CBS News says it is conducting a “journalistic review” of its flawed, retracted report on the September 2012 Benghazi attacks. The parameters of that review will demonstrate whether the network is truly interested in determining how 60 Minutes broadcast such a flawed report.
Journalism veterans and media observers have savaged the network in recent days for showing little interest in publicly coming to grips with the key questions surrounding their October 27 story. Instead the network has offered an inadequate “correction” of their report, which featured Dylan Davies, a purported “witness” to the attacks who the network knew had told two contradictory accounts of what he did that night.
Earlier today, McClatchy's Nancy Youssef reported that a CBS spokesman had told her the network is conducting a “journalistic review” into the retracted story. A network spokesman subsequently told Media Matters, “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.
Media Matters founder David Brock, who was first to call for an independent investigation of the segment, issued this statement in response to the news:
I'm glad to see CBS take this step. An ongoing review means the network acknowledges that a serious journalistic transgression occurred. As I said in my original letter to CBS, it should be an objective, thorough review and the results should be made public.
CBS News first acknowledged that they no longer had full confidence in Davies' story on November 7. But the network has since denied that a review is underway, with The New York Times reporting after correspondent Lara Logan issued an on-air apology for the report that CBS News chairman and “60 Minutes” executive producer Jeff Fager “has not ordered an investigation,” and that a spokesman “indicated that the program was going to let its televised apology be its last word on the issue.”
But if CBS is conducting a review of the segment, three questions are of paramount importance: Who will be conducting the review? How much access will the reviewers have to the key decision makers? And will the results of the investigation be made public?
The answers to those questions will demonstrate whether the network is genuinely interested in publicly explaining what went wrong with the report, or simply trying to shore up their faltering credibility while protecting those that were at fault.
CBS News has acknowledged that this is the network's greatest failure since their 2004 60 Minutes II report about President Bush's Air National Guard service. In response to criticism surrounding that story, the network convened an independent panel co-chaired by 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.” After three months of reviewing reporter notes, emails, and draft scripts, and conducting dozens of interviews, that panel produced a 234-page report.
Here's how that report described the role of the program's executive producer:
At 60 Minutes Wednesday, the Executive Producer and Senior Broadcast Producer are ultimately responsible for the production of the stories that are broadcast. They work closely with correspondents and producers to identify and develop stories. They also are responsible for determining the appropriate amount of vetting that a segment needs before it is ready for broadcast.
That's why it would be problematic for CBS News to conduct an internal review of their Benghazi segment: The executive producer of 60 Minutes, Jeff Fager, is also the chairman of CBS News. There's simply no way to expect a credible review from CBS News personnel who know they could face consequences for the results of their investigation.