NEW YORK: Faint praise by most standards, The New York Times' assessment of the 60 Minutes Clinton-Dole debate was a warm breeze in the chilly critical reception for the segment.
"Their well-honed exchange resonated like the silence after a hissing radiator shuts off, pleasurable if only by contrast," wrote Alessandra Stanley in a review that compared the two-and-a-half-minute bit favorably to more bellicose debate shows.
But that was about as close as any Monday-morning reviewer came to a rave. Most critics brought out the heavy rhetorical guns in bombarding the highly touted concept. "I've seen storefront mannequins show more emotion than Clinton and Dole," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Kevin Cowherd.
By Tuesday, 60 Minutes executive producer Don Hewitt, in an irregular move, was taking his own shots. "We're going to make sure it looks more like a confrontation next time," he told the New York Post.
Other 60 Minutes execs defended Hewitt's assessment. "It's Don telling the truth," said 60 Minutes spokesman Kevin Tedesco. "It's Don being honest about the segment."
Hewitt went so far as to fill out his own report card, giving himself a B+ for effort and a C+ for accomplishment. He responded to criticism that Clinton and Dole were taped in different locations, and admitted that Dole said he could do better.
In the past, Hewitt, a TV news legend, has exhibited a famous hostility to outside criticism, as when the show was attacked for its handling of a tobacco-company whistle-blower story.
The recent tack is a markedly different approach for a much lower-wattage issue.
"He acknowledged it could be a little better," Tedesco said. "Nobody knows better how it's going to look on the air. He's been doing this for 55 years."