News Veterans Urge CBS News To Reopen Review Of 60 Minutes' Benghazi Story
Lara Logan's Return "Very Difficult"
Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP
News veterans and journalism ethicists are urging CBS News to reopen the investigation into the discredited 60 Minutes Benghazi report following new questions about correspondent Lara Logan's actions and concerns that an earlier internal review did not do enough to reveal all the facts.
CBS was forced to launch an internal review into its discredited 2013 story after it was revealed that former security contractor Dylan Davies, whose claims were featured prominently in the report, had lied about his actions on the night of the attacks. 60 Minutes came under fire for failing to adequately fact-check Davies' claims, and not disclosing that a related book he had written had been published by Threshold, an imprint owned by CBS' parent company.
The internal review by CBS News resulted in Logan and producer Max McClellan being placed on indefinite leave, but it included no independent reviewers and no change in 60 Minutes personnel. Speculation has arisen that Logan could return to the program later this year.
But this week, New York magazine uncovered new internal details about the report and how it got on air, several of which were inconsistent with what was found in CBS' internal review and revealed more questionable reporting tactics by Logan. According to New York, Logan relied heavily on a highly partisan source, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, when crafting her report, while internal CBS office politics allowed the story to air without standard vetting - neither of which were disclosed by the initial internal review.
Such new disclosures have prompted demands by longtime broadcast journalists for a further review, including several who suggested bringing in an independent outsider to investigate. They also raised new questions about whether Logan could ever return to 60 Minutes. Media Matters chairman David Brock sent a letter to CBS executives earlier this week calling on the network to reopen its investigation into the botched report.
"I think that the questions that have been raised in the New York magazine piece are pretty devastating stuff," Lawrence Grossman, former NBC News president from 1985 to 1988, said in a phone interview. "I think CBS ought to take a look, as they probably are, and reevaluate particularly now that the whole Benghazi thing is surfacing again. And their role in what they have to do to come out to their viewers and say they made a mistake or that their emphasis was wrong or however they want to handle it. It's definitely worth reconsidering."
Asked if CBS News should bring in an outsider to investigate, Grossman said, "It certainly would be preferable I think, but if they put a bunch of major inside people on the case and were transparent about the findings, anything like that would be helpful ... I probably would just put together a panel to look into the whole thing and come up with recommendations."
Kevin Smith, chair of the ethics committee of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), agreed.
"Yes, I think CBS would be best at reviewing this again," he said via email. "I think they owe it to the public to not just correct the mistakes but be transparent about how this unfolded and who was involved. It's a painful, but necessary first step in recovering its credibility."
For David Zurawik, TV and media critic at the Baltimore Sun, more review is the best option.
"Transparency, transparency, transparency," he said in an interview. "What does it hurt to bring someone in, what does it cost you? If I was [CBS News Chairman Jeff] Fager, I would absolutely, unless I knew there was something I had to hide, I would find a stellar unimpeachable retired journalist to come in."
Ed Wasserman, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, said the entire episode is "an institutional failure" at 60 Minutes.
"I didn't notice any real correctives being proposed to the way 60 Minutes brings editorial review and skeptical judgment to its stories and I think that is just wrong," he said about the first internal review. "The challenge to 60 Minutes is to look at how thoroughly their own internal editorial control needs to be overhauled. Lara obviously has taken a hit and deservedly so, but I don't see the blame as primarily falling to her, I don't understand why there were no grown-ups in charge."
Alicia Shepard, former National Public Radio ombudsman, also urged more inquiry about the reporting process.
"As someone who cares deeply about media credibility, I would welcome a thorough and public revisiting of the Benghazi report, and an admission of how the mistakes were made," she said via email. "That's what wins back credibility. We all make mistakes. Explaining how they came to be, and owning them, is what impresses the public."
As for Logan, some said it may be difficult to impossible for her to return to the news magazine show with her credibility an issue.
"Even before new revelations surfaced, I have said that I didn't believe Logan could return to 60 Minutes -- at least in the near term -- without doing serious damage to the program's reputation," said Tom Fiedler, dean of the College of Communication at Boston University and former editor of The Miami Herald. "CBS' best option for now would be to assign her to one of its owned-and-operated affiliate stations (Miami would be a good assignment) under a strong news director ... Over time Logan may be able to earn her way back to 60 Minutes, albeit not likely as a combat correspondent."
Grossman offered a similar recipe for her comeback: "She can appear on the other news programs, do reporting on the nightly news and gradually overcome the damage if there is indeed damage that has been done."
But for SPJ's Smith, the road to return may be impossible.
"It would be very hard for Logan to return to 60 Minutes given the way this story has unraveled," Smith said. "If we are to believe these recent reports it portrays someone who is perpetually reckless with storytelling. By that I mean it suggests a pattern of behavior that doesn't support accuracy or fairness. That she rushed the Benghazi story onto T.V. without proper verification would suggest either horrible reporting skills or a hidden agenda that doesn't take all the facts into consideration. Neither are appropriate for a beginning journalist, let alone a network heavyweight."
Shepard agreed, adding, "It will be very difficult for Lara Logan to return to 60 minutes. If she does, her first report must be perfect as it will be scrutinized in fine detail. Journalists can be sharks, as we know, and they tend to be hardest on their own. No matter what the topic, news stories will bring up the seriously flawed Benghazi report. While we welcome second chances in America, they are painfully hard to come by."
*This article has been updated.