What a perfect case study we have this week of the different directions taken by the last two big network TV newsmagazines. One interviews presidents, the other prostitutes. And for once, the high road is the more lucrative one.
As I wrote several times the past two weeks, the CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes has been scoring record ratings with a steady diet of substance like correspondent Steve Kroft's wide-ranging interview Sunday with President-elect Barack Obama. The hour with the interview was the highest rated prime-time program of the year.
ABC's 20/20, meanwhile, is hyping its "exclusive" interview tonight by Diane Sawyer with Ashley Dupre. She's the woman ABC News describes as the "high-end call girl at the center of the scandal that brought down former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer.
No low-end calls girls for this high-class news operation, I guess.
Oh wait, remember the D.C. Madam, Deborah Jeane Palfrey, and the "exclusive" interview ABC News chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross had with her on 20/20? There is, indeed, a glorious history here, is there not?
And what else has 20/20 been featuring in recent weeks? How about Thomas Beatie, the "pregnant man" and Christie Brinkley's ex-husband, Peter Cook. Mix that in a bowl with Ms. Dupre, stir well with talk of "exclusives" and breathless introductions, and you pretty much have the very definition of tabloid TV.
And what has 60 Minutes been up to? Oh, not much. They just about own one of the biggest political stories of the past 50 years, the rise and election of the first African-American president.
Oh yeah, and they have been up to their elbows in the financial crisis that threatens to bring back the glory days of the The Great Depression to a household near you -- if not your own workplace and home. The 60 Minutes team has been one of the only TV news organizations to try and sort out the financial insanity and hubris of the sub-prime mortgage loans and paper swaps that brought Wall Street to the verge of collapse -- saved for the moment only by the Congress and a rush-rush bailout plan.
Did I mention the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that no one else seems to want to cover any more? The CBS News magazine had two stories on of them as well.
If you think I sound biased, I am on this one. It is important to the future of this country that news organizations stay on the case with the kind of stories 60 Minutes is doing -- and not go chasing call girls like ABC News and 20/20.
(Above: ABC photo of Ashley Dupre and Diane Sawyer by Heidi Gutman)