60 Minutes Wasn’t Above Taking Audi’s Money Before Destroying Them

In my weekly search for classic ads, I came across this real gem from 1986. The ad itself is fun but relatively unremarkable — we have an Audi sedan showing off its impressive AWD system by driving up a steep and snowy ramp, leading you to wonder how good it is on the street. Are you ready for an Audi?


But the best part is what comes before the ad. We see the last part of the opening segment of 60 Minutes back when it was hosted by a young Diane Sawyer. If you're well versed in automotive history, you probably know the complicated history between Audi and 60 Minutes. If not, allow me to drop some knowledge on your ass:

In November 1986, the TV news magazine ran a segment highlighting what it claimed were unintended acceleration issues with the Audi 5000. While they ran interviews with people who blamed their car crashes on the Audi, they also showed footage of the car dangerously blasting off like a missile. What they didn't tell their viewers was that the car was doctored; someone drilled a hole into the transmission and pumped air into it, causing it to accelerate. It's a great visual for TV. Too bad it wasn't true.

After the segment ran, Audi was subjected to numerous lawsuits and its U.S. sales tanked hard. It would take the company years to recover from the incident, even though numerous studies found that the real problem was essentially driver error. Sound familiar?

Even today, the 60 Minutes segment remains a cautionary tale of how not to report the news. Journalism schools across the country teach it as a high-profile example of malpractice.

But what this classic ad shows us is that, at least at one point in 1986, 60 Minutes was more than happy to take Audi's money. I'm going to go ahead and assume Audi didn't run too many more ads during the show after the speed segment.



The amazing thing about it is that that piece of fraud totally destroyed Audi's reputation to such an extent that their survival in the US market was actually in jeopardy, and even after the deceit was exposed and widely publicized, it still took over a decade for the damage to be rebuilt.

Yet, through it all, 60 Minutes stayed on the air, no major outrage was directed at them, and no prominent personality lost their job, and it is still a highly respected, legitimate, news organization to this very day.

Sometimes I really have my doubts about this country.