History Undone by 60 Minutes

by on May 26, 2015 · 13 comments

in History, Media

Stem-Cell-Fraud-60-Minutes1By Bob Dorn / San Diego Free Press

Last Sunday (May 17) on 60 Minutes, Scott Pelley summoned every hormone and nanoparticle in his body to reach that sweet spot where his voice can sound like a god’s and said:

“Time is the enemy of history.”

Say what? I mean… What?

At the end of a certain amount of time, say 60 minutes, history ceases to exist? Time wins and history loses? Does history end when Scott Pelley runs out of time?

History doesn’t find time an enemy. Time is its medium, its currency, its lifeblood.

Any historian—what the hell, any real journalist—recognizes time isn’t the enemy of history; time is the enemy of journalism. It takes a lot of time to research, report and write the news intelligently. Pelley put his foot in it when he sounded those mistaken words. I’ll bet it was because his staff at CBS is short of time and didn’t catch the mistake.

Media people have always been constrained by time. The language of the industry is filled with considerations of time. Reporters try to beat each other to the story. They’re always racing to deadlines. Last century a publication named TIME became one of the most important in the business.

History doesn’t care about the minute by minute suppositions of average media stars, other journalists do. Media people race to cover (in the musical sense, like on FM radio) the work of other journalists, so that they can appear not to fall behind the story. The effect of this pell-mell rush to a perceived legitimacy is that everyone has the same story, and they’re all sticking to it. Sometimes the story sticks to the journalists, like a dog turd does to the flip flop.

It wouldn’t be fair to call TIME the enemy of journalism, but like most all the nation’s news and entertainment organisms it is a corporation. And the news business is necessarily heavy with employees. Think of Doug Manchester’s operation here in San Diego. When he bought the SD Union-Tribune from Platinum Holdings the staff had already been cut nearly in half. Manchester cut it further.

Media people, like everyone else on a salary, are being asked to do more (while they’re paid less, but that’s another story). They have less time to get the real meaning of the new proposals offered by the Chargers cabal because corporate news is cutting jobs. That’s what corporations do these days.

And, boy oh boy, Scott Pelley’s boss is one strange corporation. A man named Sumner Redstone owns National Amusements, and National Amusements owns CBS Corporation and Scott Pelley. Redstone’s business was movie theaters before he bought CBS Corporation from another entertainment giant, Viacom.

Like a lot of network news programming, that of Sumner Redstone’s CBS News has suffered a decline in quality. 60 Minutes is no exception. Under Viacom’s and then Redstone’s ownerships the leading network news show has all but given up the depthy investigations of the last century and substituted for them on-camera interviews of heroes and evildoers; these are simply one-source recordings of one person’s idea about the story. This is not journalism, though it probably still makes money for Redstone.

Time isn’t the enemy of history, it’s the enemy of corporations.

Pelley’s, and CBS’s, lame but sonorous error came during a 20-minute (minus commercials) effort to do justice to the newly emerging National Museum of African American History.

The network and Pelley at one point focused its lens on Nat Turner’s bible crumbling under the plucking of disembodied fingers, this to show the difficulties that sometime face museum archivists. That’s when Pelley intoned those silly words about time, and history, trying to do justice to his subject.

But Nat Turner’s dying little book is just a curious pile of dirt and mold, no more important than a 70s copy of Hustler magazine. The loss of Nat Turner’s bible is only a loss to the people who invested in it. The Bible still exists in lots of hotel rooms and in every library in San Diego.

We all make this mistake of trying to find a material definition for time, and for history, something that can mark passages, arrivals and departures. We try to make time our tool, to section it off and distribute it, so much for this person so much for that project. We’ll say time is racing by when all we mean is, we haven’t noticed or thought about what just happened. Our consciousness failed us; time didn’t run out.

In CBS’s thoughtless construction Nat Turner’s bible became The Bible. But Nat Turner himself, the man who led his fellow slaves in a rebellion that preceded The Civil War by nearly 30 years, was not presented by CBS’s 60 Minutes. That giant network could have invested just two minutes, as I just have, and found these words from Nat Turner, presumably spoken at the trial that sentenced him to death:

“You have asked me to give a history of the motives which induced me to undertake the late insurrection, as you call it. To do so I must go back to the days of my infancy, and even before I was born.”

That’s history.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Geoff Page May 26, 2015 at 10:47 am

Lookiong at the 60 Minutes transcript, here is the full quotation:

“Time is the enemy of history. So, Smithsonian conservationists have been working for years restoring America’s heritage from textiles to trains.”

This is a truthful statement, things deteriorate after many years. The statement was intended to comment about what happens when the valuable objects of history are neglected. I don’t see how, or why, you used this to launch a rant – that I agree with by the way – about how journalism has been squeezed for time. I also think your comparison of Nat Turner’s Bible with a 70s Hustler magazine was a bit insensitive.


Jimmy Do May 26, 2015 at 5:32 pm

Well put, Geoff. To expound on the premise of false context here, what I gather at least, is that Dorn rejects the use of physical objects as instruments for an accurate evocation of history itself. In the 60 Minutes episode it is quite clear, and very well covered, that the intentions of administrators collecting these artifacts aim to bring about a range of emotions to the public that visit the center; a sentient approach. While the articles of reporters of times past may always recount a perfectly accurate record (that’s a joke, you can laugh), I believe there is something to be said, or rather, things that simply cannot be said that resonate by the presence of a real artifact. To see it, to know where it came from and what it represents, brings a feeling that no newspaper article could ever hope to. You could explain in detail Michelangelo’s David all day and night, but I won’t feel anything until I stand in front of it. But hey, different strokes for different folks.


Geoff Page May 27, 2015 at 9:38 am

Beautifully written, Jimmy Do, a much better response than mine, thanks for stating it so well.


South Park May 27, 2015 at 11:53 am

But Nat Turner didn’t write the bible, so it isn’t even close to being parallel to Michelangelo’s creations. The bible, like any other possession Nat T may have been allowed to own, would’ve been given to him by his owner, for a purpose. I think the bible has many references to slavery, and they aren’t about the evils of it. We can perhaps understand slavers better by preserving the bibles they bestowed on their slaves, but not so much the slaves.


Geoff Page May 27, 2015 at 12:05 pm

I’m sure the comparison to Michelangelo’s David was intended to demonstrate the that a thing can evoke emotions in a human being. Another example might be the Grand Canyon. My family was driving across the country in 1974 and decided to stop at the Grand Canyon. I was not particularly enthused, it was just a big canyon after all. But, when you stand there and look at it, you understand. An object like this Bible can figuratively take people somewhere and for that reason it might be worth preserving. Look how carefully we guard the Declaration of Independence and how many copies of that exist.


South Park May 27, 2015 at 8:44 am

Nat “Turner,” perhaps of Coromantee Ghana heritage, born October 2, 1800 into slavery on a Virginia plantation owned by the Turners, was hanged on November 11, 1831 after being tried for insurrection. His body was then beheaded, flayed, and quartered.

I think that his bible, one of millions of copies throughout the times, should turn to dust. Unless its margins contain his annotations or his owner’s inscription, it isn’t worth much, except as a reminder that slavers sought to instill the subservience that Christianity teaches.

Scott Pelley is tiresome, and would choose to focus only on the object that slavers would consider most romantically representative of the correctness of enslavement, rather than on the harder, more enduring items, such as shackles, whips, and chains.


bob dorn May 28, 2015 at 10:53 am

Page and Do, my point was that the material stuff is not history. A piece of armour in a German museum may bring up emotions in you two but the reality has to do with the extremes where religion can take us. To senseless freakin’ war. And let’s face it, neither of you are particularly interested in Nat Turner, who is the reason that moldy bible gives you the chills. I’m glad that one of you could be moved by the Grand Canyon, though. Geology is the history of the earth.


Jimmy Do May 28, 2015 at 2:43 pm

Mr. Dorn, we disagree on a contextual basis. The story was about a historical and cultural museum. Pelley expressed the importance of having “material stuff” to further the Museum’s hoped for experience, and how that “stuff” should be preserved for our and future generations. You disagree with that, understood.

The segment of the story where Pelley actually says time is the enemy of history (this is contradictory to your account. You probably didn’t have time to research the story first, understood), a Tuskegee Airman training plane, Klan banner and segregated train were being covered. “Physical, touchable, jim crow confinement” as Pelley put it, regarding the train. But you disagree that the train itself is actually relevant or beneficial when exhibiting to people the segregation that occurred.

Look, I don’t buy it that your main point is artifacts are not history. Bob, your main point is abhorrence for corporations and religion (justly so, sure). You just used the wrong platform to launch off of and took a good story and twisted it so far out of context (I stress context here) that somehow the preservation Nat Turner’s bible for cultural preservation is the reason Journalism has gone to scheisse. It just seems non-sequitur to me, let alone not based off any established premise regarding your actual main point or your lack of consideration that if there is nothing material left to represent a historical happening worth preserving, people will get wrong and eventually forget the real history. I’m curious how you would rationalize your argument with the relationship between pieces of artwork and their role as historical artifacts. Go help put another wedding bakery out of business or something, but leave the planes and trains of history alone. Trust me, some of us do enjoy those things and can learn something from them.

PS, I have a free pass to the San Diego History Center, come with me, I’ll get you the audio tour and a blindfold so you can enjoy real history (?) while I just enjoy those silly, non-historical textile and art exhibits (?).


Geoff Page May 28, 2015 at 2:53 pm

Wow, again, very nicely put.

I thing we both agree with the gist of what Bob wrote but only disagree on the platform he used and his opinion of historical artifacts. As you said, he is entitled to that opinion of course.

Bob, what do you think of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.? Surely some of what is there is worth preserving, would you not agree?


bob dorn May 28, 2015 at 5:15 pm

Do and Page, Go ahead and collaborate with each other on an article about “context” and the glory of museum-quality relics as touchstones enlivening your respective senses of history. It should be easy; you’ve already written more words to each other than I did in my article. I’m going to leave now.


Geoff Page May 28, 2015 at 5:41 pm

Why so testy, Bob? We both agreed with you on your basic point and only took issue with one part of what you wrote. Is it so difficult for you to read that someone has a different opinion about a portion of what you wrote that it generated this kind of response? I believe you would have to agree that both of us have written respectfully about your piece.


South Park May 28, 2015 at 5:50 pm

Waggish! This makes me laugh out loud.


South Park May 28, 2015 at 6:51 pm

waggish = humorous in a playful, mischievous, or facetious manner.

testy = easily irritated; impatient and somewhat bad-tempered.

I’m reading it right.


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