By Brad Friedman on 1/6/2014, 6:11pm PT  

The President of CBS News is David Rhodes. He was hired in February 2011. He was formerly the Vice President of News at Fox "News".

Again, the current President of CBS News was formerly the VP of News at Fox "News".

According to his bio posted at CBS: "Rhodes began his career as a Production Assistant at the newly-launched Fox News Channel in 1996, where he later became Vice President of News. At the network he managed coverage of three presidential elections, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, hurricanes including Katrina, and was the channel's Assignment Manager on the news desk the morning of September 11, 2001."

That means, as The Nation's Greg Mitchell pointed out at the height of the recent CBS News/60 Minutes Benghazi report controversy (before CBS was finally forced to retract the entire fake story), that Rhodes "was the guy who worked hand-in-glove on the biased, often propagandistic, Fox 'coverage' of the run-up to the Iraq war, the 2000/2004/2008 elections, the Plame affair, the worst years in Iraq, and all other things Bush and Cheney, and so on."

Again, the guy who cut his teeth in the news business, beginning as a Production Assistant and working his way up to become VP at Fox "News", is now the President of CBS News.

That bears both highlighting and repeating as many have been asking, once again, over the past 24 hours, "What's the Matter with 60 Minutes?" after yet another report last night that is being described as a "hit job" by some and, more charitably, as "puzzling" by others --- including by some who were interviewed both on-air and off for the once-great news magazine's bizarre segment titled "The Cleantech Crash"...

Fail and Unbalanced

The complete segment, with correspondent Lesley Stahl, is posted at the bottom of this article, so feel free to judge for yourself. But coming on the heels of 60 Minutes' Benghazi hoax debacle last November, a soft-ball, one-sided puff piece on the NSA in December, and a number of other similar missteps, Sunday's piece on the failures --- and largely, only the failures --- of the so-called "cleantech revolution" suggests that while it hasn't yet become Fox "News" proper, the once-venerable news magazine no longer seems to be serving the public interest, but rather...some other interest.

The general premise of this week's segment was that investment --- both public and private --- in the cleantech sector since Obama has taken office has been nothing but a disaster. While there have certainly been failures in the sector, it was not noted during the segment, as several critics of Sunday's piece have pointed out since, that the U.S. Dept. of Energy's loan program to green startups has a 97% success rate.

"In July 2012, the former head of the loan guarantee program testified to Congress that funds that went to bankrupt companies represented less than 3 percent of the total Department of Energy portfolio," Media Matters' Shauna Theel notes. "In other words, the program so far has a 97-percent success rate, far better than that of venture capitalists."

"Clean technology is booming by every key indicator," Climate Progress' Joe Romm said in opening his piece lambasting the 60 Minutes report just after it aired, "but you would never know that from Sunday's absurd 60 Minutes piece touting an imaginary 'Cleantech Crash.'"

He also notes the 97% success rate cited for the DOE Loan Guarantee Program, "while the companies CBS focuses on such as Solyndra and Abound Solar were just 3 percent of the portfolio."

"The piece was puzzling for several reasons," Dana Hull, clean tech and energy policy reporter for the San Jose Mercury News' writes, citing the fact that [emphasis hers] "there was absolutely no mention of climate change. None. That's the whole point of cleantech, after all: using the promise of technology and innovation to try to wean our economy off of fossil fuels."

She continued: "I'm not sure what the 'Cleantech Crash' refers to, exactly: In the past four years, the United States has more than doubled electricity generation from wind and solar, even as we've experienced a boom in domestic oil and natural gas production. Greenhouse gas emissions in the United States are falling. Companies like SolarCity have become the darlings of Wall Street. Venture investment in the sector is down, but strategic partners are swooping in."

Hull also notes that while nuclear projects received [PDF] "massive DOE loans too", the 60 Minutes report said absolutely nothing about them.

And, oddly enough, the report focused centrally on Silicon Valley venture capital Vinod Khosla, and his struggling startup named KiOR, which produces biofuel from wood chips. KiOR, however, "wasn't the recipient of a big DOE loan," reports Hull.

"Let's set aside the question of why 60 Minutes chose to do a hit-job on cleantech, which clearly was unwarranted, after producing widely criticized puff pieces on the NSA and Amazon's wildly impractical delivery drones," Romm wrote in his first piece on this last night. "The key point is that the goal of DOE's investments is not to make money. The goal is to accelerate the drop in price - and increase in deployment - of clean energy in the market, which it clearly has done in industry after industry. A secondary goal was to create jobs in this country, which it also succeeded in doing."

None of that was cited by 60 Minutes.

Romm illustrates his point by posting several graphics from a recent Dept. of Energy report titled "Revolution Now: The Future Arrives for Four Clean Energy Technologies" [PDF]. Here are a couple of them...

He offered similar charts for the deployment and costs of LED lights and for electric vehicles and batteries. The point is, none of this was discussed in the 60 Minutes report, which drew a picture of the clean energy sector as little more than a disastrous boondoggle.


"The federal government has allocated a total of $150 billion to cleantech through loans, grants and tax breaks with little to show for it," Stahl says during the report. "The taxpayers have lost a lot of money in the general clean tech area."

Katie Fehrenbacher, a Silicon Valley tech biz writer at GigaOM, served as a background consultant on the 60 Minutes piece. She wrote last night about what CBS got both right and wrong in their piece, charging "most importantly they're overlapping the [Silicon] Valley story with the government funding story."

"There was a very real bubble and bust that happened, though there are still firms around that have evolved and are sticking with it," she writes. "The VCs [venture capitalists] did lean on government connections and support at times, and they made a lot of mistakes. ... Unfortunately, playing up the taxpayer-funded government green-flop angle in the piece was both stale and overblown"...

Beyond the stimulus, solar panels and wind power have reached record levels in the U.S. in the last year and that's also thanks to U.S. government support. Even within the loan program, there were more wins than the 60 Minutes piece let on, like the Ivanpah solar farm that created a lot of jobs outside of Las Vegas. The U.S. government needs to give more support to next-generation energy technologies, not less.

Part of the problem with the 60 Minutes piece is that it's combining the story of U.S. support for clean power and energy efficiency, with the Silicon Valley story. They're totally separate and different. The subhead of the piece is a prime example of the confusing aligning of those two things:

"Despite billions invested by the U.S. government in so-called "Cleantech" energy, Washington and Silicon Valley have little to show for it."

Um, does that include the huge gains in wind farms and solar panel projects in the U.S., or does that just mean that Solyndra didn't work out?

Deceptive Editing

"The whole segment is baffling," Climate Progress' Romm writes. "CBS asserts that the key cleantech investor they interview, Vinod Khosla, is 'known as the father of the cleantech revolution.' He ain't, and in fact he's about the last person you'd want to talk to on the subject (see my 2010 post, 'Is anyone more incoherent than Vinod Khosla?')."

More disturbing than all of that, however, is what another one of the experts interviewed by 60 Minutes for the segment revealed in comments in response to Romm's piece last night, and then in a more complete conversation today with Romm and his colleague Emily Atkin.

Last night, Robert Rapier, the Chief Technology Officer at startup Merica International, posted a disturbing comment in reply to Romm's piece. Rapier, a chemical engineer who has worked in the petroleum industry and on alternative fuels, is a critic of cleantech investor Khosla. He was interviewed by the show and featured briefly in their report. In his comment responding to Romm's piece, he says that he "pointed out to [Lesley Stahl] that cleantech is alive and well, and that there were a number of successes. I also told her that solar would eventually dominate every other energy source. None of that survived the edits. I think they really wanted my Khosla criticism on camera, and the rest of my views really didn't support the narrative of the overall story."

He went into more disturbing details today in his interview with Romm and Atkin.

"The first question Leslie [sic] Stahl asked me - 'Clean Tech is dead. What killed it?' I immediately said, 'Clean tech is not dead.' There are many parts of clean tech that are doing very well - solar power is growing by leaps and bounds, prices are plummeting, wind power is growing exponentially."

"So she said, 'Clean tech, the story's more complex. There are parts that are doing well, and parts that aren't doing very well.' And I said yes, and she said, 'Let's talk about the parts that aren't doing so well.'"

He went on to detail some of the other things he told Stahl in the interview, citing, for example, "the explosive growth" in solar power. "The future is solar," he says he told her. "Solar will trump every other energy source."

"I cited wind, solar power. I told her that there are a lot of successes that you can find. None of that made it through the edits," he tells Climate Progress.

It's as if CBS News had their mind made up about the story they wanted to tell, and they were simply trying to find people to say what they needed to be said on camera, and would either ignore those who didn't, or edit out the inconvenient quotes.

'Benghazi!' Redux

After the disastrous-now-retracted 60 Minutes report on Benghazi, about a man who appears to have completely made up his story about being at the diplomatic compound on the night the 2012 attacks there, blogger Heather Parton, aka "Digby", posted video of Logan at a speaking engagement shortly after the attacks, revealing her hawkish sentiments and calling for the U.S. to "exact revenge".

During the same speech, Logan added the following (which turned out to be extraordinarily ironic, given what would happen in her Benghazi piece, and now, what Rapier has revealed about 60 Minutes' cleantech piece):

There is a distinction between investigating something to find out what the real situation is and trying to prove something that you believe is true. And those are two very different things. The second one is the enemy of great journalism. And it's a trap that is very easy to fall into. In fact it was my boss [CBS News Chairman and 60 Minutes Executive Producer] Jeff Fager who kindly reminded me of that fact at a certain point in the process and he was absolutely right about that.

Fager hired former Fox "News" VP David Rhodes in 2011. They seem to be disastrously failing ever since. Whether Rhodes' influence, or Fager's (who spent nearly a week standing behind the phony Benghazi story) influenced 60 Minutes' horribly unbalanced and misleading cleantech piece is currently unknown. But when the question "What's The Matter With 60 Minutes?" is asked, given the particular Rightwing-ness of their recent monumental failures, the former VP of Fox "News", now President of CBS News must be eyed.

After all, while Sunday's cleantech piece was raked over the coals by those who actually follow, report on and work in the clean energy field for a living, there were some who don't who celebrated the segment.

Writing at the far Rightwing loon blog PowerLine, Steven Hayward declared triumphantly today: "'60 Minutes,' not exactly a fan of Power Line's way of thought (heh), did a belated public service last night with a segment on 'The Cleantech Crash,' noting that taxpayers had shelled out billions for stupid 'green' energy boondoggles. ... Of course, we were warning about this all along, but still it is useful when the MSM catches up with common sense."

And David Rhodes' former Fox "News" fans no doubt erupted in applause and a hearty, self-congratulatory round of happy confirmation bias. Fox "News" CBS News.

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UPDATE 1/8/2014: CBS offers this statement to Re/code in response to the broad-based criticism of their terrible segment on cleantech:

'60 Minutes' has a rich history of reporting about climate change. Last night's story focused on the effectiveness of some of the biggest energy tech efforts to combat it.

That response might have had held any water, had the segment ever bothered to even mentioned climate change, much less combating it. They didn't. Not even once. It focused only on a few companies which ran into financial hardships and failures in the green energy sector. The unprecedented successes of the renewable energy industry --- worldwide and, yes, here in the U.S. --- over the past several years are not particularly debatable. 60 Minutes focused on none of those successes, offering only a very unbalanced, Fox "News"-like, cherry-picked segment on the failures only.

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CBS News 60 Minutes' 1/5/2014 "Cleantech Crash" report, produced by Shachar Bar-on with correspondent Lesley Stahl, follows below. The text transcript is posted here...

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