Former NBC News president Lawrence Grossman is the latest veteran news chief to call on 60 Minutes to better explain why it allowed a story on the 2012 Benghazi attack that was based on the lies of a now discredited source to air.
Grossman, who headed NBC News from 1984 to 1988 and also served as PBS CEO for many years, said once CBS News discovered former British security contractor Dylan Davies had lied about being at the attack site they should have "jumped in with both feet, and hands and everything else."
The October 27 segment featured Davies' heroic eyewitness account of the attacks, the same story he told in a book published by a CBS division. The network aired the story despite knowing that Davies had previously told his employer that he had never made it to the U.S. diplomatic compound on the night it was attacked. CBS finally retracted the story and apologized after learning that Davies had told the FBI the same story he had told his boss, but has not fully detailed how such a flawed story was broadcast.
Although 60 Minutes just this week revealed it was conducting an "journalistic review" of the story, Grossman stressed that the network should have been forthcoming sooner and should be providing more details about what the review will entail.
"I think CBS has an obligation now that the whole thing has been aired to let people know what they are doing to investigate exactly what happened," Grossman said in a November 14 phone interview. "How it came about and to be as specific and clear in what's going on with their examination of the matter."
Grossman added, "I think it's a big mistake for news divisions to be reluctant to apologize because the integrity of what they do is so important."
Grossman joins former ABC News President David Westin who told Huffington Post this week that "CBS made some big mistakes" and that the network should have acknowledged in their report that Davies had given a contradictory account to his employer.
A third former top network news executive, who requested anonymity, also weighed in, telling Media Matters, "The entire episode is worthy of more scrutiny and their apology was too thin. We expect better from a place like 60 Minutes."
Grossman pointed to the on-air apology that 60 Minutes correspondent Lara Logan made last Sunday, adding to the view of others that it was not only incomplete, but unclear.
"I heard the apology on 60 Minutes and I had no idea what they were talking about," Grossman said. "It was all so vague and general and surprising. And then as the controversy became more pronounced it became clear that it was an inadequate apology, at least to me, and I still didn't know what it was about. It was clear they had believed the testimony of the guy who turned out to be a liar, yet they never really explained what was going on."
Grossman said CBS News should have been quicker to admit wrongdoing and seek the facts: "They relied on someone who gave them the information and as soon as they found out he was alleged to be a liar, they should have jumped in with both feet, and hands and everything else."
Asked how he would handle such a review, Grossman said, "I would either get somebody from the outside world who is an experienced journalist or perhaps a retired journalist to look into the issue if I felt it was important to have somebody with no stake in it.
"Otherwise, I would assign a major executive in the news division to research the matter and come up with a report. It is not such a big deal to put something like that together, particularly if they know what the problem is."
On November 15, Politico's Dylan Byers reported that while CBS had been unwilling to provide any detail about the review, he had learned that Al Ortiz, an executive producer at CBS News, is conducting that investigation. Byers noted the problems with such an internal review:
That presents a problem for Ortiz, who is now tasked with conducting an investigation of his own boss, Jeff Fager. Fager is both the executive producer of "60 Minutes" and the chairman of CBS News, which means that any dirt Ortiz digs up on "60 Minutes" reporting will reflect back on the man who pays his check.
On the issue of the importance of such transparency, Grossman said, "It's important because the whole basis of the effectiveness of a news division is its reliability and that people have confidence in the information that it provides. If that's called into question and they lose that confidence then they are in big, big trouble."