The Sift: ’60 Minutes’ controversy | Trial coverage choices | Biden press questions

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'60 Minutes' controversy | Trial coverage choices | Biden press questions


Clarity or deception?

An April 4 report from the long-running CBS News newsmagazine 60 Minutes on disparities in Florida’s vaccine rollout has touched off a wave of criticism questioning the piece’s accuracy and fairness.

The controversy stems from the report’s unsupported suggestion that Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis used the state’s vaccination program to engage in a “pay-to-play” scheme with the supermarket chain Publix when he announced a distribution partnership with the company in January, shortly after it donated $100,000 to his political action committee.

But critics of this segment of the report say it failed to provide substantive evidence of wrongdoing and mischaracterized key details. The report also included footage from a press briefing at which 60 Minutes correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi asked DeSantis about the Publix relationship. However, important parts showing DeSantis denying wrongdoing (at 32:30 in footage of the briefing) weren’t included in the clip. The director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, Jared Moskowitz, and Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner, who are both Democrats, have backed up the governor’s account.

CBS News defended the edits and stands by the report. At the conclusion of its April 11 episode, 60 Minutes acknowledged criticism of its report and read several letters from viewers. DeSantis, meanwhile, has responded to the incident by going on the offensive, broadly accusing “partisan corporate media” of maliciously trying to damage him.

Note: Most of the 60 Minutes report presented accurate information about well-documented racial and economic disparities in the state’s COVID-19 vaccination distribution. But the controversy over the DeSantis allegations overshadowed that reporting.

Also note: CBS said DeSantis declined to be interviewed by 60 Minutes for the report. 

Discuss: Can journalists include everything a source says in their reporting? How should journalists decide what portions of interviews to include and which to leave out?
Idea: Use this video comparison from NLP to highlight for students the edits 60 Minutes made to the governor’s response to Alfonsi’s question. Do they agree with CBS’ claim that these were justifiable edits made for clarity? Or do they agree with claims by DeSantis that the editing was deceptive and unfair?

Viral rumor rundown

NO: Midwin Charles, a legal analyst for CNN and MSNBC, did not have a severe allergic reaction and die just after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. YES: Charles tweeted on March 1 about getting the vaccine. YES: She died more than a month later, on April 6. NO: In an April 6 statement, her family did not disclose the cause of death. YES: Similar rumors circulated about Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, and about the rapper DMX, both of whom died April 9.

Note: COVID-19 vaccines have been proven to be safe and effective. As the population gets vaccinated, it is inevitable that some people will die coincidentally from unrelated causes. As of April 5, according to The Washington Post, “no deaths had been connected to Covid vaccines” in the United States.


NO: A recent Gallup poll did not show an 11% approval rating for President Joe Biden. YES: According to Gallup, Biden’s average approval rating since taking office is 56%. YES: Biden’s Gallup approval rating among Republicans was 11% in the early days of his term and fell to 8% among Republicans in March. NO: Biden does not have the lowest approval rating of any president in U.S. history.


NO: The state of Georgia is not removing Coca-Cola products from all state-owned buildings after the company’s CEO, James Quincey, issued a statement criticizing the state’s new voting legislation. YES: A group of eight Georgia Republican state legislators on April 3 wrote a letter requesting “all Coca-Cola Company products be removed” from their offices.

Discuss: Why do you think this post was shared at least 1,000 times even though it provides no evidence for its claim?

You can find a copy of this week's examples here.

As high-profile court cases unfold, journalists monitor and sort through hours of proceedings in real time. News organizations work to spotlight and explain standout moments for their audiences, who may be aware of a trial but aren’t following it gavel-to-gavel.

In this edition of News Goggles, let’s look at the ongoing trial of Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer charged in the death of George Floyd. In particular, let’s compare how local, national and international news organizations handled the April 5 testimony of Medaria Arradondo, the Minneapolis police chief.

Newsrooms may use a narrow or wider lens to frame their coverage, depending on their audience. For example, an international audience may be less familiar with the case and need a broader view, while local audiences may be interested in more detailed coverage. What parts of the trial did different newsrooms feature? Which comments from the police chief did they choose to quote? Grab your news goggles!

★ Featured News Goggles resource: These classroom-ready slides offer annotations, discussion questions and a teaching idea related to this week’s topic.


Discuss: Have you followed news coverage of Chauvin’s trial? If so, how? How do news organizations tailor coverage for their audiences? Whose coverage of the trial do you like best? Why?

Idea: Pick two news reports related to the police chief’s testimony. Using a Venn diagram, take notes on similarities and differences, focusing on how the stories begin, quotes and other details. Share your findings with the class.

★ Sift Picks



“Data reveals the topics reporters are asking the White House about the most” (Oliver Darcy, CNN Business).

A St. Bonaventure University professor challenged 22 students to find out more about the questions journalists ask during White House press briefings. The students examined all the briefings in March and organized hundreds of questions into different topic categories. They found that questions about health were the most common, followed by questions about immigration, then international affairs. Students also found that the topic of race ranked near the bottom and that the environment was asked about the least. While the findings reflect public concern about COVID-19, some “could argue more questions about the economy and race are warranted.”

Discuss: Did these findings surprise you? Are there any topics you feel should be addressed more during press briefings? What letter grade would you give the White House press corps? If you could ask the Biden administration one question, what would it be?

Idea: Ask students to review the Pew Research Center’s January findings (cited in the CNN story) on the public’s top priorities for the president and Congress. How do these priorities compare to questions from the press?

Another Idea: Have students select and review a recent White House press briefing (transcripts here) and sort questions using the same categories as St. Bonaventure University students. What sticks out? Do any patterns match findings from the March briefings?

Resource: “What Is News?” (NLP’s Checkology® virtual classroom).


Quick Picks

“Facebook hopes tiny labels on posts will stop users confusing satire with reality” (James Vincent, The Verge).

  • Discuss: Facebook believes that adding labels such as “public official” or “satire” to posts from specific kinds of pages will reduce confusion about the nature of information on its platform. Do you agree? Why or why not? What can happen, for instance, when users fail to realize something is satire? What other kinds of labels do you think social media platforms should provide for users?

“Google Has a Secret Blocklist that Hides YouTube Hate Videos from Advertisers—But It’s Full of Holes” (Leon Yin and Aaron Sankin, The Markup).

  • Related: “Google Blocks Advertisers from Targeting Black Lives Matter YouTube Videos” (Leon Yin and Aaron Sankin, The Markup).
  • Discuss: Are you surprised that advertisers can use extremist keywords to target their ads on YouTube videos? What tactics do extremists use to try to get around keyword blocks? In your opinion, what caused this lapse in standards at Google, YouTube’s parent company? What steps should Google take in response to these revelations?
  • Idea: Have students do some quick research about Google’s track record on preventing extremism from spreading on its platforms and products. What kind of grade would they give the company on this front?

“Immigration coverage needs more nuanced language” (Doris Truong, Poynter).

  • Discuss: How can words like “surge” and “flood” create bias — and potentially real-world harm — when they are used in immigration coverage about the southern border? How have other major news organizations, such as The Washington Post and The Associated Press, handled this in their coverage and style guidance?
  • Idea: Have students search Google News for these terms in immigration coverage, especially from local news organizations. Then ask them to respond in some way. For example, students might create an infographic or other visualization of how often such terms were used in the coverage they reviewed, or write a letter to the editor to share their thoughts about these terms.

What else did we find this week? Here's our list.


Thanks for reading!

Your weekly issue of The Sift is created by Peter Adams (@PeterD_Adams), Suzannah Gonzales and Hannah Covington (@HannahCov) of the News Literacy Project. It is edited by NLP’s Mary Kane (@marykkane).

You’ll find teachable moments from our previous issues in the archives. Send your suggestions and success stories to [email protected].

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Check out NLP's Checkology virtual classroom, where students learn how to navigate today’s information landscape by developing news literacy skills.