars into an economy where the lack of jobs is the greatest threat to economic vitality. Not that Peterson gives a shit about the average worker — most of his wealth, as I wrote, was made by loading on huge debt to companies, which often resulted in the laying off of workers and the cutting of pay and benefits.

The point here is: Stahl is essentially giving her stamp of approval on an organization that has a very clear agenda. It is a hyper- partisan organization — partisan as defined as biased towards a particular cause. It is no different than the National Rifle Association or the AARP or Amnesty International. Whatever your views are on the agendas promoted by these organizations, either on the left or the right, there is a standard journalistic view that journalists do not serve on organizational boards, advisory or daily management, in order to preserve their “objectivity”.

A couple of points. First, I actually think that the whole issue of “objectivity” is nonsense. Every journalist comes to his or her job with a point of view. The New York Times reporters who regurgitate stupid facts about the phony debt and deficit crisis — as they did about the Iraq War — are driven by bias, experience and upbringing, even if they never understand how that shapes what they write. But, if there is a standard, than Stahl has to abide by it.

Second, the most important point, though, is that Stahl accepted service on this board without seeing anything wrong in agreeing to lend her name (and perhaps perspective) to a relentless attack on our basic notion of what is good about government. This organization is not the ASPCA or PTA. The Peterson Foundation is a hyper political operation with a very clear public policy agenda. But, it is the nature of the elite world: they mix with each other at cocktail parties, marry (take a bow Andrea Mitchell and Alan Greenspan), and hire each other (Wall Street did not want for voices either in the George W. Bush or Obama Administrations).

Stahl would not understand the ethical problem because she simply is blind to a world outside the elite consensus — on the phony debt crisis, and beyond. The elite’s view is simple: the debt crisis is accepted by all, its almost an academic exercise and if you aren’t with that consensus, than you are nuts or not serious — as bad as anyone who would reject the idea of treating animals kindly.

But, no matter: she is violating CBS’ ethical standards and she must resign from the Peterson Foundation.

What can be done? Jeff Fager is the executive producer of CBS News. His telephone number is 212 975-1073. Call him. If someone can supply his email…

Others to contact:

John Frazee

Senior VP, News Services



Ingrid Ciprian-Matthews

VP, News



Frank Governale

VP, News Operations



[note: the original post misspelled Stahl’s first name…I blame an old friend’s proper spelling of Leslie…and my own carelessness!]