Media fell for another misleading leak from the House Oversight Committee when they hyped allegations that the Obama administration ignored HealthCare.gov security warnings -- though the warnings were for a portion of the site that will not be operational until early 2014.
On November 11, a CBS News report cited selectively leaked partial transcripts from Affordable Care Act (ACA) opponent Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) to claim 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." The network was criticized by Maddow producer Steve Benen when he found that the warnings referenced a function of the health care website that won't be active until early 2014 and has nothing to do with the parts of the website that are currently in use. A Democratic staffer Benen talked to also said that this part of the website "will not submit or share personally identifiable information."
CBS' faulty report aired just days after the network faced widespread criticism and was forced to apologize for failing properly vet an unreliable source that was prominently featured in the network's October 27 60 Minutes report on the Benghazi attack. But CBS wasn't the only outlet to promote misleading claims from the leaked Oversight Committee transcript.
On November 11, The New York Times reported that The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services' Henry Chao, "[t]he chief digital architect for the federal health insurance marketplace," was "not aware of tests that indicated potential security flaws in the system, which opened to the public on Oct. 1," citing excerpts released by Issa. The same day, FoxNews.com claimed that Obamacare security concerns had been "withheld," but never mentioned that its story was based on a partial transcript. CNN's New Day, and Fox News' America's Newsroom and On The Record with Greta Van Susteren all ran the story on November 12. The Associated Press repeated the claim "Chao was unaware of a memo earlier that month detailing unresolved security issues" as late as November 13 -- after contradictory reports had surfaced.
The media's failure to confirm the suggestions made by partial transcripts from the House Oversight Committee is a significant oversight, considering the committee chairman Darrell Issa's history of releasing misleading material the press.
CBS News says it is conducting a "journalistic review" of its flawed, retracted report on the September 2012 Benghazi attacks. The parameters of that review will demonstrate whether the network is truly interested in determining how 60 Minutes broadcast such a flawed report.
Journalism veterans and media observers have savaged the network in recent days for showing little interest in publicly coming to grips with the key questions surrounding their October 27 story. Instead the network has offered an inadequate "correction" of their report, which featured Dylan Davies, a purported "witness" to the attacks who the network knew had told two contradictory accounts of what he did that night.
Earlier today, McClatchy's Nancy Youssef reported that a CBS spokesman had told her the network is conducting a "journalistic review" into the retracted story. A network spokesman subsequently told Media Matters, "The moment we confirmed there was an issue in our story we began a journalistic review that is ongoing." The spokesman declined to discuss who is conducting the review or offer any other details.
Media Matters founder David Brock, who was first to call for an independent investigation of the segment, issued this statement in response to the news:
I'm glad to see CBS take this step. An ongoing review means the network acknowledges that a serious journalistic transgression occurred. As I said in my original letter to CBS, it should be an objective, thorough review and the results should be made public.
CBS News first acknowledged that they no longer had full confidence in Davies' story on November 7. But the network has since denied that a review is underway, with The New York Times reporting after correspondent Lara Logan issued an on-air apology for the report that CBS News chairman and "60 Minutes" executive producer Jeff Fager "has not ordered an investigation," and that a spokesman "indicated that the program was going to let its televised apology be its last word on the issue."
But if CBS is conducting a review of the segment, three questions are of paramount importance: Who will be conducting the review? How much access will the reviewers have to the key decision makers? And will the results of the investigation be made public?
CBS News, currently under fire for airing a dubious 60 Minutes report that relied on discredited source Dylan Davies, aired a report on the Affordable Care Act based entirely off selectively leaked partial transcripts from ACA opponent, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA).
On the November 11 edition of CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley, correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reported on supposed "security risks" surrounding the law's exchange website, HealthCare.gov. Host Scott Pelley alleged that the project manager in charge of building the site "was apparently kept in the dark about serious failures in the website's security." Pelley speculated that this could eventually lead to "identity theft among people buying insurance.":
The basis for this report was a "partial transcript" obtained by CBS correspondent Attkisson and provided to her by House Oversight Chairman Rep. Issa.
As MSNBC's Steve Benen pointed out, the CBS report leaves out "pretty much every relevant detail that points in a more accurate direction," most importantly that the supposed security risk relates to a part of the website that won't be active until Spring 2014 and has nothing to do with the parts of the website that are currently in use. The Hill reported:
A Democratic Oversight committee staffer said the security issue relates to a function of the website that isn't currently active and won't be until early next year.
"It's hard to understand why anyone would trust the accuracy of Chairman Issa's press releases when they consistently distort and manipulate the truth," the staffer said. "The chairman's staff basically sandbagged this witness with a document he had never seen before and then failed to inform him that it has nothing to do with parts of the website that launched on Oct. 1."
"Rather than seeking out the truth, this press release tries to scare the public by capitalizing on confusion caused by the chairman's own staff," the staffer added.
Problematic for CBS is that Issa has earned a reputation for leaking misleading and partial transcripts in order to attack the Obama administration. On November 8, ThinkProgress reported Rep. Elijah Cumming's (D-MD) characterization of Issa leaks to the press regarding HealthCare.gov's capacity to handle only 1,100 users as "reckless and highly irresponsible." Cummings concluded that these were "unsubstantiated public allegations" and that Issa was "taking information out of context."
The use of a dubious source with a history of telling partisan falsehoods in order to spread right wing smears is even more troublesome given the context of the terrible week CBS just experienced for using a dishonest source. Following the airing of an October 27 60 Minutes report on Benghazi in which the main source of the report was proven to be unreliable, CBS received widespread criticism , was forced to retract the story, and apologized on air.
60 Minutes still hasn't told its viewers that its since-retracted report on the September 2012 Benghazi attacks promoted a book that was published by a CBS subsidiary -- a conflict of interest the network acknowledged was a mistake a week ago.
Media commentators have been raining criticism on CBS News in response to 60 Minutes' tepid, incomplete apology for their retracted report on Benghazi. Those critics have pointed out that the 90-second apology failed to explain how the segment made it to air given the serious questions about the credibility of its star "witness" Dylan Davies, and have lambasted the network for failing to announce an investigation into the handling of the story.
But even before CBS News finally acknowledged the problems with Davies story, the network conceded it had made a mistake in failing to tell the viewers of the October 27 story that Davies' book, which the segment promoted, was published by Simon & Schuster, which is a division of CBS.
On November 5, The New York Times reported:
CBS said that Jeffrey Fager, chairman of CBS News and executive producer of "60 Minutes," said on Tuesday that he regretted not making the connection between Mr. Davies and CBS public.
[CBS correspondent Lara] Logan said, "Honestly, it never factored into the story. It was a mistake; we should have done it, precisely because there's nothing to hide. It was an oversight."
That "oversight" was not corrected during 60 Minutes' brief November 10 apology, which discussed only the failure to properly vet Davies' story, not the conflict of interest.
Likewise, when CBS Evening News covered the story on November 8, anchor Scott Pelley said that Davies had written a book that had been published by a CBS division, but did not note that that information had not been mentioned during the original 60 Minutes segment.
CBS has only acknowledged this problem on air during a November 8 segment on CBS' This Morning, when anchor Jeff Glor reported that "60 [Minutes] has already acknowledged it was a mistake not to disclose that the book was being published by Simon & Schuster, which is a CBS company."
Notably, This Morning typically has an audience of 2.5 to 3 million viewers. 60 Minutes, by contrast, is the most-watched news program in America; the October 27 broadcast was seen by almost 11 million people, while the November 10 edition was watched by more than 15 million.
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."
CBS continues to ignore calls for an independent investigation into their flawed 60 Minutes Benghazi report, drawing a stark contrast with another failed report from 2004 in which the network bent to fears of an organized right-wing boycott.
After vigorously defending their October 27 report on Benghazi, CBS finally pulled the story, culminating in a tepid and harshly criticized 90-second apology on the November 10 edition of the show. But unlike the aftermath of a 2004 segment that used unreliable documents to report on President George W. Bush's National Guard service, CBS has not indicated that they will initiate an independent investigation, nor engage in any further effort to hold the show or its employees accountable.
In an appearance on MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes, Media Matters' David Brock pointed out that one major difference between CBS' actions following the two failed reports is that in 2004, the network was "scared of a right-wing boycott" because "the right was much louder in the Rather case." Hayes pointed to the "asymmetry of the pressure on the right and the left around issues like this" and "the ability of the right-wing echo machine to turn" the National Guard report into" the biggest story in the world" as factors influencing CBS' reaction to the two stories:
Comedy Central's The Daily Show and The Colbert Report criticized CBS' 60 Minutes for its apology and correction over its Benghazi report featuring discredited source Dylan Davies that media observers and journalism experts have called "pathetically inadequate," "flimsy," and "way short of what was needed."
On November 8, 60 Minutes correspondent Lara Logan told viewers "we were wrong" to air the October 27 segment after Davies' credibility was destroyed following reports from The Washington Post and The New York Times that what he told 60 Minutes about his actions during the Benghazi attacks differed substantially from what he told his employer and the FBI. Logan promised that on November 10, 60 Minutes would "correct the record." That apology and correction came at the end of the program, lasted a mere 90 seconds, and contradicted a previous account Logan gave about Davies' story.
Jon Stewart blasted the 60 Minutes apology in a segment he called "meh culpa," saying Davies' account was "total bullsh*t. He made the whole thing up." Stewart then criticized the program for not checking out Davies' story prior to airing the segment:
Stephen Colbert highlighted Fox News' obsession with tying the Benghazi hoax to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and its promotion of the false 60 Minutes story. Colbert also aired his own segment satirizing CBS' production of the Benghazi report.
Media reporters and journalism professors have also criticized 60 Minutes' apology. New York Times reporters Bill Carter and Brian Stelter noted that "the apology was deemed inadequate by a wide range of commentators." Politico media reporter Dylan Byers wrote that the apology "offered little in the way of an explanation for the show's error." Fox News media analyst Howard Kurtz tweeted that the apology "[l]eaves many questions unanswered." Michael Getler, former Washington Post and current PBS ombudsman explained in an email to Media Matters that "the apology fell way short of what was needed." He continued:
60 Minutes should have done a segment on what went wrong, not just a brief apology. 60 Minutes is the gold standard for credible investigative reporting on hot-button issues on network television, where precious little of that is done elsewhere. So it is important to journalism and to the public, not just to CBS, that it gets things right.
After 60 Minutes ran a flawed report on President Bush's National Guard service in 2004, CBS News and its parent company formed an independent panel to investigate the segment and instituted many of the panel's recommendations, including firing several of the responsible parties. This stands in stark contrast to the aftermath of 60 Minutes' recent flawed report on the Benghazi attacks.
Following 60 Minutes' tepid, incomplete apology for their retracted October 27 report on Benghazi, a broad array of media observers are criticizing the network's response to the controversy.
After stonewalling critics of their report, CBS finally retracted the segment on November 7, long after it had become clear that there were serious questions about the credibility of the supposed "eyewitness" at the center of their story.
In a November 8 interview on CBS This Morning, 60 Minutes correspondent Lara Logan told viewers that "we were wrong" to air the segment and indicated that the network planned to "correct the record" on the November 10 edition of 60 Minutes.
But 60 Minutes devoted a mere 90 seconds to its correction and declined to adequately explain how the segment had made it to the air in the first place.
Following the correction, Media Matters founder David Brock called Logan's apology "wholly inadequate" and reiterated his call for the network to appoint an independent commission to investigate the botched report:
This evening's 60 Minutes response was wholly inadequate and entirely self-serving. The network must come clean by appointing an independent commission to determine exactly how and why it fell prey so easily to an obvious hoax.
Numerous commentators and media observers are also harshly criticizing CBS' report, with several pointing out that it leaves important questions unanswered. (Greg Mitchell is also rounding up some of the criticism at The Nation, noting that "leading critics" are demanding the network launch a formal investigation of the story.)
CBS News is under mounting pressure to launch an independent investigation into how 60 Minutes came to mislead its audience in an October 27th report that relied almost exclusively on a source they knew was an admitted liar.
CBS came under similar scrutiny in September 2004, when questions arose about the authenticity of documents 60 Minutes II used in a report challenging then President Bush's service in the National Guard.
On September 22, 2004, after CBS decided to appoint an independent investigation, a New York Times editorial said it was the right thing to do:
After an uncomfortably long wait, CBS has rightly gone public with its own doubts about the validity of the documents and commissioned an independent investigation.
On November 10, 60 Minutes reporter Lara Logan issued an inadequate apology that has been dismissed by a broad range of media observers. The statement came after nearly two weeks of stonewalling amid evidence that CBS' key eyewitness, a British security contractor named Dylan Davies, had told conflicting stories about his whereabouts during the September 11, 2012, terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya.
Media Matters founder David Brock called Logan's November 10 apology "wholly inadequate and entirely self-serving," and reiterated his call for CBS to appoint an independent commission to investigate the since-retracted report.
60 Minutes aired an inadequate apology that not only failed to address fundamental questions about the CBS news magazine's vetting of an admitted liar who served as a key eyewitness in a story that the network has since retracted, but actually conflicts with CBS' prior explanation of that error.
During the November 10 edition of 60 Minutes, correspondent Lara Logan apologized to the audience and issued what she called a correction over an October 27 report on the September 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
LOGAN: We end our broadcast tonight with a correction on a story we reported October 27 about the attack on the American special mission compound in Benghazi, in which Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed. In the story, a security officer working for the State Department, Dylan Davies, told us he went to the compound during the attack and detailed his role that night.
After our report aired, questions arose about whether his account was true, when an incident report surfaced. It told a different story about what he did the night of the attack. Davies denied having anything to do with that incident report and insisted the story he told us was not only accurate, it was the same story told the FBI when they interviewed him.
On Thursday night, when we discovered the account he gave the FBI was different than what he told us, we realized we had been misled, and it was a mistake to include him in our report. For that, we are very sorry. The most important thing to every person at 60 Minutes is the truth, and the truth is, we made a mistake.
Logan's claim that it was only after the 60 Minutes report aired that questions arose about the truth of security contractor Dylan Davies' account is undermined by what she said during an apology she issued over the same segment just two days earlier.
During a November 8 appearance on CBS' This Morning, Logan discussed the fiasco surrounding 60 Minutes with anchor Norah O'Donnell. During her apology, Logan made clear that the fact that Davies had previously told a different account of the events of that night was known inside 60 Minutes before they aired the version that lined up with what he wrote in his book:
O'DONNELL: But why would you stand by this report after Dylan Davies admitted lying to his own employer?
LOGAN: Because he was very upfront about that from the beginning, that was always part of his story. The context of it, when he tells his story, is that his boss is someone he cared about enormously. He cared about his American counterparts in the mission that night, and when his boss told him not to go, he couldn't stay back. So, that was always part of the record for us. And, that part didn't come as any surprise.
Media Matters founder David Brock called Logan's apology "wholly inadequate and entirely self-serving":
This evening's 60 Minutes response was wholly inadequate and entirely self-serving. The network must come clean by appointing an independent commission to determine exactly how and why it fell prey so easily to an obvious hoax.
Logan's slippery apology glosses over a key question that remains unanswered: why did 60 Minutes fail to inform its audience during the initial segment that its key eyewitness had told two contradictory accounts of what he did the night of the September 11, 2012, terrorist attacks?
Davies told both his employer and the FBI that he had not made it to the diplomatic facility until the morning after the attack. 60 Minutes aired a version that had Davies scaling a wall during the terrorist attack and striking an assailant with the butt of his gun. The version that 60 Minutes chose to air matched what Davies wrote in a book that was published by Simon & Schuster, a CBS subsidiary. Simon & Schuster has since pulled the book amid the controversy over the author's honesty.
How CBS News came to the decision to believe his current story is critical since a CBS subsidiary had a clear financial interest in the version of events 60 Minutes aired.
From the November 10 edition of MSNBC's Disrupt with Karen Finney:
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Even after CBS' Lara Logan apologized for and promised to correct a retracted 60 Minutes story on the Benghazi attacks featuring inconsistent accounts from an unreliable source, the ripple effects from the delay in retracting the report continue.
On the November 10 edition of State of the Union, CNN host Candy Crowley asked Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) if he would continue to block President Obama's nominees, after the false 60 Minutes report collapsed. Graham replied that he would continue blocking nominees, saying he's been requesting to talk to Benghazi survivors for a year. Crowley pushed further, explaining to Graham that "what spurred your action to block the president's nominees was the 60 Minutes report, so that's what prompted you to do this. I mean you did it the day after and you cited it."
CBS' failure to properly vet its sources and its long delay in responding to criticism of its report has created ripple effects that continue to this day. Not only has CBS' credibility taken a huge hit, but the story has led Graham to block presidential nominations. Media Matters founder and chairman David Brock explained, when asked by MSNBC host Al Sharpton "how does [Graham] justify blocking every post that the president proposes," that Republicans will continue investigating until they hear what they want to hear:
From the November 10 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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The chairman of CBS News confessed to The New York Times that 60 Minutes' bogus Benghazi report is "as big a mistake as there has been" in the program's history.
Chairman Jeff Fager, who also serves as the executive producer of 60 Minutes, spoke to the Times following the network's decision to pull its October 27 report on the 2012 terror attacks in Benghazi from CBS' website and YouTube. The report was heavily criticized by veteran journalists and media critics after The Washington Post reported that 60 Minutes' purported eyewitness to the attacks, Dylan Davies, had given contradictory statements to CBS and his employer regarding his whereabouts on that night.
On November 8, Fager told the Times that 60 Minutes would be issuing an on-air correction, adding that the debacle is "a black eye" to the network. The paper reported:
As it prepared to broadcast a rare on-air correction Sunday for a now-discredited "60 Minutes" report, CBS News acknowledged on Friday that it had suffered a damaging blow to its credibility. Its top executive called the segment "as big a mistake as there has been" in the 45-year-old history of the celebrated news program.
"It's a black eye and it's painful," Mr. Fager said in a phone interview. He declined to say whether there would be negative consequences for any of the journalists involved.
Fager's remarks come the same day that 60 Minutes' reporter Lara Logan issued an apology for the story, saying "we were wrong. We made a mistake."