CBS has ordered “60 Minutes” correspondent Lara Logan and producer Max McClellan to take leaves of absence after an internal review found major flaws in the way they handled the newsmagazine’s discredited Oct. 27 story on Benghazi, Libya.
The review said “60 Minutes” should have done more to check the bona fides of a security contractor who was a central part of the Benghazi piece, according to the Associated Press. The contractor, Dylan Davies, wove a tale of derring-do on air, saying he scaled a 12-foot wall, struck a terrorist with his rifle, and saw US Ambassador Christopher Stevens lying dead following a raid on the US compound in Benghazi by Islamist extremists.
But that account has come under fire following revelations by other news organizations that Mr. Davies told his employer that he never left his villa and testified to the Federal Bureau of Investigation that he was not on-scene at the fight.
“ '60 Minutes’ ... fell short by broadcasting a now discredited account of an important story, and did not take full advantage of the reporting abilities of CBS News that might have prevented it from happening,” said Jeff Fager, chairman of CBS News and executive producer of “60 Minutes,” in a memo.
Ms. Logan agreed to the leave of absence, Mr. Fager said. But here’s our question: Is she a scapegoat? The internal report, written by CBS News executive Al Ortiz, raised as many questions about the behavior of “60 Minutes” leadership as about its front-line correspondents. Yet no one in upper management appears to be in trouble – at least, so far.
What about the book? One of the remaining mysteries in this affair concerns a book written by the security contractor that was published by Threshold Editions, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, which is owned by CBS. This went unmentioned in the original Logan story.
“ '60 Minutes' erred in not disclosing that connection in the segment,” the internal report notes.
Duh. That’s a huge error. It makes it look as if CBS had a financial interest in overlooking any questions of Davies’s credibility. And you’ll note that the review lays blame for this on “60 Minutes,” not Logan. Who was at fault?
Furthermore, which came first – the book or the story? CBS does not say in the review. That bears directly on Logan’s culpability. If she snagged the Davies story and steered him to a book deal as well, that’s not good for her. But if Simon & Schuster had the book first and was shopping a story to a corporate partner, does that not take some of the responsibility off her shoulders?
Simon & Schuster has pulled the book in question from store shelves.
What about Fager? In his memo on the report, CBS News chairman Fager noted that since he is also executive producer of “60 Minutes,” he is “responsible for what gets on the air.”
He added, “I pride myself in catching almost everything, but this deception got through and it shouldn’t have.”
Not only does he say he assumes responsibility: He goes on to imply he has an active role in vetting the accuracy of “60 Minutes” stories. If that’s the case, it looks like the reason he’s not in trouble, too, is because he’s the big boss.
Furthermore, when the controversy about the Benghazi report first surfaced, Fager defended its accuracy in the media. He did this after the “60 Minutes” team called up Davies, who denied telling them a different story than he had told the FBI.
This wasn’t true. But why rely only on the primary source in this case? He’s got a pretty big incentive to say he’s not a liar.
“Of all the journalism committed here, this sample was the smelliest,” writes Washington Post media columnist Erik Wemple.
What about Logan's opinions? The internal CBS review noted that Logan, a month before she began work on the Benghazi story, made a speech in Chicago in which the strong position was that the United States was underplaying the Al Qaeda threat and needed to take stronger action in response to the Benghazi attack.
“From a CBS News Standards perspective, there is a conflict in taking a public position on the government’s handling of Benghazi and Al Qaeda, while continuing to report the story,” the internal review noted.
But this speech was not secret. Nor has Logan been shy about stating her opinions about US conduct of foreign policy in the Middle East. As liberal Heather Parton writes on her “Hullabaloo” blog, in a 2011 Press Club appearance Logan skewered what she appeared to believe was timid US actions in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“Logan has a very distinct worldview and it shows in the stories she covers,” Ms. Parton writes under her blogging pseudonym Digby.
Perhaps this is a journalistic conflict. But the point here is that her opinions were not secret. Her “60 Minutes” bosses must have known she felt this way, and they did not reprimand her until she got in trouble for something else.
None of this is meant to excuse Logan’s alleged mishandling of the Benghazi story. But if she and her producer messed up enough to get put on the shelf, or perhaps lose their jobs, it’s quite possible they’re not alone.