Inconsistencies between a CBS News internal review following a botched 60 Minutes report on the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, and a New York magazine article revealed open questions about the program and the journalistic standards practiced at the network.
Following Criticism, CBS Releases Internal Review
Memo Details CBS Internal Investigation Into 60 Minutes Benghazi Report Failures. In November 2013, an internal memo sent to CBS staff included the findings of the report from Al Ortiz, executive director of standards and practices, into the failures of an October 2013 60 Minutes story on the attacks in Benghazi. The memo detailed some basic reporting mistakes Lara Logan, the lead reporter on the story, and her producer Max McClellan had made and highlighted the problems the report faced, as it was based largely on the unreliable testimony of an “eyewitness” named Dylan Davies who subsequently admitted he gave different accounts to CBS and the FBI about his whereabouts the night of the attacks. The review was relatively inconclusive, however; neither Logan nor McClellan lost their jobs (though both took extended leaves), and questions remained about how the errors were made, why the segment was allowed to air, and who was to blame -- ultimately forcing media observers to question why the network did not conduct an external, independent review. [The Huffington Post, 11/26/13; Media Matters 11/26/13; Media Matters, 12/26/13; Media Matters, 5/5/14]
Internal Review Findings Inconsistent With Subsequent New York Magazine Report
New York Magazine Report Reveals New Inconsistencies, Open Questions. A May 2014 article by Joe Hagan in New York magazine detailed how the 60 Minutes Benghazi report got on the air, ultimately finding that internal CBS office politics allowed Logan's personal credibility to stand in for standard fact-checking and basic reporting. Hagan also revealed new details about the process, many of which were inconsistent with CBS' internal review, raising questions about the validity of that review and its scope. [New York, 5/4/14]
The Phone Calls
Ortiz's Internal Review: 60 Minutes Team Interviewed State And FBI Sources Related To “Eyewitness” Account. According to Oritz's internal review, 60 Minutes reporters investigated the “eyewitness,” a man named Dylan Davies, by speaking with his employers, the State Department, and the FBI, which had interviewed him previously:
Members of the 60 Minutes reporting team conducted interviews with Davies and other individuals in his book, including the doctor who received and treated Ambassador Stevens at the Benghazi hospital. They went to Davies' employer Blue Mountain, the State Department, the FBI (which had interviewed Davies), and other government agencies to ask about their investigations into the attack. Logan and producer Max McClellan told me they found no reason to doubt Davies' account and found no holes in his story. But the team did not sufficiently vet Davies' account of his own actions and whereabouts that night. [The Huffington Post, 11/26/13]
New York: "No Calls Were Made To The State Department Or The FBI Specifically To Vet Davies's Claims." According to Hagan's New York piece, the 60 Minutes piece was predominantly based on Dylan Davies' memoir, which was being published by an imprint of Simon & Schuster, which is a part of CBS Corporation. (This conflict of interest was not disclosed in the initial report, forcing CBS and Logan to apologize for the oversight.) Because they were relying on their sister company's book, "60 Minutes' usual fact-checking procedures were not followed" and “No calls were made to the State Department or the FBI specifically to vet Davies's claims”:
Though CBS has said the segment was a year in the making, the book, which Logan and McClellan had obtained in late spring 2013, would become the majority of the broadcast. Which is why it was unusual that the weekend the report aired, four months after getting the book, the 60 Minutes staff treated it like a breaking-news story being assembled in haste, working after hours to get it ready.
Fager delegated the details of vetting the piece to Owens, whom he'd groomed to be his successor at 60 Minutes but whom some CBS colleagues felt was stretched thin by his duties. Because of the short deadline, and because it was a book by a sister company, 60 Minutes' usual fact-checking procedures were not followed. No calls were made to the State Department or the FBI specifically to vet Davies's claims. [New York, 5/4/14]
The FBI Source
Ortiz's Internal Review: Reporters “With Better Access” To The FBI Could Have Learned About Problems In “Eyewitness” Account. According to Oritz's internal review, CBS could have known before the story aired that their supposed eyewitness, Dylan Davies, had given different accounts to the State Department and the FBI about his activities that night, but didn't because Logan's team didn't utilize “reporters and producers with better access to inside FBI sources”:
The fact that the FBI and the State Department had information that differed from the account Davies gave to 60 Minutes was knowable before the piece aired. But the wider reporting resources of CBS News were not employed in an effort to confirm his account. It's possible that reporters and producers with better access to inside FBI sources could have found out that Davies had given varying and conflicting accounts of his story. [The Huffington Post, 11/26/13]
New York: One Of Logan's Sources, Lindsey Graham, Had Access To FBI Information. According to Hagan's New York piece, Logan met several times with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) while working on the story, though Graham was never disclosed as a source in the original report or in the internal review. After criticism of her work emerged, Logan reportedly contacted Graham, who gave her insider details about the FBI's information, raising the questions: why did Logan not ask Graham to check with the FBI before her story aired, and why did Ortiz not uncover this connection during his investigation?:
At one point, Logan called Graham and asked for help. “She called afterward and basically said, 'What did he tell the FBI?' ” he recalls. “I've never seen the FBI interview, but I talked to the No. 2, who is now gone, and he said that he's looked at the interviews and the guy never mentioned this.” [New York, 5/4/14]
The Chicago Speech
Ortiz's Internal Review: Logan's Political Speech In Chicago Conflicted With “CBS News Standards.” Prior to the airing of the 60 Minutes report, Logan gave a speech in Chicago at the Better Government Association, which criticized the Obama administration's tactics toward Al Qaeda. According to Ortiz's internal review, Logan taking a “public position” on the same topics she was reporting on was a “conflict” and did not meet “CBS News Standards”:
In October of 2012, one month before starting work on the Benghazi story, Logan made a speech in which she took a strong public position arguing that the US Government was misrepresenting the threat from Al Qaeda, and urging actions that the US should take in response to the Benghazi attack. From a CBS News Standards perspective, there is a conflict in taking a public position on the government's handling of Benghazi and Al Qaeda, while continuing to report on the story. [The Huffington Post, 11/26/13]
New York: Logan's Bosses “Had Helped Arrange The Speech ... David Rhodes, The President Of CBS News, Was Sitting In The Audience Listening.” According to Hagan's New York piece, not only did Logan's bosses condone her political speech in Chicago, they helped arrange the event and were present in the audience:
Among her colleagues at 60 Minutes, there was shock that Logan's expression of her political opinions in public was met with no blowback from management. But it was her CBS bosses who had helped arrange the speech. While Logan spoke without notes, David Rhodes, the president of CBS News, was sitting in the audience listening. [New York, 5/4/14]
Open Questions Remain
In addition to inconsistencies, the New York magazine article also raises significant new questions that were not answered by Ortiz's internal report, including:
- According to the New York article, CBS News chairman and 60 Minutes executive producer Jeff Fager “delegated the details of vetting the piece to [executive editor Bill] Owens.” Ortiz's review did not mention Owens. Why not? What vetting, if any, did Owens do?
- Why was the position of an outside screener and standards director left unfilled, and why did senior CBS News executives not know? From New York:
[T]he senior vice-president of standards and practices, Linda Mason, whose job it was to bring outside scrutiny to any segment, had departed in early 2013, and Fager never replaced her. Logan was free to operate as she chose.
[CBS Chairman and CEO Les] Moonves expressed shock that Fager had not continued the practice of having an outside screener before airtime, the one-time role of Linda Mason, according to a person familiar with his comment. (That role has since gone to Ortiz.) [New York, 5/4/14]
- Did CBS know that Lindsey Graham was a major source for Logan? If yes, why is CBS relying on a partisan senator known for his fierce commitment to pushing falsehoods about Benghazi? Why did they not disclose Graham's link to the story?
- Who confirmed the FBI's account for CBS? Was it Lindsey Graham, who, according to the New York article, confirmed the account for Lara Logan?
From Ortiz's internal review: “On November 7, the New York Times informed Fager that the FBI's version of Davies' story differed from what he had told 60 Minutes. Within hours, CBS News was able to confirm that in the FBI's account of their interview.” [The Huffington Post, 11/26/13]
From New York: “At one point, Logan called Graham and asked for help. 'She called afterward and basically said, 'What did he tell the FBI?' ' he recalls. 'I've never seen the FBI interview, but I talked to the No. 2, who is now gone, and he said that he's looked at the interviews and the guy never mentioned this.'” [New York, 5/4/14]
- Why were no other 60 Minutes correspondents allowed to report on Benghazi? From New York:
"[Logan] had already begun searching for an angle. And while she did so, none of the other 60 Minutes correspondents was allowed to pursue stories on Benghazi. 'This was her story, and nobody could do anything on it,' says a 60 Minutes staffer." [New York, 5/4/14]
- Why was producer Max McClellan offered an “exclusive look” at Dylan Davies' book months before publication? Why was this portion of the origins of the story ignored by Ortiz's internal report?
From Ortiz's internal report: “From the start, Lara Logan and her producing team were looking for a different angle to the story of the Benghazi attack. They believed they found it in the story of Dylan Davies, written under the pseudonym, 'Morgan Jones'. It purported to be the first western eyewitness account of the attack.” [The Huffington Post, 11/26/13]
From New York: "Then, after months of Logan coming up empty, McClellan was offered an exclusive look at a book published by Threshold Editions, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Titled The Embassy House, it was written under a pseudonym: Morgan Jones, the cover for the former military contractor named Dylan Davies who purported to be an eyewitness to the Benghazi attack, complete with a ripping tale of smashing the face of an attacker with the butt of an AK-47 and seeing the dead body of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens in the hospital." [New York, 5/4/14]