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.
From the November 11 edition of MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes:
From the November 11 edition of MSNBC's The Ed Show:
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Following the collapse of CBS News' 60 Minutes report on the 2012 Benghazi attacks, Fox News, which cited 60 Minutes' now-discredited "eyewitness" for some of its Benghazi coverage, is standing by the accuracy of its reporting. CBS News' withdrawal of the story has been largely ignored by Fox News, even though Fox enthusiastically promoted the 60 Minutes story and boasted that it validated the network's own reporting on Benghazi.
CBS News withdrew the story and 60 Minutes correspondent Lara Logan apologized to viewers after it was revealed that their Benghazi "eyewitness," British security contractor Dylan Davies, had given contradictory statements about whether he was actually present for the attack on the diplomatic compound. On October 28, the day after the report aired, Fox News devoted 13 segments -- totaling 47 minutes -- to promoting the 60 Minutes story.
Washington Post reporter Paul Farhi wrote in a November 9 article that "CBS's withdrawal of the story not only undermined its reporting, but that of Fox News, which apparently relied on Davies as a source for stories that have challenged the Obama administration's account of events." Farhi quoted Fox News executive vice president of news Michael Clemente defending his network's coverage: "We stand by our reporting on Benghazi, and given what is still unknown, we anticipate further fact finding from those who know the truth about what took place on 9/11/12."
Erik Wemple, the Post's media blogger, noted that after the 60 Minutes report first aired, Fox News correspondent Adam Housley acknowledged on-air that some of the network's Benghazi coverage from 2012 had cited Davies, but they "stopped speaking to him when he asked for money." Wemple specifically noted a November 3, 2012, Fox News report that referenced "the Blue Mountain Security manager," a possible reference to Davies, who was working for Blue Mountain Security at the time. As Housley put it, Davies' 60 Minutes appearance "kind of reaffirm[ed] the fact that this attack was vicious."
After spending so much time promoting 60 Minutes' story and using it to praise their own reporting, Fox News spent just 26 seconds on the story's collapse. "CBS is backing off a report on 60 Minutes -- we told you about last week -- that relied on a source whose credibility has crumbled," Special Report host Bret Baier told viewers on November 8.
From the November 8 edition of CBS' CBS Evening News:
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From the November 8 edition of MSNBC's PoliticsNation:
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Several local media outlets published editorials and opinion pieces highlighting and praising CBS' faulty 60 Minutes Benghazi report. Now that CBS has apologized and withdrawn its report, will local media follow suit?
On October 27, CBS' 60 Minutes aired a report highlighting comments from security officer Dylan Davies, who went by the pseudonym "Morgan Jones" and said that he was an eyewitness to the September 12, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. After several inconsistencies surfaced in Davies' statements about the evening, CBS pulled its report, apologized to viewers, and said it would "correct the record" on the next edition of 60 Minutes.
Immediately following the 60 Minutes report, various local media outlets across the country published editorial and opinion pieces hyping the report and heralding it as evidence that President Obama and his administration were lying about the attacks. At least six local media outlets, including The Columbus Dispatch, The New Hampshire Union Leader, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Washington Times, The Charleston Post and Courier, and The Boston Herald, all hyped the CBS report with one outlet calling it a "damning report" while another said the administration's "coverup [is] being exposed." Pittsburgh Press writer Jack Kelly published a piece in the Post-Gazette claiming the report was "noteworthy for the new information provided -- in particular the interviews with 'Morgan Jones' and [Lt.] Col. [Andrew] Wood."
The 60 Minutes report reinvigorated the widely debunked myth that there are "lingering questions" about the Benghazi attack and continued to push a right-wing media narrative that the Obama administration has engaged in a cover-up in response to the attacks. The pervasiveness of the myth even hit Congress as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) threatened to hold up presidential nominations until questions surrounding Benghazi were answered.
Now that CBS has retracted its report, will local media outlets who also injected this misleading myth into their opinion pages do the same, or will they continue to rely on debunked information that misleads their readers?
The walls are closing in on Dylan Davies (a.k.a. "Morgan Jones), the British security contractor whose dramatic "eyewitness" account of the 2012 Benghazi attacks featured prominently in a controversial CBS 60 Minutes report. Now that government officials have stated that Davies told the FBI he was nowhere near the diplomatic compound on the night of the attack (consistent with the after-action report Jones filed with his employer, which Jones disavows), CBS News has withdrawn the report and correspondent Lara Logan apologized on-air for making "a mistake."
CBS News, of course, still has a multitude of questions to answer, but so too does Threshold Editions, the imprint of the Simon & Schuster publishing company (owned by CBS) that released Davies' book, The Embassy House: The Explosive Eyewitness Account of the Libyan Embassy Siege by the Soldier Who Was There.
In the book, Davies describes the two trips he made to the diplomatic compound in Benghazi the night of the attacks: an aborted first attempt in which Davies and a Libyan associate were turned away at gunpoint from the compound's rear gate by a terrorist; and a one-man incursion into the compound after the initial attack subsided, in which Davies dramatically bashes a terrorist in the face with the butt of a scavenged AK-47. In between the two trips, Davies writes he traveled to the Benghazi Medical Center where he discovered the body of Ambassador Chris Stevens and was the first person to confirm that the ambassador had been killed.
Much of Davies' narrative would have been difficult or impossible to confirm (a red flag in and of itself), but there are details of his story that could have -- should have -- been confirmed by fact-checkers at Threshold.