Lara Logan rewrites the history of her Benghazi trainwreck

Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

Lara Logan, formerly CBS News’ chief foreign correspondent, is downplaying the massive journalistic failure that led to the retraction of her infamous 60 Minutes report on the 2012 Benghazi attack and her own lengthy leave of absence, choosing instead to blame the entire calamity on what she suggests was a bad-faith effort by Media Matters.

This is nonsense -- an embarrassing effort by a journalist to slough off responsibility for what she had previously acknowledged was her own substantial error.

Logan, who quietly left CBS News last year, made the comments during a lengthy interview published Friday with Mike Ritland, a former Navy SEAL and podcaster. Her remarks have rocketed through the pro-Trump media ecosystem, making their way to Fox News, with right-wing commentators praising her for describing the media as “mostly liberal.”

According to Logan, she was simply trying to tell a good story about the September 11, 2012, attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, and was smeared because she had previously given a speech which revealed that she didn’t believe the Obama administration’s initial statements that the attack began as a spontaneous protest.

“I made one random comment about Benghazi in one hour-and-a-half presentation that lasted seconds, basically,” she told Ritland. “And that was used to say that I should never have reported on Benghazi because I was biased.” Logan claimed that because of that speech, Media Matters “targeted” her, and as a result, she “paid for that heavily, but nothing that was said about me in the wake of that was true.”

Logan is rewriting the historical record, and her claims are unequivocally false. She wasn’t “targeted” or the victim of a political hit job because of a line in a speech. She got in trouble because she based her October 27, 2013, Benghazi report for 60 Minutes on the claims of a purported “eyewitness” to the attacks who turned out to have fabricated his story. Logan’s segment was championed by Republicans and right-wing media figures who argued that it showed the Obama administration had blundered and then lied to avoid repercussions.

Media Matters wrote about her because her story was deeply flawed. Our work had little to do with the October 2012 speech she mentioned during her podcast interview -- as far as I can tell, we didn't mention it until roughly a month after her 60 Minutes report ran, when CBS News called it a “conflict” with her reporting. I should know -- as head of our investigations department at the time, I wrote or edited dozens of stories about Logan's Benghazi reporting.

We were among Logan’s most fervent critics, but we were far from alone; her report was shattered by stories in The New York Times and The Washington Post, and CBS News was subjected to a firestorm of criticism from other journalists until the report fell apart and the network finally retracted it.

Logan initially defended her work and “attributed the critical response to the report to the intense political warfare that has surrounded the episode,” according to the Times. But once the story fell apart completely, she made two on-air apologies to the CBS audience.

“You know the most important thing to every person at 60 Minutes is the truth and today the truth is that we made a mistake, and that's very disappointing for any journalist,” Logan said on the November 8, 2013, edition of CBS This Morning. “It's very disappointing for me,” she continued. “Nobody likes to admit that they made a mistake, but if you do, you have to stand up and take responsibility and you have to say that you were wrong, and in this case we were wrong. We made a mistake.” She added that she no longer “had confidence in our source, and that we were wrong to put him on air, and we apologize to our viewers.”

In a second apology on 60 Minutes that weekend, Logan admitted that she had been “misled, and it was a mistake to include [the source] in our report.” “For that, we are very sorry,” she added. “The most important thing to every person at 60 Minutes is the truth, and the truth is, we made a mistake.”

Logan has now returned to her initial claim to the Times that she has simply been the victim of “political warfare.” She is no longer admitting she made a mistake, no longer taking responsibility or saying she was wrong. It appears that the most important thing to her is no longer the truth.

After retracting Logan’s 60 Minutes story, CBS News conducted a “journalistic review” of Logan’s report that concluded with the November 26, 2013, announcement that she had agreed to a request to take a leave of absence. She did not return for six months.

Did Media Matters play a big role in ensuring that CBS News had to take responsibility for its failure? Absolutely, and I’m very proud of our work holding the network -- and Logan -- accountable.

But I’ll tell you a secret: As much as I might like it to be otherwise, major broadcast networks don’t often retract stories, launch internal investigations, and force correspondents to take leaves of absence just because Media Matters criticizes their reports.

The reason CBS News was forced to answer for what it did was because we were right, and everyone else in the media knew it. We kept attention on the story, which prevented the network from being able to wait for it to blow over.

But it was major publications like the Times and the Post that provided the reporting that destroyed Logan’s story, and other commentators piled on. CBS was buried by headlines like “What’s the Matter With ‘60 Minutes’?” and “What’s wrong with ‘60 Minutes’?” Months later, New York magazine asked whether Logan was “too toxic to return” to the show.

Our criticism wasn’t personal: Media Matters had rarely mentioned her before her Benghazi report, and we have not regularly criticized her since her return to CBS. But with regard to this particular 60 Minutes report, she didn't do her job, so we did ours. It is shameful for her to deny responsibility for her work and embarrassing for her to pretend that she was smeared.