Quinnipiac honors ‘60 Minutes’ executive producer

Jeff Fager speaks from behind a podium.

Honoring excellence in journalism

Jeff Fager, executive producer of "60 Minutes," is this year's Fred Friendly First Amendment Award honoree.

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igorous, deeply reported journalism in today’s culture of fake news and misinformation is imperative to an informed society, according to Jeff Fager, executive producer of “60 Minutes.”

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“America is hungry for real reporting on important subjects because that’s what we strive for every single Sunday,” Fager said June 6 at the Metropolitan Club in New York City. “We still think of our role the way it was thought of when “60 Minutes” was created — news is a public service.”

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Fager, who will begin his 15th season as executive producer this fall, was honored with the 25th annual Fred Friendly First Amendment Award for his robust commitment to public service journalism.

The Quinnipiac University School of Communications has presented the award since 1994. The award bears the name of the former CBS News president and champion of freedom of speech.

“This is a celebration of great journalism, which has never been more important in our country’s modern history than it is today,” said Mark Contreras, dean of the School of Communications. “Many of you in this room have dedicated your lives to producing hard-hitting and important journalism in your past and present.”

For Fager, truthful storytelling is the spine of “60 Minutes” and its award-winning reporting.

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“We cover what’s important — first and foremost — and we do our best to make it interesting,” Fager told about 200 journalists gathered at the event. “We put fairness and accuracy at the top of our priority list. We strive for original reporting, and we want it to have impact."

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Longtime “60 Minutes” correspondent Steve Kroft first met Fager in London about 30 years ago. They were professional storytellers, journalists who jumped on planes, traveled the world and hit the mark — every time — with their bold and provocative tales.

Kroft said Fager wields the same, high-level journalism as the late Don Hewitt, who created “60 Minutes” in 1968. Intrepid reporting continues to make “60 Minutes” among the most-watched TV programs in America each week. During the 2016-17 television season, 107 million viewers made it the most-watched program in television, according to Nielsen’s cumulative delivery data.

“Jeff isn’t afraid to make the tough decisions. He’s done a superb job of keeping “60 Minutes” at the top, which is hard to do,” Kroft said. “He’s maintained the standard of journalism for a show that probably has the highest standards of any television newsroom.”

For Norah O’Donnell, Fager is much more than the gatekeeper of ethics and excellence at “60 Minutes.”

“Jeff Fager brought me into CBS News — first as chief White House correspondent, and then, “60 Minutes.” He’s the best producer that I’ve ever worked with,” O’Donnell said. “Jeff can look at a piece and say, ‘We don’t need this. Let’s add more of this.’ His editorial skills, in terms of editing a piece, I’ve never seen anything like it in my career.”

But Fager’s command of the narrative is more than that, O’Donnell explained. He edits emotion and humanity and authenticity into each story.

“Jeff is universally respected by the “60 Minutes” staff because he makes the people around him better,” O’Donnell said. “Everyone wants to work with someone who, No. 1 has your back, and No. 2, makes you look better. That’s Jeff Fager. There’s no one else like him.” 

Previous recipients of the Fred Friendly First Amendment Award include Hewitt, Kroft, Lesley Stahl, Dan Rather, Bill Moyers, Ted Koppel, Tom Brokaw, Robert MacNeil, Jim Lehrer, Peter Jennings, Mike Wallace, Christiane Amanpour, Tom Bettag, Tim Russert, Bob Schieffer, Scott Pelley, Charles Gibson, Morley Safer, Gwen Ifill, David Fanning, Martha Raddatz, Richard Engel and Lester Holt.