Sunday night, I criticized "60 Minutes" for its interview with Conan O'Brien. You can read it here.
But the thrust of my criticism was that the venerable newsmagazine gave the former NBC latenight host a free run to be utterly self-serving and pretty much say whatever he wanted to say about NBC and Jay Leno, the comedian who replaced him in latenight, without seeming to check on it. And when O'Brien didn't want to answer a question, interviewer Steve Kroft let him use a non-disparagement clause to have his way without pressing him.
Well, now comes word that O'Brien might have been flat-out lying when he said he thought NBC kept Leno and bought him out because it would have cost the network $150 million to part ways with Leno, while it was only $32.5 million to say farewell to him. Read it here at TMZ.
You can say, "Who are you going to believe, Conan or TMZ?" But TMZ is the outfit that broke most of the Leno/O'Brien stories in January including the terms of O'Brien's severance -- at a time when mainstream critics and reporters like me were aeting TMZ's dust.
But you don't have to believe one or the other. The producers of "60 Minutes," if they would have been doing their job, would have contacted NBC and Leno and the newmagazine's own considerable list of industry sources to try and ascertain the truth of the $150 million claim -- and then told us what they knew to be true. I saw none of that in the interview. Kroft and "60 minutes" simply put the statement out to millions of viewers with O'Brien's seeming confirmation. The producers and Kroft did the same with O'Brien claiming NBC had lied when it said the network was losing money with him in latenight. How would O'Brien know what Leno's buyout clause was worth anyway? And how would he know whether or not the network was losing money?
All they had to do was check with their own CBS station managers to find out how O'Brien was losing money for NBC affiliates and owned stations -- while the CBS stations in some cases were making that money. ABC was making some of it, too, with "Nightline" pounding O'Brien.
But, as I said in my review, "60 Minutes" seemed more interested in letting O'Brien have his way while taking some shots itself at a competitor.