Media criticism

Reporter objects to '60 Minutes' doing his heroin story

60-minutes-heroin-grab.jpgAnother local journalist is feeling the sting of "60 Minutes" parachuting in and doing a story he worked years developing sources on and pitching unsuccessfully — to "60 Minutes." The reporter is Los Angeles author Sam Quinones, and his book on the new American middle-class addiction to heroin is "Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic." Last night, "60 Minutes" did a segment from Ohio using the same peg behind Quinones' book, that opiates have invaded the American heartland and that Mexican drug cartels and addiction to prescription painkillers are elements of the story. CBS quoted many people who Quinones had previously worked with, and this morning he took to to his blog to vent about it. He explains having several meetings with the CBS people, and the show finally saying they couldn't do his story, and then doing a form of it anyway without any acknowledgement of his work.


Last night, 60 Minutes ran a piece about heroin in Ohio. I’m very happy that these Ohioans, who I know and like and respect, are getting this megaphone. Their story needed telling.

But I have to stand my ground….

Over lunch, a 60 Minutes producer even asked me what story I would do in Ohio. I gave her some ideas.

60 Minutes did go to Ohio. Made it look as if they had figured out who to talk to, and what questions to ask, all on their own. No mention of what led them there and what explained the whole story to them. When I asked them whether they were going to refer to my book, one producer said they wanted to focus on “local” folks. They could have done a local story about the heroin problem in Alabama, or anywhere else in America, but then they wouldn’t have had a book telling them specifically where to look, whom to talk to, and what the story was.

Parents and others in Ohio and elsewhere are understandably thrilled that major media like 60 Minutes are finally taking an interest in this topic. I’m glad for them and very happy that the issue is now getting attention. Wayne, Brenda, Tracy, Jenna, Rob and others spoke with eloquence and force, and in my opinion saved the piece.

I hope they won’t see this as raining on their long-overdue parade … but I have to say something to defend myself, my family’s sacrifice, and my work. If I don’t, who will?

I spent years working on this story, interviewing hundreds of people, poring over documents, taking collect phone calls from Mexican traffickers in prisons. Before doing it, I lived and wrote for 10 years in Mexico, which made me distinctly prepared to see a part of this story that 60 Minutes producers, judging from our phone calls, knew only because of me.

Quinones was a reporter for the Los Angeles Times when he began the research for his book. He took a leave of absence and says he later resigned to complete the work.

Here's the 60 Minutes segment.

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