Veteran journalist and founding producer of 60 Minutes Gerald Stone has slammed Tara Brown for her handling of the botched child kidnap story in Lebanon.
During an interview with reporter Michael Usher on Nine Network’s 60 Minutes on Sunday night, Mr Stone said that the crew had ‘let their guard down’ and become ‘too emotionally attached.’
‘Its amazing to me that a program bases itself on asking the right questions didn’t ask themselves the right questions,’ Mr Stone said.
‘I have no doubt that their (Tara Brown and producer Stephen Rice) judgement was blurred, I don’t understand how they would have agreed to take an assignment on that basis.’
Founding producer of 60 Minutes Gerald Stone (left) has slammed reporter Tara Brown (right) for her handling of the botched child kidnap story in Lebanon
60 Minutes reporter Michael Usher (pictured) said that 60 Minutes had made ‘multiple and serious mistakes in the planning and execution’ of the international story
‘Its amazing to me that a program bases itself on asking the right questions didn’t ask themselves the right questions’: Mr Stone offered a frank assessment of the actions taken by the 60 Minutes crew
The television crew spent two weeks in a behind bars over a plot to snatch Brisbane mother Sally Faulkner’s two children (pictured) from her ex-husband’s family on a street in Beirut
Mr Usher introduced the interview with an apology, admitting that 60 Minutes had made ‘multiple and serious mistakes in the planning and execution’ of the international story.
‘We’ve been asking ourselves how things could have gone so wrong, and tonight we face up to the errors we made. We sincerely apologise for our serious mistakes,’ he said.
Mr Stone said the entire kidnapping disaster was ‘without a doubt the greatest misadventure’ in the show’s 37 year history.
‘There were ways to do it (the story) that could have reduced the risks, but to try to cover a parental kidnapping in one of the most heavily guarded cities I just thought was a bridge too far,’ he said.
He added that the story of Sally Faulkner searching for custody of her children from an estranged husband was compelling and ‘worth telling’ – but questioned the objectivity of the crew.
‘The issue itself is important, (but) the crew and everybody involved seemed to be emotionally committed to the mother,’ Stone said.
‘They’re letting their guard down. They’re not asking the questions they should have asked.’
Mr Stone said the story of Sally Faulkner searching for custody of her children from an estranged husband (pictured) was compelling and ‘worth telling’ – but questioned the objectivity of the crew
‘Blurred judgement’: Mr Stone slammed Tara Brown (pictured after walking free from a Lebanese prison) for not assessing the risks
Reporter Tara Brown, producer Stephen Rice, cameraman Ben Williamson, sound recordist David Ballment and Brisbane mother Sally Faulkner spent two weeks behind bars over a plot to snatch Ms Faulkner’s two children from her ex-husband’s family on a street in Beirut.
The team walked free from a Lebanese prison along with Brisbane mother Sally Faulkner after her estranged husband, Ali Elamine, agreed to drop the charges on April 21.
An internal investigation into the incident resulted in the sacking of 60 Minutes producer Stephen Rice and formal warnings for anyone else involved directly in the story.
They are understood to include former 60 Minutes executive producer Tom Malone, now Nine’s head of sport.
An inquiry found critical questions including whether Nine staff were breaking the law were never raised by Mr Malone who approved the story, Mr Rice who proposed it or the reporting team.
Producers at 60 Minutes had such a high level of autonomy that the executive producer saw no need to consult the news and current affairs director on the wisdom of commissioning the story, the inquiry’s report found.
‘If Nine’s usual procedures had been adhered to, the errors of judgment may have been identified earlier, with the result that the story would not have been undertaken at all, or at least not in the way in which it was implemented,’ the report states.
The television crew and Brisbane mother Sally Faulkner spent two weeks behind bars over a plot to snatch Ms Faulkner’s two children (pictured) from her ex-husband’s family on a street in Beirut
‘I don’t understand how they would have agreed to take an assignment on that basis’: Mr Stone said he was unsure why Ms Brown agreed to take on the assignment in the first place
Nine CEO Hugh Marks said the network and program had suffered significant damage to their reputation in a case that exposed its crew to serious risks.
‘We got too close to the story and suffered damaging consequences,’ he said on Friday.
The 60 Minutes reporting team became emotionally attached to Ms Faulkner and grossly underestimated issues such as the power and willingness of a foreign government to enforce its laws, the three-member review panel found.
Mr Marks said it was inappropriate for 60 Minutes to directly pay the child recovery agency.
Two payments totalling $115,000 were made to Child Abduction Recovery International (CARI), which had been independently contracted by Ms Faulkner to retrieve her children Lahela, five, and Noah, three.
‘We sincerely apologise for our serious mistakes’: Reporter Michael Usher introduced the interview with an apology for damaging the program’s reputation and 37-year history