The Society of Professional Journalists, the "leading professional association of working journalists," overhauled its Code of Ethics to include new transparency provisions partly in response to 60 Minutes' Benghazi debacle and CNN's failure to disclose Newt Gingrich's political ties, the group's ethics chair said Monday.
He also cited Washington Post columnist George Will's failure to disclose his ties to conservative group Americans for Prosperity as the type of conflict of interest journalists should seek to avoid.
On September 6, SPJ announced the release of its first new Code of Ethics in 18 years, Smith said. The group explained that the "code is voluntarily embraced by thousands of journalists, regardless of place or platform, and is widely used in newsrooms and classrooms as a guide for ethical behavior."
Kevin Smith, outgoing SPJ ethics chair, told Media Matters the revisions were done in part to address the growing problems with transparency, including news outlets failing to disclose clear conflicts of interest.
"I think there is a lot of room to criticize a lot of media today for their lack of transparency," Smith said following the release of the new code on Saturday. "On Fox, I've seen it happen, on CNN, the Wall Street Journal, these conflicts that show up, they do not reveal them in the story."
In the release announcing the changes, SPJ stated:
The idea of transparency makes a debut in this code. Although this code does not abdicate the principle of being independent of conflicts that may compromise integrity or damage credibility, it does note more strongly that when these conflicts can't be avoided, it is imperative that journalists make every effort to be transparent about their actions.
Asked which specific incidents prompted the change, Smith pointed to two major ethical failures that emerged in late 2013.
In October 2013, 60 Minutes aired a since-retracted segment promoting a book written by Dylan Davies, a supposed eyewitness to the 2012 Benghazi attacks whose accounts were later discredited. In its initial segment, CBS failed to disclose that Davies' book was published by Simon & Schuster imprint Threshold Editions, which is owned by CBS Corporation.
"Once they found out [a CBS company] was publishing, wouldn't it make sense there were some internal pressures on Lara Logan to rush that vetting?" Smith said. "I think the book deal is what forced that interview on to TV before it was ready. They could interview him and promote the book."
Smith also cited CNN failing to disclose Crossfire co-host Newt Gingrich's financial contributions -- through his PAC -- to various politicians he had discussed or interviewed on-air. CNN actually changed its ethics policy to make clear that Gingrich's actions were not violations.
"That's problematic, right?" Smith said about CNN. "Don't you believe the audience deserves a full accountability of someone who has benefited financially or contributed their work to a particular candidate?"
From the June 8 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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Lara Logan is reportedly back at work at CBS News' 60 Minutes after a six-month leave of absence, even as questions linger over the network's investigation of her botched Benghazi report.
Logan and her producer Max McClellan took leaves of absence in November following an internal review into their October 27 report on the 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, which the network was forced to withdraw. Logan's report was based on the unreliable testimony of an "eyewitness" named Dylan Davies and crumbled once it became clear that he had lied about being present at the besieged diplomatic compound during the attack, telling the FBI he had never been there. That triggered a firestorm of coverage, with media observers suggesting that the debacle had permanently damaged the brands of CBS News and 60 Minutes. The CBS internal review found that Logan's story "was deficient in several respects."
According to the Associated Press on June 4, "CBS News spokeswoman Sonya McNair said Wednesday that Logan is back. She had no details on when the correspondent resumed work and what stories she is working on."
In a statement, Media Matters founder David Brock said:
The flawed 60 Minutes report on Benghazi permanently damaged the credibility of both the show and of CBS. A New York magazine report made clear that a lion's share of the blame for massive errors in that report belongs to Lara Logan. CBS indicated that they were serious about rebuilding its brand and taking accountability. Having Logan back on 60 Minutes shows the exact opposite.
From the May 11 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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From the May 8 edition of TawkrTV's The Bill Press Show:
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News veterans and journalism ethicists are urging CBS News to reopen the investigation into the discredited 60 Minutes Benghazi report following new questions about correspondent Lara Logan's actions and concerns that an earlier internal review did not do enough to reveal all the facts.
CBS was forced to launch an internal review into its discredited 2013 story after it was revealed that former security contractor Dylan Davies, whose claims were featured prominently in the report, had lied about his actions on the night of the attacks. 60 Minutes came under fire for failing to adequately fact-check Davies' claims, and not disclosing that a related book he had written had been published by Threshold, an imprint owned by CBS' parent company.
The internal review by CBS News resulted in Logan and producer Max McClellan being placed on indefinite leave, but it included no independent reviewers and no change in 60 Minutes personnel. Speculation has arisen that Logan could return to the program later this year.
But this week, New York magazine uncovered new internal details about the report and how it got on air, several of which were inconsistent with what was found in CBS' internal review and revealed more questionable reporting tactics by Logan. According to New York, Logan relied heavily on a highly partisan source, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, when crafting her report, while internal CBS office politics allowed the story to air without standard vetting - neither of which were disclosed by the initial internal review.
Such new disclosures have prompted demands by longtime broadcast journalists for a further review, including several who suggested bringing in an independent outsider to investigate. They also raised new questions about whether Logan could ever return to 60 Minutes. Media Matters chairman David Brock sent a letter to CBS executives earlier this week calling on the network to reopen its investigation into the botched report.
"I think that the questions that have been raised in the New York magazine piece are pretty devastating stuff," Lawrence Grossman, former NBC News president from 1985 to 1988, said in a phone interview. "I think CBS ought to take a look, as they probably are, and reevaluate particularly now that the whole Benghazi thing is surfacing again. And their role in what they have to do to come out to their viewers and say they made a mistake or that their emphasis was wrong or however they want to handle it. It's definitely worth reconsidering."
Asked if CBS News should bring in an outsider to investigate, Grossman said, "It certainly would be preferable I think, but if they put a bunch of major inside people on the case and were transparent about the findings, anything like that would be helpful ... I probably would just put together a panel to look into the whole thing and come up with recommendations."
Kevin Smith, chair of the ethics committee of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), agreed.
"Yes, I think CBS would be best at reviewing this again," he said via email. "I think they owe it to the public to not just correct the mistakes but be transparent about how this unfolded and who was involved. It's a painful, but necessary first step in recovering its credibility."
For David Zurawik, TV and media critic at the Baltimore Sun, more review is the best option.
"Transparency, transparency, transparency," he said in an interview. "What does it hurt to bring someone in, what does it cost you? If I was [CBS News Chairman Jeff] Fager, I would absolutely, unless I knew there was something I had to hide, I would find a stellar unimpeachable retired journalist to come in."
Inconsistencies between a CBS News internal review following a botched 60 Minutes report on the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, and a New York magazine article revealed open questions about the program and the journalistic standards practiced at the network.
Media Matters chairman David Brock is calling on CBS to reopen its investigation into the flawed 60 Minutes report on Benghazi after a New York magazine report raised questions about the validity of CBS' original findings.
CBS came under significant criticism for its October 27, 2013 60 Minutes report on the attacks, in which correspondent Lara Logan prominently featured testimony from an eyewitness who later turned out to be untrustworthy. The segment also included several misleading right-wing talking points. After initially defending the report, CBS pulled the report, apologized to its viewers, and promised a thorough investigation into what went wrong.
The results of CBS' review came into question on May 4, when a New York magazine article revealed problems with the investigation and raised new questions about the journalistic practices that the network employed.
In a letter to CBS that was posted by Huffington Post's Michael Calderone, Brock called on CBS chairman Jeff Fager to reopen the investigation, highlighting discrepancies between the network's review and the New York magazine article and pointing to open questions that still have gone unanswered.
While the walls were collapsing around Lara Logan at CBS News last year in the wake of her bungled Benghazi report on 60 Minutes, and as more and more holes appeared in her poorly-sourced report about the terror attack, the foreign correspondent reached out to a Republican senator and fierce White House critic for advice and counsel.
The partisan move, in which Logan solicited help from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) -- who's been professionally committed to pushing the tale of a White House cover-up surrounding the September 11, 2012 terror attacks -- suggests Logan viewed both Benghazi and her spin control mission through a political prism.
Indeed, Logan even met several times with Graham while preparing the initial Benghazi story, according to a new report in New York magazine. The senator did not appear in the 60 Minutes report but when the report aired he immediately took to the television airwaves to tout it as a "death blow" to the Obama administration's telling of the Benghazi attacks and their response to it. In retrospect, this looks suspiciously like coordination: Graham helped shape the Benghazi story with an anti-White House angle and then forcefully cheerled it, even announcing he'd block every White House appointee until he got answers about Benghazi. Once trouble erupted, the senator was naturally there for Logan when she called for help.
"The story fit broadly into the narrative the right had been trying for months to build of a White House and State Department oblivious to the dangers of Al Qaeda, feckless in their treatment of their soldiers and diplomats, then covering up their incompetence," notes New York's Joe Hagan. The article casts doubt that Logan, who took a leave of absence from CBS in the wake of the Benghazi debacle last November, will ever return to the network.
New York reports that veteran 60 Minutes correspondent Morley Safer demanded that Logan be fired in 2013, and portrays CBS News as being still bruised from the trauma. ("The atmosphere at CBS has been toxic in recent months.") The article also includes unflattering, albeit anonymous, critiques of Logan's work from CBS colleagues: "It's not an accident that Lara Logan fucked up. It was inevitable. Everybody saw this coming."
What the feature also does is remind us that, despite these internal critiques, CBS still refuses to be fully transparent about the controversy and the malpractice that was in play. The network still won't detail how a breakdown occurred that allowed such an obviously flawed report to air not only on network television, but on CBS's highly-rated crown jewel 60 Minutes, or how the show's producers can prevent a colossal embarrassment like this from transpiring again.
As it stonewalls, CBS cannot avoid the fact that in 2004 when 60 Minutes II was caught in a crossfire of conservative outrage after airing a disputed report about President Bush's Vietnam War record, the network responded in an entirely different fashion: It appointed a former Republican attorney general, Richard Thornburgh, to investigate what went wrong. The review panel was given "full access and complete cooperation from CBS News and CBS, as well as all of the resources necessary to complete the task." Those resources included reporters' notes, e-mails, and draft scripts. The panel worked for three months, interviewed 66 people, and issued an-often scathing 224-page report.
On September 11, 2012, terrorists killed four Americans during attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. Conservatives immediately sought to use those tragic killings for political benefit.
By January 1, with conservatives having failed to prevent President Obama's re-election, but succeeding in using the issue to torpedo Susan Rice's bid for Secretary of State, Media Matters had some reason to hope that this effort would subside.
We were wrong.
Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media doubled down, spending much of the year trying to turn Benghazi into Obama's Watergate (or Iran-Contra, or both) and try to end any potential presidential run by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before it can begin. And some mainstream outlets, more eager to win over a conservative audience than to check their facts, ran their own misleading, sketchily-sourced Benghazi exposés.
Much of the discussion has centered around two "unanswered questions" that in reality were answered long ago.
Right-wing media outlets (and mainstream outlets seeking to attract their audience) have been obsessed with asking why the Obama administration initially linked the attacks with an anti-Islam YouTube video that spurred violent protests across the Middle East in mid-September, even after it became clear that the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis had believed there was a connection between the two.
They've also taken every opportunity to question why help wasn't sent to aid U.S. diplomats in Benghazi. Reporters have continued asking this "lingering question" even as a long line of national security experts, from both inside and outside of the administration, have explained that while the Defense Department quickly deployed Special Forces teams to the region, due to logistical issues they were unable to reach the scene until long after the attacks had concluded.
To comprehensively debunk these claims and many more about the attacks, in October 2013 Media Matters' David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt released the ebook The Benghazi Hoax.
Here are seven of the worst media reports and conspiracies from the last year on the Benghazi hoax:
From the November 26 edition of MSNBC's All In With Chris Hayes:
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Newsweek contributing editor Jeff Stein is raising questions about whether 60 Minutes correspondent Lara Logan's husband -- a former employee of a firm that planted "pro-U.S. stories in the Iraqi media in 2005" -- was involved in the show's now-retracted Benghazi report.
CBS has been the target of a firestorm of criticism since the October 27 airing of a 60 Minutes segment on the 2012 terror attacks on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. The network eventually retracted their story after it became clear that the supposed Benghazi "eyewitness" featured in the segment had lied about his actions the night of the attacks. (A subsequent review of the segment by McClatchy News identified several other glaring weaknesses in the CBS report.)
Under intense pressure from numerous media observers -- including Media Matters founder and chairman David Brock -- CBS eventually announced that it is conducting a "journalistic review" of the story.
Citing the fact that "nobody at 60 Minutes has been fired or even publicly disciplined for its odd, inflammatory and dead-wrong" Benghazi report, Newsweek's Jeff Stein points to Logan's husband, Joseph Burkett, as "the most interesting figure in this mystery."
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.
Addressing the falling standards at CBS News and its hallmark Sunday night news magazine program, Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hilzik recently lamented how 60 Minutes "used to stand for rigorous, honest reporting. What's happened to it?" Hiltzik accused 60 Minutes of practicing a "ghastly" brand of journalism.
Hiltzik has hardly been alone been expressing his amazement at CBS's dubious performance. What's key about his observation was that it came in early October, three weeks before CBS became enmeshed in the humiliating Benghazi controversy, in which the network was forced to retract a badly flawed report that featured a bogus "eyewitness."
So why in early October, prior to the Benghazi fiasco, was Hiltzik bemoaning the appalling journalism sponsored by 60 Minutes? The columnist took aim at an October 6, scare report the CBS program aired, alleging widespread fraud within the Social Security disability program. ("A secret welfare system.") Told from the perspective of a crusading Republican lawmaker, Media Matters noted at the time the CBS report relied almost entirely on anecdotal evidence to dishonestly portray the social welfare program as wasteful, despite the fact that award rates fell during the recession and that fraud is less than one percent of the program.
After watching the report, Hiltzik denounced CBS correspondent Steve Kroft's "rank ignorance about the disability program: how it works, who the beneficiaries are, why it has grown." The columnist was hardly alone in expressing his amazement at CBS's deficiencies. Kroft's one-sided, badly flawed report sparked widespread criticism.
But the disability and Benghazi debacles have hardly been isolated incidents. CBS News' Sharyl Attkisson this week aired a Republican-sponsored attack piece on the supposed security lapses of Healthcare.gov based entirely on a partial transcript leaked by President Obama's most partisan, and untrustworthy, critics on Capitol Hill. (Upon closer review, Attkisson's erroneous report completely fell apart.)
And during the roll-out of Obamacare when lots of news outlets were badly misreporting about the implications of insurance companies sending out health care plan cancellation notices, CBS News' Jan Crawford produced perhaps the most misleading and factually challenged report of them all; a report that came to symbolize the mainstream media botching the health care coverage with misleading scare coverage.
Viewed as a whole, it seems something is unraveling inside CBS News, as it now produces gotcha reports that are quickly proven to be flat-out wrong; reports that appear to be built around attempts to obfuscate the truth. And yes, in all these instances the target is the Democratic administration and those cheering the loudest are President Obama's most dedicated critics.
In the disability, health care and Benghazi cases, CBS aired four outrageously misleading and factually inaccurate reports. And CBS did all of that in the window of just six weeks. I'm hard pressed to point to the same number of ABC or NBC reports that have aired in the last 12 months that were as egregious as the CBS foursome.
McClatchy News has offered a damning critique of 60 Minutes' now-retracted story on the September 2012 Benghazi attacks, pointing out that several aspects of the story feature minimal sourcing and contradict the statements of experts.
The report comes as CBS News discloses that a "journalistic review" of the heavily criticized October 27 segment, which featured a since-discredited "witness" and promoted his book on the attacks without disclosing that the book was published by a CBS division. CBS has declined to explain who is conducting that review, how it is being conducted, and whether its findings will be public.
During the segment, correspondent Lara Logan made a number of claims about the attack and its perpetrators, often sourced only with the statement "[w]e have learned" or with nothing at all. McClatchy News Middle East Bureau Chief Nancy Youssef's reporting suggests that these claims were also inaccurate. Given that the report's sources included a man whose account CBS News has already acknowledged was fraudulent, it's fair to question the sourcing of other claims in the report.
A full, complete, and independent investigation of the segment could provide answers to these and other questions about CBS News' reporting.
"Other weaknesses" identified in Youssef's "line-by-line review" include:
The Role Of Al Qaida
The report repeatedly referred to al Qaida as solely responsible for the attack on the compound, and made no mention of Ansar al Shariah, the Islamic extremist group that controls and provides much of the security in restive Benghazi and that has long been suspected in the attack. While the two organizations have worked together in Libya, experts said they have different aims - al Qaida has global objectives while Ansar al Shariah is focused on turning Libya into an Islamic state.
It is an important distinction, experts on those groups said. Additionally, al Qaida's role, if any, in the attack has not been determined, and Logan's narration offered no source for her repeated assertion that it had been...
Logan claimed that "it's now well established that the Americans were attacked by al Qaida in a well-planned assault." But al Qaida has never claimed responsibility for the attack, and the FBI, which is leading the U.S. investigation, has never named al Qaida as the sole perpetrator. Rather it is believed a number of groups were part of the assault, including members and supporters of al Qaida and Ansar al Shariah as well as attackers angered by a video made by an American that insulted Prophet Muhammad. The video spurred angry protests outside Cairo hours beforehand.