60 Minutes creator and longtime CBS newsman Don Hewitt, who was on the job until ’04, died this morning of pancreatic cancer at age 86. He should and would be regarded as a blemish-free journalist of the highest order. He was involved in the documentary news show See It Now, directed the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon presidential debates, and exec produced the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. His crowning achievement was launching 60 Minutes in 1968 and staying with it for three-plus decades. Except, sadly, there is a blemish, and a prominent one at that.
Hewitt’s reputation isn’t 100% sterling due to the depiction of his actions during the Jeffrey Wigand/Brown & Williamson/tortious interference debacle in Michael Mann‘s The Insider. Fairly or unfairly, he was portrayed by Phillip Baker Hall as a corporate-deferring go-alonger who allowed the reputation of 60 Minutes to be tarnished in what is now regarded as a classic case of corporate interests undermining journalistic integrity. Many heartfelt tributes will be heard over the next few days, but The Insider will live on for decades if not centuries. Tough deal, but there’s no erasing it.