CBS Still Won't Come Clean About Lara Logan And the Benghazi Debacle

While the walls were collapsing around Lara Logan at CBS News last year in the wake of her bungled Benghazi report on 60 Minutes, and as more and more holes appeared in her poorly-sourced report about the terror attack, the foreign correspondent reached out to a Republican senator and fierce White House critic  for advice and counsel.

The partisan move, in which Logan solicited help from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) -- who's been professionally committed to pushing the tale of a White House cover-up surrounding the September 11, 2012 terror attacks -- suggests Logan viewed both Benghazi and her spin control mission through a political prism.

Indeed, Logan even met several times with Graham while preparing the initial Benghazi story, according to a new report in New York magazine. The senator did not appear in the 60 Minutes report but when the report aired he immediately took to the television airwaves to tout it as a “death blow” to the Obama administration's telling of the Benghazi attacks and their response to it. In retrospect, this looks suspiciously like coordination: Graham helped shape the Benghazi story with an anti-White House angle and then forcefully cheerled it, even announcing he'd block every White House appointee until he got answers about Benghazi. Once trouble erupted, the senator was naturally there for Logan when she called for help.

“The story fit broadly into the narrative the right had been trying for months to build of a White House and State Department oblivious to the dangers of Al Qaeda, feckless in their treatment of their soldiers and diplomats, then covering up their incompetence,” notes New York's Joe Hagan. The article casts doubt that Logan, who took a leave of absence from CBS in the wake of the Benghazi debacle last November, will ever return to the network.

New York reports that veteran 60 Minutes correspondent Morley Safer demanded that Logan be fired in 2013, and portrays CBS News as being still bruised from the trauma. (“The atmosphere at CBS has been toxic in recent months.”) The article also includes unflattering, albeit anonymous, critiques of Logan's work from CBS colleagues: “It's not an accident that Lara Logan fucked up. It was inevitable. Everybody saw this coming.”

What the feature also does is remind us that, despite these internal critiques, CBS still refuses to be fully transparent about the controversy and the malpractice that was in play. The network still won't detail how a breakdown occurred that allowed such an obviously flawed report to air not only on network television, but on CBS's highly-rated crown jewel 60 Minutes, or how the show's producers can prevent a colossal embarrassment like this from transpiring again.

As it stonewalls, CBS cannot avoid the fact that in 2004 when 60 Minutes II was caught in a crossfire of conservative outrage after airing a disputed report about President Bush's Vietnam War record, the network responded in an entirely different fashion: It appointed a former Republican attorney general, Richard Thornburgh, to investigate what went wrong. The review panel was given “full access and complete cooperation from CBS News and CBS, as well as all of the resources necessary to complete the task.” Those resources included reporters' notes, e-mails, and draft scripts. The panel worked for three months, interviewed 66 people, and issued an-often scathing 224-page report.

In the end, four producers with more than 80 years in television news experience were dismissed, Dan Rather stepped down as anchor of the CBS Evening News, and 60 Minutes II was soon canceled.

CBS's unanswered question: Why did the Bush story require a painstaking autopsy performed by a team of outside observers, but Benghazi garnered just a two-page summary review in the wake of quickly conducted internal-only review? Are CBS executives that nervous about what an autonomous review might uncover? And why does CBS respond in such dramatically different fashion when its critics howl from the right, versus the left?

If in the end Logan's Benghazi sins are deemed to be so troubling and unprofessional that her CBS career might be in jeopardy, why won't the network come clean about what, specifically, those transgressions were, the same way Rather and his team's alleged mistakes were tick-tocked in a 224-page report? 

Meanwhile, CBS is still dodging the question about partisan politics and how much of a driving force it might have been in Logan's report. The New York article notes that not only did Logan seek counsel from Graham, but that she had a history of producing “the kind of stories that kept 60 Minutes immune to criticism from the right.”  

Recall that one of the key conclusions from the panel review of the Bush story was that political bias did not play a role in how the controversial 2004 story was put together. For the Benghazi story, it's impossible to know if CBS was equally free of prejudice because there hasn't been an independent assessment of the reporting process.

Which brings us right back to the central question from 2013: What is CBS hiding about Lara Logan?