60 Minutes Correspondent Bill Whitaker was recognized this past Saturday by the Los Angeles Press Club in L.A. with the organization’s top honor, the Joseph M. Quinn Award for Lifetime Achievement. Legendary actress Rita Moreno presented the award and introduced Whitaker.
Whitaker was joined by his wife, son and several CBS News execs including CBS News and Stations president and co-head Wendy McMahon, evp of newsgathering Ingrid Ciprian-Matthews, 60 Minutes executive editor Tanya Simon, West Coast bureau chief Joelle Martinez and legendary CBS Los Angeles anchor Pat Harvey.
As part of his acceptance remarks, Whitaker talked about how “the pillars of democracy—free speech, fair elections—are being shaken.”
He added, “There’s been a rash of legislation in American state houses that would ban books and teachings about LGBTQ+ people and other, so-called, ‘uncomfortable’ topics. One bill in Florida ‘would put lessons ‘on the Civil War, the expansion of the United States to its present boundaries, the world wars and the civil rights movement’ under careful review.’ In state after state schools would be liable and teachers’ jobs would be in jeopardy if they tell the truth.
“The new West Side Story, penned by Tony Kushner, was banned in six Middle Eastern countries because of a transgender character, while at the same time works by Toni Morrison were being banned here in the U.S. The American Library Association reports there were more attempts to ban books here in the past year than since it began keeping track. Many of the same legislatures that are trying to censor our history are using the fiction that the 2020 election was stolen to justify election safeguards—all of which seem to make it more difficult for people to vote.”
Whitaker’s speech was a defiant one. He remarked that that freedom of the press “is under siege,” local newspapers “have been decimated by digital transformation” and that TV news audiences and budgets “have shrunk,” with consumers increasingly turning to social media, “which, when consumed uncritically, can manipulate beliefs, reinforces biases and fans fears. The truth is drowned out by a deluge of misinformation.”
He added, “When honest, factual journalism does break through the din, autocrats around the world—in the Middle East, Afghanistan, the Philippines—come after journalists themselves. These are strange times for journalists, for truth-tellers. It’s not in our nature or our training to take sides. But I’ll tell you, I’m on the side of truth. I’m on the side of facts and history and science. I’m on the side of the first amendment and our democracy.”