On October 27, CBS' 60 Minutes aired a segment anchored by correspondent Lara Logan and featuring the results of her year-long investigation into the September 11, 2012, attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. Right-wing media outlets and conservative politicians promptly seized on the story, claiming it validated their extensive effort to turn the attacks into a political scandal for President Obama and Hillary Clinton.
12 days later, the network pulled the report and apologized to viewers, with the network acknowledging that it had committed its biggest failure since the 2004 controversy surrounding a 60 Minutes story on President Bush's Air National Guard service.
After facing withering criticism for issuing an apology on 60 Minutes that failed to detail what the network had done wrong or any investigation CBS would undertake to explain how its blunder had occurred, CBS announced on November 14 that it had begun an ongoing "journalistic review" of the segment. But the network declined to detail who is performing that review or whether its results will be made public.
Much of the criticism has revolved around the network's handling of its interview with the former British security contractor Dylan Davies, identified by CBS as a "witness" to the attacks. But numerous flaws in the report have been identified since the segment aired.
Here are all of those flaws.
CBS News, already in trouble for not bothering to fact-check sensational claims about the Benghazi attacks, has stepped in it again with an exclusive story on the Affordable Care Act that has quickly fallen apart. On November 11, CBS News reported that the "project manager in charge of building the federal health care website was apparently kept in the dark about serious failures in the website's security." CBS investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson's report was based on an exclusive "first look at a partial transcript" of closed-door testimony by project manager Henry Chao that was likely leaked to the network by Republicans on the House Oversight Committee. Other media outlets picked up CBS's scoop and ran with it.
According to Attkisson, Chao was presented with "a memo that outlined important security risks discovered in the insurance system," and said he was unaware of that memo. CBS News reported that this indicated that Chao had been "kept in the dark about serious failures in the website's security" that "could lead to identity theft among people buying insurance."
But as Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple demonstrated, Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA) questioned Chao at a November 13 Oversight Committee hearing and revealed how misleading CBS News' report was. The memo shown to Chao dealt with portions of the website that aren't yet in use -- not the website as it currently exists, as the partial transcript and CBS News' report wrongly suggested. And those portions won't include personally identifiable information, making it impossible for the security risks to lead to identity theft.
Here's the video and transcript of Connolly's questioning of Chao:
One of the curious sub-plots to the ongoing drama of 60 Minutes and its since-retracted October 27 Benghazi report is the extent to which Dylan Davies, CBS News' discredited Benghazi "witness," informed Fox News' reporting. The day after the 60 Minutes report aired, Fox News' Adam Housley disclosed on-air that "some of our reports for FoxNews.com last fall included this 60 Minutes witness' account," but added that he stopped talking to Davies "when he asked for money." Even still, Housley said at the time that Davies' story on 60 Minutes "reaffirms, really, what we've been reporting." After CBS retracted their story, Fox News vice president Michael Clemente stated unequivocally: "We stand by our reporting on Benghazi."
This is an awkward situation for Fox: they cited a "witness" whose credibility has since been trashed, and they had suspicions about his credibility before it was publicly destroyed, but they're nonetheless defending every scrap of their Benghazi reporting, including the pieces that cited Davies. So which Fox News articles featured the now-discredited British security contractor as a source? That's tough to nail down, as Fox News never cited Davies by name. But there are a couple of FoxNews.com reports from late 2012 that cite British sources to make claims that are incorrect or unsupported by other accounts of the attacks.
On November 3, 2012, Housley published an "exclusive" for FoxNews.com challenging the CIA's timeline of Benghazi attacks and claiming that "security officials on the ground say calls for help went out" before the attack on the diplomatic compound actually started at 9:30 p.m., Libya time. Housley's report cited "multiple people on the ground" who said that the "Blue Mountain Security manager" -- a possible reference to Davies, who was training the British firm Blue Mountain's security forces at the consulate -- "made calls on both two-way radios and cell phones to colleagues in Benghazi warning of problems at least an hour earlier."
One source said the Blue Mountain Security chief seemed "distraught" and said "the situation here is very serious, we have a problem." He also said that even without these phone and radio calls, it was clear to everyone in the security community on the ground in Benghazi much earlier than 9:40 p.m. that fighters were gathering in preparation for an attack.
Even if this isn't a reference to Davies, the report appears to be incorrect. Several different accounts of the night of the Benghazi attack make no reference to any "distraught" messages from the Blue Mountain security force prior to the attack -- indeed, they all describe a scene of (relative) normalcy until the moment the attack started. "The radio on the Blue Mountain frequency was silent," write Fred Burton and Samuel L. Katz in Under Fire. "There was no chatter on the February 17 [militia] frequency either. There was, for the most part, silence."
Following the collapse of CBS News' 60 Minutes report on the 2012 Benghazi attacks, Fox News, which cited 60 Minutes' now-discredited "eyewitness" for some of its Benghazi coverage, is standing by the accuracy of its reporting. CBS News' withdrawal of the story has been largely ignored by Fox News, even though Fox enthusiastically promoted the 60 Minutes story and boasted that it validated the network's own reporting on Benghazi.
CBS News withdrew the story and 60 Minutes correspondent Lara Logan apologized to viewers after it was revealed that their Benghazi "eyewitness," British security contractor Dylan Davies, had given contradictory statements about whether he was actually present for the attack on the diplomatic compound. On October 28, the day after the report aired, Fox News devoted 13 segments -- totaling 47 minutes -- to promoting the 60 Minutes story.
Washington Post reporter Paul Farhi wrote in a November 9 article that "CBS's withdrawal of the story not only undermined its reporting, but that of Fox News, which apparently relied on Davies as a source for stories that have challenged the Obama administration's account of events." Farhi quoted Fox News executive vice president of news Michael Clemente defending his network's coverage: "We stand by our reporting on Benghazi, and given what is still unknown, we anticipate further fact finding from those who know the truth about what took place on 9/11/12."
Erik Wemple, the Post's media blogger, noted that after the 60 Minutes report first aired, Fox News correspondent Adam Housley acknowledged on-air that some of the network's Benghazi coverage from 2012 had cited Davies, but they "stopped speaking to him when he asked for money." Wemple specifically noted a November 3, 2012, Fox News report that referenced "the Blue Mountain Security manager," a possible reference to Davies, who was working for Blue Mountain Security at the time. As Housley put it, Davies' 60 Minutes appearance "kind of reaffirm[ed] the fact that this attack was vicious."
After spending so much time promoting 60 Minutes' story and using it to praise their own reporting, Fox News spent just 26 seconds on the story's collapse. "CBS is backing off a report on 60 Minutes -- we told you about last week -- that relied on a source whose credibility has crumbled," Special Report host Bret Baier told viewers on November 8.
The walls are closing in on Dylan Davies (a.k.a. "Morgan Jones), the British security contractor whose dramatic "eyewitness" account of the 2012 Benghazi attacks featured prominently in a controversial CBS 60 Minutes report. Now that government officials have stated that Davies told the FBI he was nowhere near the diplomatic compound on the night of the attack (consistent with the after-action report Jones filed with his employer, which Jones disavows), CBS News has withdrawn the report and correspondent Lara Logan apologized on-air for making "a mistake."
CBS News, of course, still has a multitude of questions to answer, but so too does Threshold Editions, the imprint of the Simon & Schuster publishing company (owned by CBS) that released Davies' book, The Embassy House: The Explosive Eyewitness Account of the Libyan Embassy Siege by the Soldier Who Was There.
In the book, Davies describes the two trips he made to the diplomatic compound in Benghazi the night of the attacks: an aborted first attempt in which Davies and a Libyan associate were turned away at gunpoint from the compound's rear gate by a terrorist; and a one-man incursion into the compound after the initial attack subsided, in which Davies dramatically bashes a terrorist in the face with the butt of a scavenged AK-47. In between the two trips, Davies writes he traveled to the Benghazi Medical Center where he discovered the body of Ambassador Chris Stevens and was the first person to confirm that the ambassador had been killed.
Much of Davies' narrative would have been difficult or impossible to confirm (a red flag in and of itself), but there are details of his story that could have -- should have -- been confirmed by fact-checkers at Threshold.
CBS News is still trying to evade some uncomfortable questions surrounding its controversial 60 Minutes segment on the 2012 Benghazi attacks, which prominently featured "eyewitness" Dylan Davies, a security contractor identified by the pseudonym "Morgan Jones." A number of irregularities have emerged regarding Davies' account of the attacks, including an incident report that states he was nowhere near the compound during the attack he claimed to have witnessed, and undisclosed financial entanglements between Davies and CBS, which owns the publisher of Davies' book, The Embassy House.
Like the 60 Minutes segment, The Embassy House recounts Davies' experiences on the night of the Benghazi attacks. In the book, Davies claims to have been the first person to identify slain ambassador Chris Stevens at a Benghazi hospital, and writes that he conducted a one-man incursion into the besieged diplomatic compound after the attack had subsided. While it's extraordinarily difficult to confirm or deny much of Davies' story, there is a strange, internally inconsistent portion of his narrative in The Embassy House concerning whether Ambassador Stevens was conscious or unconscious upon arriving at the Benghazi Medical Center.
In chapter fifteen of The Embassy House, Davies writes that he and a Libyan associate sneaked into the Benghazi Medical Center and encountered a doctor who took them to see the body of an American, whom Jones identified as Ambassador Stevens. In Davies' retelling, by the time he'd arrived to the hospital Stevens had already been declared dead despite the doctors' efforts to resuscitate him. "He was brought in here unconscious," Davies quotes the anonymous doctor as saying. "He was unconscious upon arrival. We tried to resuscitate him for thirty minutes, but he had inhaled too much smoke. We could not reach him. Finally, we had to give up and accept that he was gone."
The coverage of the Affordable Care Act's troubled rollout has been marked by a spate of overheated and sensationalist health plan "cancellation" stories spotlighting consumers who have been told by their insurance companies that they're being moved to more expensive plans. In most cases these stories rely on a lack of context and withhold key details about how these consumers can potentially benefit under the law. They also demonstrate a worrying lack of skepticism towards the behavior of the insurance companies.
The latest example comes from the New York Times, which reports on three average Americans who are being "forced out of their existing health insurance plans" as the ACA takes effect. "One expects to pay more. One expects to pay less. And one is just trying to figure it all out," the Times reports. At first glance it looks like a neat cover-all-the-angles trifecta. When you dig a little deeper into the article, though, some warning signs start flashing.
The person who expects to pay more is Charles Nance, a 57-year-old "home inspector in suburban St. Louis." Nance was informed by his current insurer, Anthem BlueCross BlueShield, that his current plan is being dropped because it doesn't comply with the ACA's minimum standards, so the company was going to sign him up for a considerably more expensive plan "that would cost twice as much" per month in premiums.
That sounds pretty bad! But then a few more details creep in, buried at the end of the article. "He said he does not qualify for federal subsidies," the Times reported on Mr. Nance, "and has had difficulty signing onto the online marketplace to evaluate his options." And then there's this: "For now, he has purchased a one-year plan through United Healthcare that is similar in price and features to his existing plan." He "expects to pay more," but he's already found another plan "that is similar in price and features"? So he's not actually paying more. He just expects to pay more under the ACA, even though he hasn't been able to actually evaluate the options available to him under the law.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is the Cabinet official responsible for implementing the Affordable Care Act. That she would testify before Congress about the problems with the law's implementation makes all the sense in the world, given that it is her responsibility. In certain corners of the conservative media, however, Sebelius' October 30 testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee was an act of political cowardice by President Obama, who, by sending Sebelius before Congress, was using her as a "human shield."
Here's the lede to Wall Street Journal columnist Daniel Henninger's October 31 column:
A reader remarked last week that Barack Obama is running out of human shields. With the father of ObamaCare unavailable to explain the greatest fiasco of his presidency to Congress, the American people had to settle Wednesday for his surrogate, Kathleen Sebelius.
And here's Fox News pundit Andrea Tantaros on the October 30 edition of The Five:
Thanks to CBS News' warmed-over and underwhelming reporting, the political world is talking about the 2012 Benghazi attacks again and the litany of "lingering questions" that were answered long ago. And that of course means the emergence of cranks and hucksters who'll try to edge their way into the shrinking Benghazi spotlight and make a few headlines for themselves. Enter Joseph diGenova, attorney for a number of Benghazi "whistleblowers" and established purveyor of fabrications, who appeared on Washington, DC's WMAL on October 28 to claim that "we have reason to believe" that during the response to the Benghazi attack "people were relieved of their duty because they insisted that there be a military response."
This idea that the Obama administration, acting on political considerations, deliberately withheld military assistance from the people under attack in Benghazi is at the core of the conservative obsession with Benghazi, even though there isn't any evidence to substantiate the claim.
DiGenova's specific allegation that people were relieved of duty for trying to order a military response suffers from the reality that a military response was ordered. Here's how Fred Burton and Samuel M. Katz put it in their book on the Benghazi attacks, Under Fire: "Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta ordered that appropriate forces respond. A task order flowed from the Pentagon to NAVSTA Rota, Spain: 'Lean forward and get there as fast as you can.'" As far as the chain of command goes, Leon Panetta was pretty high up (and he was acting on orders from President Obama), so it's not clear who would have been relieved for implementing the orders of the Secretary of Defense.
Nearly two weeks after House Republicans forced a government shutdown, less than a quarter of the country has a positive view of the Republican Party. Seven in ten Americans think the Republicans are putting their political goals ahead of the welfare of the country. The GOP has collapsed in the generic congressional preference, while approval ratings for President Obama and the Affordable Care Act -- the reason government was shut down in the first place -- have gone up. The Republicans sit fractious and rudderless in an historic nadir with no strategy to pull themselves out.
But you wouldn't think that were you to tune into Rush Limbaugh's radio program. On October 10, Limbaugh told his listeners that he had supported the "defund" Obamacare scheme that precipitated the shutdown because its architect, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), could "articulate conservatism." And thus even if the effort didn't actually lead to the defunding of Obamacare, Limbaugh said, it might still be "considered successful even if they don't reach that specific goal." Meanwhile, according to Rush, House Speaker John Boehner was "getting ready to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory" by forestalling a government default and proposing a six-week increase to the debt limit.
That's a neat little encapsulation of why the Republicans are in this mess. The current GOP doldrums are the product of years of political isolation and insulation enabled by a cheerleading conservative media that rewards ideological rigidity and reflexive partisan gainsaying. And for that, conservatives have Rush Limbaugh to thank.