''60 Minutes'' struggles to find a personality | EW.com


''60 Minutes'' struggles to find a personality

''60 Minutes'' struggles to find a personality -- Once Sunday's hour of power, the newsmag often runs alarmingly behind the times

Is it just me, or does 60 Minutes seem to be suffering from multiple personality disorder? On the one hand, the newsmag seems overeager to jump on a hot story — witness Ed Bradley’s ratings-grabbing chat with Clinton accuser Kathleen Willey, aired before all the facts about Willey’s fan letters to the President had come to light (Bradley has been justifiably needled for asking whether Clinton was aroused when he allegedly placed Willey’s hand on his genitals). On the other hand, the show often turns up its nose at topics that are deemed too ”tabloid” (e.g., O.J.). You can’t have it both ways — can you?

The best and worst of American journalism can be seen in a single 60 Minutes. Take one recent installment, which opened with Christiane Amanpour’s blistering report on Ugandan rebels who force children to kill or be killed on the front lines. The program dares to be unfashionable with foreign-news coverage, yet Amanpour’s only an occasional presence on 60 Minutes, which still has to share her with CNN. The Eye would be wise to lock up her services on a weekly basis.

Morley Safer followed with a piece on Cuban baseball defectors, which smartly focused on a most fascinating character, anti-Castroite sports agent Joe Cubas. (Minutes can still turn out engaging profiles — like Steve Kroft’s segment on flamboyant San Francisco mayor Willie Brown, who explained his rule on relationships: If your age and your date’s age add up to more than 100, she’s too old for you.)

But then Mike Wallace offered a limp would-be expose of gay-studies programs that showed just how out of step Minutes can be. After a disingenuous viewer warning — ”Some of what is being taught on college campuses today is for mature audiences only” (well, duh!) — Wallace proceeded to bash homosexual-history courses and the distribution of safe-sex handbooks (”Please give me a break! This is the academy?”). And when one Duke University English professor tried to justify his work in gay and lesbian studies, the camera cheaply cut away to a student sticking out his pierced tongue, as if to say: See, we told you these people are freaks!

60 Minutes never seems longer than during ”A Few Minutes With Andy Rooney.” The curmudgeon’s commentaries have grown more disjointed than ever: He started one by admitting he hadn’t seen Primary Colors, but he knew it wasn’t any good because there wasn’t a ”good guy” in it. He then shared this stunning analysis: ”You have to admit that if the President did put the moves on Kathleen Willey, he showed better taste than he has in the past.” Rooney’s stream of unconsciousness then flowed to the military trial of Sgt. Maj. Gene McKinney, and finally, his own World War II memories. One can only hope Rooney’s ”Few Minutes” are almost up — especially considering he recently described his boss, executive producer Don Hewitt, as ”a genius one minute and an idiot the next” on the air.