Journalism veterans and media observers continue to strike the same chord while launching a chorus of criticism at CBS News in recent days: The network needs to be transparent and explain exactly what happened with its botched Benghazi report, and start detailing how such an obviously flawed report made in onto the most-watched news program in America.
And yet it's silence from CBS, which is now stonewalling press inquiries, as well as the calls for an outside review of its Benghazi reporting. CBS' refusal to undergo a public examination in the wake of such a landmark blunder stands in stark contrast to how news organizations have previously dealt with black eyes; news organizations that once included CBS News.
CBS is now taking a radically different approach. There appears to have been a corporate decision made that granting members of an independent review panel unfettered access to 60 Minutes represents a greater danger than the deep damage currently being done to the network's brand via the two-week-old scandal.
So again and again the question bounces back to this: What is CBS hiding? And who is CBS protecting?
I'm sure network executives there are embarrassed by the controversy and wish the report hadn't aired as it did. There's a reason Jeff Fager, Chairman of CBS News (above left), ranked it as among the worst mistakes in the nearly 50 year history of 60 Minutes. But as we learn more and more about the errors and oversights, it's becoming increasingly difficult to understand the magnitude of the malfeasance; the refusal by CBS to follow even rudimentary rules of journalism.
In a small but telling example, Mother Jones recently reviewed the Benghazi book that CBS' discredited "witness," Dylan Davies, co-wrote, and which CBS supposedly relied on to corroborate this tale, which included him informing the FBI about his heroic actions the night of the attack at the U.S. compound in Benghazi. (It was later confirmed Davies wasn't even at the compound and the book was quickly recalled.) Mother Jones found Davies' published account to be completely, and almost comically, unbelievable:
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.
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.
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.
The message from CBS News, following the high-profile implosion of its October 27 Benghazi report? We're sorry. But we're not that sorry.
Coming days after CBS News chief Jeff Fager categorized the Benghazi mess as among the worst blunders in the show's history, the network's eagerly awaited apology on Sunday's night's 60 Minutes turned out to be an extremely tepid and limited effort, with correspondent Lara Logan taking just 90 seconds to walk back what she described as a sourcing error.
Logan's correction, in which she conceded the program "made a mistake," failed to capture the scope of the 60 Minutes Benghazi blunder. She also refused to address the pressing questions about how she and her colleagues produced such a flawed report; a report that 60 Minutes reportedly worked on for an entire year. (Logan's previous apology on CBS This Morning also failed to address those key issues.) The correction was widely derided by critics as being insufficient and misleading.
Perhaps more importantly, Logan offered no indication that CBS News is undertaking any kind of review to figure out what went so wrong at 60 Minutes, how an entire report was built around a charlatan "eyewitness," and how the show's bosses can prevent a colossal embarrassment like this from transpiring again.
Remember: In the days that followed the original airing of the troubled Benghazi report, CBS did nothing to re-report or fact-check the story. Other journalists, including those from the Washington Post and the New York Times, took on that burden. Basically, CBS waited for outside journalists to vet CBS' own Benghazi story, and only after they uncovered glaring inconsistencies did the network's news division admit that mistakes were made.
To date, CBS has pointedly failed to appoint an independent panel to review the controversial report. That refusal stands in stark contrast to the path CBS took in the wake of its 2004 story about questions surrounding President's George W. Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War. That 60 Minutes II report featured documents from one of Bush's former commander that could not be authenticated and sparked widespread condemnation from CBS' conservative critics, as well as an internal crisis at the network.
The double standard here is striking: CBS News chief Jeff Fager says the Benghazi story is among the biggest mistakes in the history of 60 Minutes. So why not appoint an independent review to figure how it happened, the way CBS did the last time the news magazine franchise was embroiled in a politically charged controversy? Why did the National Guard story require a painstaking autopsy performed by outside observers, but Benghazi garnered just a 90-second correction on 60 Minutes? Are CBS executives that nervous about what an autonomous review might undercover this time?
Also, are politics in play? Does CBS not feel the need for an independent review because this time the criticism is coming from mainstream media reporters as well as those on the left? When CBS faced the wrath of the right-wing media in 2004, the network's corporate reaction was noticeably different.
Not only was the review ordered, but it was later discovered that CBS officials were so spooked by the conservative attacks that when it came to assembling its "independent" panel the network reportedly considered including Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge on a list of possible review panelists. Also, CBS insiders were concerned that former GOP senator Warren Rudman would not "mollify" the network's right-wing critics so he was not selected for the "independent" panel.
Meanwhile, note that the importance of an outside and truly independent review is even more pressing today because CBS News boss Fager is also the Executive Producer of 60 Minutes, which would make it impossible for there to be a truly thorough, internal vetting of what went wrong considering Fager himself would be questioned about why his own program screwed up so badly. Ultimately, it would be Fager who'd likely come under the most scrutiny from an outside review; an outside review that Fager so far refuses to appoint.
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.
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."
On October 27, CBS' flagship news program 60 Minutes aired a segment on the 2012 terror attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. The report was quickly seized on by conservative media outlets and Republican lawmakers for supposedly having validated their 14 month-long quest to turn Benghazi into a Watergate-level political scandal for the Obama administration.
12 days later, 60 Minutes pulled the report, apologized to viewers, and corrected the record on-air. A month after the initial report ran, CBS News announced that following an internal review, the correspondent and producer who helmed the segment would be taking an indefinite leave of absence from the program.
Here's what happened.
A year before CBS News aired -- and then retracted -- a segment featuring a British security operator claiming to be an eyewitness of the 2012 Benghazi attacks, a U.K. paper reported he wasn't even in the city that night.
Here's the October 14, 2012 report -- differing from the story Dylan Davies apparently told the FBI and his bosses as well as his publisher and CBS' Lara Logan -- from The Telegraph:
Darryl Davies, the manager of the Benghazi contract for Blue Mountain, flew out of the city hours before the attack was launched. The Daily Telegraph has learned that relations between the firm and its Libyan partner had broken down, leading to the withdrawal of Mr Davies.
Any attempt to fact-check Davies' story should have included Googling his name and that of his company, which would have unearthed the Telegraph story. While there's no evidence this account -- which is both unsourced and gets Davies' first name wrong -- is accurate, the existence of another story should have been a red flag for CBS that they needed to be wary and make every possible effort to confirm his report.
Apologizing for her report on CBS' This Morning, Logan said that the network had confirmed Davies' identity and that he had "was in Benghazi at the special mission compound the night of the attack" and had used "U.S. government reports and congressional testimony to verify many of the details of his story":
LOGAN: Well, we verified and confirmed that he was who he said he was, that he was working for the State Department at the time, that he was in Benghazi at the special mission compound the night of the attack, and that, you know, he showed us -- he gave us access to communications he had with U.S. government officials. We used U.S. government reports and congressional testimony to verify many of the details of his story, and everything checked out. He also showed us photographs that he had taken at the special mission compound the following morning and, you know, we take the vetting of sources and stories very seriously at 60 Minutes. And we took it seriously in this case. But we were misled, and we were wrong, and that's the important thing. That's what we have to say here. We have to set the record straight and take responsibility.
But it's unclear what "government reports" they reviewed -- clearly not the incident report Davies' company had filed, of which she said she had not been aware, or the FBI report that reportedly corroborating it.
Those documents show Davies saying that he had never been to the Benghazi compound on the night of the attack, while the CBS segment and Davies' CBS-published book claim that he scaled the wall and knocked out a terrorist.
Nor is it clear how Davies' presence at the compound was "verified" -- did they seek out the other people in the story Davies tells and try to confirm his tale?
CBS News' extended refusal to specifically address questions at the heart of its controversial 60 Minutes Benghazi terror report ran counter to the counsel CBS News Chairman Jeff Fager has given in recent years about the importance of journalists admitting their mistakes and being transparent in the process.
In public speeches, Fager, who also holds the title of 60 Minutes' Executive Producer, has repeatedly insisted that for the good of a free press, journalists must acknowledge errors when they are made and must be honest with news consumers when doubts arise about their work. For the simmering Benghazi controversy however, CBS News embraced a mostly non-responsive strategy, exactly the opposite of what Fager has preached.
The problems with 60 Minutes' politically charged Benghazi report were self-evident in terms of the witness the program featured. Yet CBS News executives refused for a full week to address the central issue regarding the fact that that witness had told two contradictory tales about the Benghazi terror attack and what he did that night. Instead officials, including Fager, continued to publicly laud its Benghazi work (the news chairman remained "proud" of it, as of November 6), despite the fact that, as one veteran journalist put it, the report represented a "serious problem" for the network.
It was only when the New York Times last night reported that there were even deeper discrepancies in the report that Fager and CBS conceded mistakes were made with regards to its star witness. It wasn't until today's edition of CBS' This Morning that the network's Lara Logan finally admitted that the nearly two-week-old report had been a "mistake" and explained that CBS News had failed to fully vet that witness.
CBS's defensive, slow-footed response was difficult to match up with Fager's previous pronouncements. "When you do make a mistake, boy oh boy own up to it," Fager told Arizona State University journalism students in 2011. "Go out of your way to own up to it." He added: "Credibility is what we sell."
That same year while addressing the City Club of Cleveland, Fager stressed that "one of the most serious threats to a free press is a big mistake without an apology or a correction."
More advice from Fager [emphasis added]:
If you've made a mistake you better recognize it, and tell people you recognize it, and start looking into what went wrong and be very transparent about that.
In both of those cases, Fager was speaking about the lessons CBS News learned in the wake of the 2004 controversy regarding the 60 Minutes II report about President Bush and his service in the Texas Air National Guard and the disputed documents correspondent Dan Rather used. Fager chastised the CBS team that produced that story, claiming it set out to prove a story it wanted to tell and when that happens journalists "tend to leave any mitigating factors out because they might work against your theory, and only disaster can come from that."
Yet critics suggest that's precisely what happened with the 60 Minutes Benghazi report. The program's failure to alert viewers that its witness had given conflicting account of the terror attacks appeared to be a prime example of journalists withholding "mitigating factors."
CBS News has finally offered more than a blanket statement in support of their controversial report on the September 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. But the network has yet to grapple with the pressing questions surrounding their reporting.
The October 27 60 Minutes segment has come under fire from veteran journalists following the revelation that the Benghazi security contractor "witness" featured in the report had apparently changed his story about the night of the attack. The supposed "witness," later identified as Dylan Davies, told CBS that he had gone to the diplomatic compound that night and confronted an attacker. But his story on CBS didn't match his company's incident report, which indicated that he "could not get anywhere near" the compound the night of the attack. The contractor claimed that he had lied to his boss about his whereabouts that night, but told the truth to CBS and in his book about the attacks, which was featured during the segment.
Media Matters founder David Brock has called on CBS News to form an independent investigative committee to review the report, similar to the one established after questions were raised about a 2004 story on President George W. Bush's service in the Air National Guard.
One of the leaders of that investigation, former Associated Press CEO and president Louis Boccardi, told Media Matters that the lesson of that review -- to get the facts quickly and disclose them publicly -- should not be forgotten as the Benghazi report comes under scrutiny.
But CBS News has shown no inclination to take that advice.
Last week, a spokesman would say only that the network stands behind their story. In a November 5 interview with the New York Times, Lara Logan, the correspondent who anchored the report, claimed that they had "killed ourselves not to allow politics into this report" and offered the obviously false statement, "If you read the book, you would know he never had two stories. He only had one story." Even Davies himself has acknowledged giving a different story to his boss than he provided to CBS and in his book -- the question is which time he lied.
CBS did acknowledge one ethical misstep in the report -- their failure to acknowledge that Davies' book, which the report promoted, was published by a CBS subsidiary.
But the network has failed to answer key questions that continue to swirl around the report, and has apparently been dodging questions from other reporters - behavior that points to having less faith in their reporting then they are claiming publicly.
Here are the questions that CBS News should answer to demonstrate the credibility of their work:
1) Was CBS News aware of the incident report indicating that Davies "could not get anywhere near" the Benghazi compound on the night of the attack prior to releasing their story?
2) Did CBS News learn at any point during their year-long Benghazi investigation that Davies had previously offered a contradictory take on his activities? If so, why didn't they reveal that to their audience?
3) What steps did CBS News take in attempting to verify that the story Davies had told them was true?
4) Was CBS News aware that another reporter says he spoke "a number of times" to Davies but ceased communication "when he asked for money"? Did Davies ever ask CBS News for money?
5) Will CBS News revisit the story on-air now that new details have emerged that bring their original story into doubt?
Rather than answer these key questions, CBS News has claimed that criticism of their report is political. But as Huffington Post media reporter Michael Calderone noted, "It's not. It's Journalism 101."
CBS News correspondent Lara Logan confessed that the network "erred" by failing to disclose the financial connection it shared with the subject of a widely criticized 60 Minutes report on the 2012 Benghazi attacks. But the network's admission of an ethics violation did not extend further, and Logan issued a general defense of the report's accuracy without addressing the persisting questions that surround the report's source's conflicting accounts of the night of the attacks.
On November 5, The New York Times reported that Logan and CBS News were standing by the network's Benghazi reporting, despite a stark admission by Logan that the network made a "mistake" in its failure to disclose that a subsidiary of CBS was publishing a book written by the report's source, Dylan Davies. Jeffrey Fager, chairman of CBS News and executive producer of 60 Minutes, added that he regretted keeping the connection under wraps. From the Times:
CBS News, under fire from critics who dispute details in a "60 Minutes" report on the Benghazi attacks last year that was broadcast on Oct. 27, aggressively defended the report's accuracy on Tuesday and the account of its main interview subject.
At the same time, the correspondent on the report, Lara Logan, said the broadcast erred by failing to acknowledge that a book written by the interview subject was being published by a subsidiary of CBS.
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.
Ms. 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."
The controversy stems from the October 27 edition of CBS' 60 Minutes, in which Davies, who used the alias Morgan Jones, claimed to be an "eyewitness" of the September 2012 attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. He claimed that during the attack he entered the compound, confronted an attacker, and later went to a Benghazi hospital where he claimed to have seen Ambassador Chris Stevens' body -- a story that, according to The Washington Post, did not match the account in an incident report he gave in which he said he "could not get anywhere near" the compound the night of the attack.
After the revelations from the Post, Media Matters chairman David Brock called on CBS to retract its report. Many veteran journalists and media ethicists criticized 60 Minutes' reporting. Facts also emerged about the connection between CBS and Davies' repeated attempts to "profit off his brush with disaster," according to Foreign Policy magazine:
Jones has other ways of cashing in as well. This week, his book titled The Embassy House was published by Threshold Editions, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, which is a part of CBS Corporation, which owns 60 Minutes -- a fact not disclosed in the 60 Minutes story. His book is also going to make it on the silver screen. In October, Thunder Road acquired The Embassy House for a feature on the Benghazi attack produced by Basil Iwanyk and executive produced by Taylor Sheridan.
Despite admitting error in failing to inform viewers on the financial conflict, CBS still "aggressively defended the report's accuracy," including Davies' account of the attacks, according to the Times. What's more, Logan, who interviewed Davies for 60 Minutes, blamed "intense political warfare" for the criticism of her report and claimed that, despite the fact that he admitted he lied in at least one of his accounts of the attacks, Davies "never had two stories. He only had one story." Logan failed to specifically address any of the problems with the report.
On Twitter, Huffington Post senior media reporter Michael Calderone called CBS out for its omissions. Calderone characterized CBS' defense of its reporting by saying 60 Minutes "defends Benghazi report without actually answering key questions about its source," and pointed out that "Logan won't explain whether she knew her Benghazi witness gave significantly different account year before her story" even while she "attributes criticism to 'intense political warfare' rather than CBS witness telling two different accounts."
For more on conservative media myths about the September 2012 attack, read The Benghazi Hoax, the new e-book by Media Matters' David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt.
On September 10, 2004, CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather dedicated five minutes of the telecast to address the brewing controversy around a 60 Minutes II report he had aired two days earlier. Featuring disputed documents from a former commander in the Texas Air National Guard, the 60 Minutes II report detailed the lingering questions about President Bush's service in a coveted state-side Guard unit during the height of the Vietnam War and how, despite his no-show service, Bush was awarded an honorable discharge.
Within hours of the report, conservative bloggers raised doubts about the documents' validity. The next day, mainstream outlets began airing their own doubts. With the network's credibility on the line, less than 48 hours after the initial report, Rather and CBS responded with a detailed defense of their reporting on its evening newscast, even though the Guard report aired on a different program, 60 Minutes II.
Rather's public defense was just one of many, high-profile actions the embattled network took in an effort to answer critics at the time. By September 20, CBS stopped defending the Guard report. It apologized for airing the segment and announced the creation of an outside panel to investigate what had gone wrong in the reporting process. In the end, four senior CBS producers were let go, 60 Minutes II was canceled, and Dan Rather was soon out as the Evening News anchor. (Rather still stands by his memo reporting.) However, CBS' independent review could not determine if the controversial Guard documents were forged. It did conclude however, there was no evidence the Guard story was driven by partisan considerations inside CBS.
CBS's frantic corporate response to the Guard controversy (which included blatant kowtowing to its partisan critics; see more below) stands in stark contrast to the network's utterly passive, non-response to the widening controversy surrounding the heavily-hyped 60 Minutes report that aired on October 27 about the terrorist attacks on the U.S. compound in Benghazi in 2012.
That report has been plagued by problems, including obvious conflicts of interest and the more recent revelation that its star witness told contradictory tales about the terror attack and what he did as it unfolded that night.
The difference in the two crisis responses is striking in part because the underlying Guard story that CBS told about Bush failing to serve his duty has been proven to be true: In the spring of 1972, with 770 days left of required duty, then-Lt. Bush unilaterally decided that he was done fulfilling his military obligation and walked away from the Guard. That means CBS could have omitted the disputed documents from its Guard report and still told an accurate story about Bush's non-service.
But CBS's dubious Benghazi report revolved around already debunked allegations about why no U.S. military forces from outside Libya were sent to save the Americans at the besieged Benghazi compound. In other words, CBS's witness controversy is attached to an-already inaccurate Benghazi report, which makes the recent 60 Minutes' transgression more serious than the one that triggered the Guard frenzy.
Journalism veterans tell Media Matters that CBS must address the glaring problems with its Benghazi report and the growing newsroom scandal. Yet the silence persists. So it's worth pondering why CBS responded so quickly, and energetically, to conservative critics in the wake of the Guard story, and why CBS feels comfortable ignoring those who point out gaping holes in its politically charged Benghazi report.
If CBS appointed another review panel this week, it would have a lot to examine.
Journalism veterans and media ethicists are demanding answers from CBS News in light of the revelation that the key "witness" in 60 Minutes' recent report on the September 2012 terrorist attacks on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, had previously said he was not at the diplomatic compound on the night of the attack.
"I don't see any way that 60 Minutes would not need to offer an explanation," said Alex S. Jones, former media writer for The New York Times and current director of the Shorenstein Center on The Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University. "This definitely needs explaining."
The 60 Minutes segment, which aired October 27, includes a lengthy interview with a man identified by the pseudonym "Morgan Jones," who told the magazine show he was "a security officer who witnessed the attack."
The piece featured "Jones" and his seemingly heroic efforts "scaling" the compound's 12 foot wall, disabling a terrorist "with the butt end of a rifle" and ultimately seeing the lifeless body of Ambassador Chris Stevens in the hospital.
But The Washington Post revealed Thursday that "Jones," identified as defense contractor Dylan Davies, told his employer in a written report just days after the attack that he was far from the area at the time. According to the Post, Davies wrote that "he spent most of that night at his Benghazi beach-side villa. Although he attempted to get to the compound, he wrote in the report, 'we could not get anywhere near . . . as roadblocks had been set up.'" He also wrote that he had heard of Stevens' death from a colleague.
That revelation drew concern and complaints from those who monitor media ethics and have worked in newsrooms for decades. Several called for a correction or at least further explanation.
Among them is Kevin Z. Smith, chair of the Ethics Committee of the Society of Professional Journalists and deputy director of the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism at Ohio State University, who called for CBS to "internally review its reporting on this story given the latest information that has surfaced. They need to pursue this new information and story angle with the same fairness and intensity that they did in the original reporting."
In a letter to CBS News' president and chairman, Media Matters founder David Brock called for such a review, modeled on the independent investigation the network conducted after questions were raised about a report on President George W. Bush's Air National Guard service.
Smith said two questions arise from the situation. "First, did Lara Logan and her staff test the accuracy of the information that was given them and exercise care to avoid error?" he asked in an email. "Second, if they are wrong in their reporting, they should show accountability and make needed corrections to their reportage to reflect any mistakes made. That is a key component to establishing and maintaining trust and credibility with the public."
It's clear that CBS correspondent Lara Logan truly admires Dylan Davies, the British security contractor with a starring eyewitness role in the 60 Minutes report that has galvanized new attention on the September 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
Asked in a CBSNews.com Q&A about why Davies (identified by CBS with the pseudonym "Morgan Jones") had decided to speak with the network, Logan said he "is tortured by guilt that he was not able to save his friends in the U.S. Compound, that he wasn't able to save Sean Smith's life or Amb. Stevens' life."
"That may sound ridiculous to people who couldn't think of anything more insane than rushing towards a burning building that is overrun with al Qaeda terrorists," Logan continued, "but Morgan Jones is the kind of man who would do that and who did do that. And when he failed the first time, he went back again."
There's just one problem. The story Davies told CBS diverged wildly from the account he gave his superiors in an incident report that was obtained by The Washington Post.
The October 27 60 Minutes segment featured Davies and his seemingly heroic efforts "scaling" the compound's 12 foot wall, disabling a terrorist "with the butt end of a rifle" and ultimately seeing the lifeless body of Ambassador Chris Stevens in the hospital. But according to the Post, Davies wrote in his incident report the day after the attack that he spent most of that night at his Benghazi beach-side villa and learned of Stevens' death from a colleague.
The Post reports that Davies' co-author told them that he was unaware of the incident report "but suggested that Davies might have dissembled in it because his superiors, whom he contacted by telephone once he was informed that the attack was underway, told him to stay away from the compound." A CBS spokesman told the paper, "We stand firmly by the story we broadcast last Sunday."
Fox News had previously interviewed Davies several times but stopped after he asked the network for money; his new book, billed as an "Explosive Eyewitness Account" of the attack, was released two days after the 60 Minutes report and has already been optioned for a movie. These are all factors that undermine Davies' credibility and should have given CBS pause.
The 60 Minutes report was the result of a year-long investigation by Logan and producer Max McClellan. In the Q&A, they describe what Logan terms an "exhaustive" interview process, speaking with what McClellen describes as "dozens and dozens and dozens" of background interviews over "months and months.
"Journalism is not about making a case, it's about finding the facts," Logan said. "In this story, you had to work really hard to find the facts and not be seduced by anybody."