Eyebrows are raised over the awarding of two Peabodies, meant to symbolize broadcast journalism excellence.
hen the George Foster Peabody Awards for excellence in electronic media were announced yesterday, they cited a program that was later accused of basing a report on fake documents, “60 Minutes II” – and a program that gleefully engages in the production of fake news, “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”
The Peabody given to the Wednesday edition of “60 Minutes” honored an exclusive story, produced by Mary Mapes and reported by Dan Rather, about the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Several months after that journalistic coup, Ms. Mapes was fired and Mr. Rather retired as anchor of the “CBS Evening News” earlier than planned in the wake of another broadcast, on President George W. Bush’s National Guard service. After initially backing its reporters and their report, CBS said they may have based it on falsified documents.
“The Daily Show,” which combines elements of entertainment and news, was honored for its presidential election coverage, as it had been four years earlier.
But it was the award to “60 Minutes II” that set tongues wagging because of the recent controversy that led to Ms. Mapes’s firing and Mr. Rather’s early departure. (He continues to work for CBS as a reporter.) Horace Newcomb, director of the Peabody Awards, said that in this instance, an award is just an award.
The prison story “stands on its own merits,” he said. “It was one of the most important stories of the year and was one of the crucial components of the ongoing conflict in Iraq.”