On October 27, CBS' flagship news program 60 Minutes aired a segment on the 2012 terror attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. The report was quickly seized on by conservative media outlets and Republican lawmakers for supposedly having validated their 14 month-long quest to turn Benghazi into a Watergate-level political scandal for the Obama administration.
12 days later, 60 Minutes pulled the report, apologized to viewers, and corrected the record on-air. A month after the initial report ran, CBS News announced that following an internal review, the correspondent and producer who helmed the segment would be taking an indefinite leave of absence from the program.
Here's what happened.
60 Minutes' Benghazi report aired the night of October 27. The segment featured the supposed “eyewitness” account of the attacks from British security contractor Dylan Davies, who appeared on the show under the pseudonym “Morgan Jones.”
Davies' tale included him scaling a 12 foot wall on the side of the diplomatic compound and dispatching a terrorist with his rifle butt. He also told viewers about how he had supposedly seen Ambassador Chris Stevens' dead body in a local hospital.
In addition to Davies' story, the 60 Minutes report also rehashed old myths about Benghazi, including invoking the “lingering question” about why no U.S. military forces from outside the country were able to help the embattled diplomatic facilities the night of the attacks. (This was answered long ago.)
The night it aired, conservatives took to Twitter to praise CBS. Fox News contributor Monica Crowley lauded the network for joining Fox News “among the very, very few reporting on this grave & outrageous scandal.” Fellow Fox News contributor Jonah Goldberg also connected CBS' work to Fox's reporting on Benghazi, tweeting “This 60 Minutes #benghazi piece corroborates pretty much everything #foxnews has reported so far."
The morning after the 60 Minutes report aired, Fox News hit the ground running promoting it. Over the course of Monday, October 28, Fox would devote more than 13 segments over 11 different shows to the CBS report, totaling more than 47 minutes of coverage.
Much of Fox's coverage was self-congratulatory, claiming the CBS report had corroborated their network's coverage of Benghazi. Bret Baier, host of Fox's flagship news show Special Report, told viewers that "[l]ast night, one of journalism's heavy hitters reaffirmed what we knew and had reported on." Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy praised CBS for “finally catching up” to conservative media on the story and proclaimed, "60 Minutes doesn't cover phony scandals." The network also predictably used the 60 Minutes story to revive its smear campaign against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over Benghazi.
Of course, Fox wasn't the only conservative outlet to run with the 60 Minutes segment. It was picked up by, among others, The 700 Club, Breitbart.com, Glenn Beck's The Blaze, and many other conservative blogs.
Following the CBS report, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham appeared on Fox News and announced that he planned to hold up all presidential nominations until Benghazi witnesses are made available for questioning by Congress. Graham also used an appearance on CNN to proclaim that the CBS report proved the administration's account of the Benghazi attacks “doesn't have an ounce of truth in it.”
Republican Virginia Congressman Frank Wolf released a statement using the CBS report as evidence that Congress needs to form a special congressional committee to investigate Benghazi.
Other Republican lawmakers, including Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, also promoted the CBS report.
Amid all this praise by conservative media and Republican lawmakers, Davies' book The Embassy House, which featured his dramatic story, was released on October 29.
But nestled among the fulsome praise of the 60 Minutes segment by Fox News, conservative media, and Republican lawmakers was a major warning sign: On the 28th, Fox correspondent Adam Housley reported on-air that the network had previously spoken with Davies about Benghazi several times, but “stopped speaking to him when he asked for money.”
The night of October 31, The Washington Post reported that Davies' account in his book and on CBS differed greatly from an incident report he had filed with his security contractor employer, Blue Mountain, three days after the attack.
According to the Post, the incident report stated that Davies “could not get anywhere near” the compound the night of the attack, and that he found out about Ambassador Stevens' death not by finding him in a local hospital, but from a Libyan colleague.
In a statement to the Post, CBS gave the first hint of the intransigence that would mark their response to the implosion of the 60 Minutes report, telling the paper that the network “stand[s] firmly by the story we broadcast last Sunday.”
But outside of CBS, criticism of the 60 Minutes report was growing. In interviews with Media Matters, several journalism veterans and media ethicists questioned the “serious problem” with the CBS report.
On November 1, Media Matters founder and chairman David Brock, citing the dubious nature of Davies' accounts of the night of the attacks, called on CBS to retract its story and form an independent investigative committee to “probe all aspects of how the story was reported.”
In a November 2 interview with Daily Beast writers Eli Lake and Josh Rogin, Davies painted himself as “just a little man against some big people here.” According to Lake and Rogin, Davies “believed there was a coordinated campaign to smear him,” and asserted that the account he gave to the FBI and the State Department following the attacks comported with what he wrote in his book and told 60 Minutes. Davies claimed he had not written the incident report that threw his story into question and that he had lied to his boss to cover up the fact that he had disobeyed orders.
On November 5, CBS “aggressively defended” its reporting again in comments to The New York Times. Though Lara Logan conceded that 60 Minutes should have disclosed that Davies' book was being published by CBS-owned Simon & Schuster, according to the Times, she "attributed the critical response to the report to the intense political warfare that has surrounded the episode."
The Times report also included a statement from Davies via Threshold Editions, the Simon & Schuster imprint that released the book, claiming: “The account in my book is consistent with what I gave to the F.B.I. and U.S. authorities about what happened in Benghazi.”
The same day, Media Matters interviewed Louis Boccardi, the former Associated Press CEO and president who was in charge of investigating a problematic 2004 60 Minutes story on George W. Bush's National Guard service. According to Boccardi, one of the main lessons of his investigations was to quickly get to the bottom of stories like this and “get the facts -- and get them quickly -- and put 'em out.”
On November 6, 60 Minutes executive producer and CBS News Chairman Jeff Fager told The Huffington Post's Michael Calderone that he's “proud” of the 60 Minutes report and " 'confident' the sources appearing on the Oct. 27 broadcast 'told accurate versions of what happened that night.' " Fager also gave the same statement to CNN.
CNN raised questions about CBS' reporting. Wolf Blitzer said there were “serious concerns” about the report and chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto said there were “still some questions, certainly, to be answered here.”
CBS' defense of its report finally completely collapsed on the evening of November 7.
The New York Times reported that Davies “gave the F.B.I. an account of the night that terrorists attacked the mission on Sept. 11, 2012 that contradicts a version of events he provided in a recently published book and in an interview” with 60 Minutes.
CBS told the Times that it was “surprised to hear about this, and if it shows we've been misled, we will make a correction.” It also posted a statement on its website reading: “60 Minutes has learned of new information that undercuts the account told to us by Morgan Jones of his actions on the night of the attack on the Benghazi compound. We are currently looking into this serious matter to determine if he misled us, and if so, we will make a correction.”
60 Minutes executive producer Jeff Fager said in a November 8 statement to The Daily Beast: “CBS news confirmed with our own sources at the FBI that the story he told the FBI was not in agreement with what we were told.”
CBS pulled the report from its website and YouTube channel that night. Simon & Schuster also released a statement saying that it plans to review the book and take “appropriate action” regarding its publication status.
CBS issued an apology on the November 8 edition of CBS This Morning. Lara Logan said: “We were wrong. We made a mistake.” She added of Dylan Davies: “We were wrong to put him on air, and we apologize to our viewers.” Logan added 60 Minutes “will correct the record on our broadcast on Sunday night.”
On November 8, Simon & Schuster imprint Threshold Editions announced it was pulling Davies' book from publication.
On the November 10 edition of 60 Minutes, Logan offered a 90-second apology at the end of the program, telling viewers “we are very sorry” for having included Davies in their Benghazi report.
The reaction to the apology from media observers was withering. Commentators, media experts, and journalism experts have labeled it “pathetically inadequate,” “bogus,” and “flimsy,” with several pointing out that it left numerous important questions unanswered.
After the November 10 segment aired, Media Matters founder David Brock labeled the apology “wholly inadequate” and again called on CBS to appoint an independent commission to investigate how the story ended up on the air.
With questions swirling about what CBS was hiding and who they were protecting by failing to address their mistakes in a transparent fashion, the network finally acknowledged that they were conducting a review of its flawed, retracted report.
In a November 13 statement, a network spokesperson said that “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. The spokesperson's statement contradicted previous reports that the network planned to make 60 Minutes' 90-second apology its last word on the subject.
Media Matters' Brock responded in a statement that he was “glad to see CBS take this step” because an investigation indicated that “the network acknowledges that a serious journalistic transgression occurred.” He called on the network to ensure that it was “an objective, thorough review and the results should be made public.”
Later the same day, a new challenge to the report indicated that the “journalistic review” would have much ground to cover. McClatchy News Middle East Bureau Chief Nancy Youssef issued an extensive report from the region calling into question several claims Logan had issued during the 60 Minutes segment.
On November 14, the story took yet another bizarre turn. The Daily Beast's Lake reported that Davies had “disappeared” after sending an email to an executive at Simon & Schuster (the publisher of his book) on November 8 -- the morning after CBS pulled their report. In the email, Davies reportedly claimed he had received a threat to his family five days before -- the day after his previous 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.”
In response to Lake's story, Slate's David Weigel revealed that he had sought an interview with Davies on November 7 but had been turned down because, the publisher claimed, Davies was undergoing cancer surgery. “Maybe he did!” commented Weigel. “Maybe he was at home as late as Nov. 3, sending emails on Nov. 8, but laid up from surgery on Nov. 7. Also possible: He is the King Midas of truthless BS, and everything he touches ends up being misleading.”
Simon & Schuster appeared to have bet on the latter; hours after they reportedly received the email, they announced that they had withdrawn Davies' book from publication and recommended that bookstores take it off their shelves.
On November 15, Politico reported that Al Ortiz, an executive producer at CBS News, was conducting the “journalistic review” into the 60 Minutes segment.
Media observers quickly pointed out that this arrangement was problematic because Ortiz reports to Fager, who as chairman of CBS News and executive producer of 60 Minutes played a key role in the failure. The media news programs on both CNN and Fox News hammered CBS for failing to conduct an impartial, independent investigation.
Meanwhile, Newsweek raised even more questions about the report, suggesting that Logan's husband -- a former employee of a firm that planted “pro-U.S. stories in the Iraqi media in 2005” -- may have been involved in the flawed report.
Fager announced on November 26 that Logan and her producer, Max McClellan, had agreed to his request to take a leave of absence in response to Ortiz's internal report on the Benghazi segment. Fager wrote in staff memo, which was obtained by Calderone: “When faced with a such an error, we must use it as an opportunity to make our broadcast even stronger. We are making adjustments at 60 Minutes to reduce the chances of it happening again.”
In a “summary of findings” distributed to CBS News staff and also obtained by Calderone, Ortiz described Logan's report as “deficient in several respects,” and found that her “team did not sufficiently vet Davies' account of his own actions and whereabouts that night.”
Ortiz also noted that Davies' book on his Benghazi experiences, The Embassy House, "was published by Threshold Editions, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, part of the CBS Corporation. 60 Minutes erred in not disclosing that connection in the segment."
“From the start of this controversy, Media Matters has demanded that CBS review the flawed 60 Minutes report and take appropriate action,” responded David Brock in a statement. “Today, the network has done that. We hope this serves as a lesson learned to CBS about the danger of misinformation.”
*This timeline has been updated to reflect new events.