The Surprising (and Not So Surprising) Details of How Lara Logan Botched That “60 Minutes” Benghazi Story
Last night, New York magazine published a hell of a piece on Lara Logan and the 60 Minutes screw-up that threatens to tank her career at CBS for good. I realize that when Logan’s Benghazi story first blew up in her face last November I wrote that CBS would do everything in its power to keep her, given that she was a star at the network and one whose beauty and clout put her in a unique position of near-indestructibility as a valuable asset to a news organization. But there was always one thing that could happen that would throw that out the window. If other outlets began looking hard into the story of just what went down at 60 Minutes — what led to an editorial disaster of that magnitude being allowed to make it to air — it might permanently taint Logan by revealing that her mistake was the result of her own recklessness.
That’s what could be happening right now. The New York piece digs deeply into the details of just how security contractor Dylan Davies managed to put one over on the most venerated television news show in the country — also how Logan initially got away with making unsourced assertions about what happened in Benghazi — and what it reveals at various points is incompetence, confirmation bias and good old-fashioned political skulduggery.
On the subject of Davies — whose account of the Benghazi attack, you’ll remember, was about to be released in a book being published by a CBS-owned Simon & Schuster imprint — here’s what writer Joe Hagan claims played out:
(60 Minutes chief) Jeff Fager delegated the details of vetting the piece to [producer Bill] 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.
Logan’s own credulity, it seems, was the central pillar of the report. When asked why she found Davies’s account believable, Logan said that Davies was one of the “best guys you’ll ever meet” and a few minutes with him would convince anyone of his candor, according to a person familiar with her comments. And Davies’s tale of heroic special-forces operators being let down by politicians and bureaucrats thousands of miles from the front made sense in the world in which Logan had been living for the better part of a decade. And while that narrative cast might have raised eyebrows at the old CBS News, the politics in the post-Rather era were more complicated — McClellan leans more conservative than has been traditional at the show.
Here, then, was a convergence, the proverbial perfect storm: Fager had given Logan outsize power; Owens, Fager’s acolyte, didn’t ask the boss’s star the tough questions; and McClellan, a true-blue Logan loyalist, didn’t have the desire or the authority to bring Logan to heel. On top of that, the 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.
As it turned out, of course, Davies’s story was largely crap. He had given a different account to the U.S. government in the immediate aftermath of the attack but apparently since Logan trusted him — and since his narrative fit one that CBS felt might appease its conservative critics — nobody bothered to dig even a few inches beneath the surface of what he was selling. Remember that this is the same network that Sharyl Attkisson nebulously claims shut down her own pro-conservative reporting again and again.
But the New York story reveals another interesting detail about how the 60 Minutes Benghazi piece came together. According to Hagan, Logan actually consulted with Lindsey Graham on both the story she was doing and the attack on the embassy in Benghazi itself. If you watched Logan’s story and wondered how she was able to say for sure that Al Qaeda was behind the embassy attack, it’s apparently because she put the question of whether she could to Graham and, needless to say, he called it a “fair thing to say.” A reporter for CBS News didn’t simply fact-check a story with a political partisan who had something to gain from the report — remember, Graham went on to use Logan’s Benghazi story as a platform from which to grandstand on the issue — she took his word on a news event in general without ever imagining a possible conflict of interest.
Lara Logan and her producer Max McClellan have been off-the-air at CBS for six months. But as the New York piece clearly shows and as I’ve been saying for some time now, CBS loves Logan. The network suits worship her to the point where they’ve let her get away with errors and behavior that others would’ve been thrown out on their asses for years ago, all because they think she’s a star — and one they don’t want to see at another network. Make no mistake: She can still come back to CBS. I don’t think she should be allowed to, but it’s still possible because it’s still possible she can salvage her career at another network. And as long as that’s in the cards, CBS will be afraid to let her go. But who knows, maybe the shine really has worn off on Logan, finally.