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Sunday, December 05, 2010

The Facebook Fallacy

Tonight on "60 Minutes," Lesley Stahl did another one of her pseudo-journalism stories, a puff piece on "Facebook" and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg.

In it, she repeated the fallacy that Facebook is "used by 500,000,000 people." If that were correct, one in every 13 humans on the planet would be on Facebook. That's demonstrably false. What Stahl -- and everyone else who spreads that lie -- should have said is that there are half a billion Facebook accounts. Consider that every movie has a Facebook page, as do hundreds of thousands of corporations worldwide (including the one my wife works for). There are Facebook pages for Chex Mix and John Deer tractors and Vaseline and Levi's jeans and Dr. Pepper and a huge number of other products that you can "like" if you're so inclined.

There's also a Facebook page for -- wait for it -- "60 Minutes."

Do all of those commercial endeavors count as people? Since the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, they may have the right to make political contributions, but that still doesn't make them human beings.

And it certainly doesn't make Lesley Stahl a good newswoman. Here's another example: in the Facebook piece -- which was so superficial it was granted two full segments of the show tonight, while a story about Ben Bernanke, unemployment, and the dire state of the US economy got one segment -- Stahl said she had a "tough question" that she felt she had to ask Zuckerberg.

That hard-hitting query: "How would you grade yourself as a CEO?" Zuckerberg rightly recognized this as a no-win question, so he demurred, but can you imagine Mike Wallace tossing that softball out over the plate for one of his interview subjects?

By the way, there's a Facebook page devoted to Mike Wallace, too.

Previously on Harris Online, I've gotten on Stahl's case about other lame and lazy work she has done. Here's what I wrote about another two-part "60 Minutes" story she did in 2008 about Saudi Arabia's oil. And here's a rant I did on the air in 2007 when she did a piece about forcing fast food outlets to post calorie counts on their menu boards.