After the publication of Media Matters' ebook The Benghazi Hoax, which tells the story of how the right twisted a tragedy into a failed witch hunt against the Obama administration, CBS News came under fire from media critics and journalism experts for airing a botched 60 Minutes report on Benghazi that featured a supposed eyewitness to the attacks who had lied about his actions the night of the attack. The story resulted in an internal investigation into how 60 Minutes got it wrong and a leave of absence by correspondent Lara Logan and producer Max McClellan. Here's the story of how CBS got burned by the Benghazi hoax.
From the December 6 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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Soon after reports broke confirming the murder of an American teacher in Benghazi, Libya, Fox News exploited reports on that crime to push the phony scandal the network has attempted to create surrounding the September 11, 2012, attacks on American diplomatic facilities in that city.
On December 5, American chemistry teacher Ronnie Smith, who worked at an international school in Benghazi, was gunned down while jogging. At the time of publication, motive for the attack remained unclear and no one had claimed responsibility.
Hours after the news broke, America's Newsroom host Martha MacCallum used a report on Smith's murder to pivot into a brief discussion of the Obama administration's response to the 2012 attacks that left U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead. While presenting a timeline of the 2012 attacks, MacCallum claimed "The Obama administration initially insisted that the Benghazi attack was the result of a spontaneous demonstration that had broken out over an anti-Muslim film" -- comments that echo the months-long Fox News misinformation campaign to smear the president with phony reports about his handling of the tragedy.
But it was the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis -- not political appointees within the Obama administration -- that originally linked the video to the attacks. The president labeled the attacks an "act of terror" in his September 12 address to the nation regarding the incident. The Associated Press reported on September 13 that the "The Obama administration ... is investigating whether the assault on the U.S. consulate in Libya was a planned terrorist strike."
Fox's exploitation of the murder should come as no surprise. Following the 2012 attacks, Fox immediately exploited that tragedy to relentlessly spread falsehoods in an attempt to smear President Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the administration's response. Most recently, the network has resorted to reporting months-old information as though it were a new development.
This post has been updated for accuracy.
Fox News won't let the Benghazi story peter out, and they're going to recycle as much old news as they can to keep it going. Fox chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge reports on December 4 that "CIA personnel who testified Tuesday on the Benghazi attack provided new evidence that it was premeditated, telling lawmakers that the deadly mortar strike on the CIA annex began within minutes of a rescue team's arrival, Fox News has learned."
For anyone who's been following Benghazi reporting, the "new evidence" that the CIA annex came under mortar fire shortly after the rescue team arrived is really, really old information.
Here's CBS News' timeline of the attack, published in May:
5:15 a.m. (11:15 p.m. ET): The U.S. Regional Security Office in Tripoli gets a phone call from an Arabic-speaking source who says a Westerner has been found in Benghazi and is perhaps at a hospital. It's believed to be Ambassador Stevens. Transfer to airport is arranged.
At around the same time, the additional security team finds transportation from the airport under the escort of the Libyan Shield, another local militia, but decides to head to the annex after learning that Stevens was almost certainly dead. Just after their arrival, the annex takes mortar fire, sustaining three direct hits. The precision of the attacks indicates a level of sophistication and coordination.
Here's the State Department Accountability Review Board's report on the attacks, released in December 2012:
The seven-person response team from Embassy Tripoli arrived in Benghazi to lend support. It arrived at the Annex about 0500 local. Less than fifteen minutes later, the Annex came under mortar and RPG attack, with five mortar rounds impacting close together in under 90 seconds. Three rounds hit the roof of an Annex building, killing security officers Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty. The attack also severely injured one ARSO and one Annex security team member. Annex, Tripoli, and ARSO security team members at other locations moved rapidly to provide combat first aid to the injured.
And, just for good measure, here's Fox News' Jennifer Griffin, from this past July:
Doherty left Tripoli at about midnight local time, after chartering a local plane for the rescue. There were no U.S. air assets in Tripoli. He and the quick reaction force arrived at the CIA annex at 5:15 a.m. after being delayed for several hours at the Benghazi airport by the Libyans. The CIA annex, a fortress-like compound with several buildings, is where the Americans in Benghazi had retreated and the body of State Department official Sean Smith had been brought after the initial attack. At the time, Stevens was still missing.
Doherty joined Tyrone Woods, another highly trained former SEAL, on the roof of one of the buildings at the CIA annex. Within minutes, mortars were fired. Doherty and Woods were both killed.
60 Minutes correspondent Lara Logan and her producer Max McClellan will reportedly be taking a leave of absence from the program, per a memo from CBS News chairman (and 60 Minutes executive producer) Jeff Fager obtained by Huffington Post media reporter Michael Calderone.
Calderone wrote on November 26:
Jeff Fager, chairman of CBS News and executive producer of '"60 Minutes," informed staff Tuesday that Lara Logan and her producer, Max McClellan, would be taking a leave of absence following an internal report on the newsmagazine's discredited Oct. 27 Benghazi report.
The memo lays out the findings of CBS News' internal investigation, led by CBS News executive producer Al Ortiz, into Logan's badly flawed October 27 60 Minutes report on the 2012 Benghazi attacks. CBS News withdrew the report after the credibility of Logan's Benghazi "eyewitness," security contractor Dylan Davies, crumbled amid allegations that he had lied about being at the besieged diplomatic compound while the attacks were happening. Ortiz describes Logan's report as "deficient in several respects," and found that her "team did not sufficiently vet Davies' account of his own actions and whereabouts that night."
Ortiz also noted that Davies' book on his Benghazi experiences, The Embassy House, "was published by Threshold Editions, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, part of the CBS Corporation. 60 Minutes erred in not disclosing that connection in the segment." Simon & Schuster pulled the book from circulation after Davies' story fell apart. CBS News has not yet acknowledged that conflict of interest on-air.
Fager asked Logan and producer Max McClellan to go on leave from the program, and they both agreed to do so. "When faced with a such an error, we must use it as an opportunity to make our broadcast even stronger. We are making adjustments at 60 Minutes to reduce the chances of it happening again," wrote Fager.
In a statement, Media Matters chairman David Brock said:
From the start of this controversy, Media Matters has demanded that CBS review the flawed 60 Minutes report and take appropriate action. Today, the network has done that. We hope this serves as a lesson learned to CBS about the danger of misinformation.
The full memo from Fager and the conclusions from the internal review by Ortiz are below:
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."
Washington Post political blogger Jennifer Rubin is, like most pundits sympathetic to the Republican cause, upset over the move by Democrats to change Senate rules so that judicial and executive branch nominees will no longer have to face down a filibuster in order to get a confirmation vote. "It's a bad way to run the country," Rubin writes. But at the same time she is wistful for what might have been had the filibuster been done away with long ago, and what the nation might have discovered about... Benghazi?
If only. . .
The president cared as much about Iran's nuclear option as he does the Senate's.
The nuclear option was in place for superbly qualified Republican-nominated judges like Miguel Estrada whom the Democrats filibustered.
The nuclear option had prevented Sen. Barack Obama from blocking the confirmation of John Bolton as United Nations Ambassador in 2005.
The nuclear option had removed fear of a filibuster and allowed Susan Rice to get nominated as secretary of state so then she could have been questioned about Benghazi.
This is a perplexing hypothetical. At the time Susan Rice's name was being thrown around as a potential nominee for Secretary of State, there were few people in the media who opposed the idea more than Jennifer Rubin. "From my perspective, it makes no sense to have a three-ring confirmation hearing and lose over a subpar nominee such as Rice," Rubin wrote on December 4, 2012. When Rice asked that her name be withdrawn from consideration for the position, Rubin wrote: "To be frank, she should never have been floated as a possible nominee."
Politico media reporter Dylan Byers reports that Al Ortiz, an executive producer at CBS News, will be "conducting the 'journalistic review' into the controversial '60 Minutes' report on Benghazi." As Byers notes, this presents a problem for Ortiz and a potential conflict of interest for CBS News, as the executive producer of 60 Minutes, Jeff Fager, is also the chairman of CBS News and Ortiz's boss.
Fager is also the person who, initially, decided that no investigation would take place. Though CBS says the review has been underway since they first learned of "the issue," a spokesman told the New York Times last Sunday that Lara Logan's televised apology would be the network's last word on the matter. "[T]he CBS News chairman, Jeff Fager, who is also the executive producer of "60 Minutes," has not ordered an investigation," the Times reported at the time.
Media Matters has previously addressed the problems with having a CBS News employee conduct the review. There were a number of problems with the report -- most notably the credibility of Benghazi "eyewitness" Dylan Davies -- all of which deserve intense scrutiny. Fager's dual role within the network invariably raises questions about the credibility and the independence of an internal review process.
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.
Dylan Davies, the British security contractor at the heart of a CBS segment about the Benghazi attacks that was pulled following questions about his credibility, has "disappeared" after sending an email to his publisher detailing an alleged "threat," according to Daily Beast reporter Eli Lake, who obtained the email.
Lake previously received exclusive access to Davies, who apparently lied to the reporter in an attempt to control the damage to his credibility as his story unraveled.
The Washington Post reported on October 31 that the eyewitness account of the attack detailing his own personal bravery that Davies had provided to CBS' 60 Minutes and published in a book released by CBS-owned Simon & Schuster differed from an incident report submitted by his employer, which stated that the contractor never got near the compound on the night of the attack. In an interview for a November 2 article written by Lake and Josh Rogin, Davies said that he was being smeared by critics, that he hadn't written the report, and that his interviews with the FBI matched the story he had told to CBS and written in his book.
Days later, CBS retracted their report and Simon & Schuster withdrew the book after both The New York Times and CBS News confirmed from administration officials that the information Davies provided to the FBI was consistent with the incident report.
In his November 14 article, headlined "Exclusive: Why Dylan Davies Disappeared," Lake writes that on November 8 -- the morning after CBS had pulled their report -- an executive at the publisher received an email from Davies. That email stated that Davies had received a threat to his family five days before -- the day after his interview with Lake was published -- and that while he stands by his story, due to the threat, he "will not discuss the book with anyone under any circumstances for the foreseeable future." Hours after Simon & Schuster reportedly received the email, they announced that they had withdrawn Davies' book from publication and recommended that bookstores take it off their shelves.
Lake writes that he confirmed with the South Wales police that an investigation into the alleged threat is underway. He also details how the facts of Davies' original account have been "called into question."
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.
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?
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."
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.