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.

  • Chris Matthews

    She should be fired for this. Dan Rather got fired for less. Who cares where she ends up? She’s a hack journalist, and it’s high time we held the media to higher standards.

  • Jonathan Dunn

    typo = see “woship” above. feel free to delete this post. tx

  • Tort Master

    That quarter-billion-dollar wonder, The Intercept!

  • giantslor

    I bet she’ll end up at Fox News.

  • http://sonic.net/~ckelly/Seekay/mtbwelcome.htm RepackRider

    60 Minutes should require her to do an in-depth story on how she was deceived, who deceived her, for what reasons and by what means. Name names. Show the contradictions.

    If there is any justice. Not saying there is.

    • Terry Jefferson

      It would never happen. Such a piece would have to show their internal incompetence based on basic journalistic practices and second they would piss off and burn (never to be used again) Graham as a source for anything in the future.

  • Kerry Reid

    Honest question: when was the last time a broadcast journalist (network or cable) actually broke a story that really mattered AND was factually correct? (Not counting local news and consumer reports, etc., which I suppose still have “news you can use” utility for their viewers.) I just don’t understand what value they actually bring to the table anymore.

    The old reporter’s bromide is “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” Obviously that hasn’t been true at a lot of print outlets, either (HELLO, Judith Miller!), but I haven’t viewed “60 Minutes” or CNN or even MSNBC as actual investigative news organs worthy of consideration in years. So why are they still around?

    • Tort Master

      MSNBC and Chris Christie? That’s recent and very big. I think Christie owes his downfall to a Saturday morning show on MSNBC. That’s actually pretty epic.
      There’s also the fact that the EPA and state regulatory agencies have worked hard to clean the air and water, so there’s fewer breaking stories on that front, although West Virginia and Duke Energy beg to differ.
      Also, President Obama has been spotless. No Bush-like warrant-less wiretaps and fake WMDs, no Reagan Iran Contra, no Watergate, no nothing.
      Why isn’t 60 Minutes going after Republican Governors who are killing their residents by refusing to Expand Medicaid? Voting Rights issues?

      • Kerry Reid

        Was MSNBC the original team to uncover that or was that from within NJ media sources? I honestly don’t remember, though I will grant you that they did a good job amplifying and staying on-task with it. An actual scandal, for a change! ;)

        And yes, I think part of why the media as a whole are so disenchanted with Obama is that he HAS been so boring in terms of personal scandals in particular. I suspect that they thought that if the first “black president” (you know, Clinton!) was so incapable of controlling his, um, appetites, then surely the REAL first black president would be a goldmine of scandals. Because you know how THOSE PEOPLE are. I mean, he’s gonna go all Angry Black Man and do something impulsive and shocking any day now, right? That’s the societal narrative so how dare he defy it?

        I was at j-school at Mizzou back when Jesse Jackson ran in 1984. He was a guest speaker during his campaign for Journalism Week and he made a point of talking about the expected imagery of candidates. “You know, you pick up Time or Newsweek and you see Walter Mondale — pondering an old idea. (Chin on hands, gazing one direction). Or Gary Hart — pondering a new idea. (Chin on hands, gazing other direction). Or you see Jesse” — and here Jackson put up his fists and made a grimace of anger.

        And of course that is the point when all the photojournalists started shooting him. Handily proving him right.

  • Victor_the_Crab

    Holy fucking shit! Lara Logan consulted with that scumbag, Lindsey Graham, about what she was doing? Why would anybody with a brain even remotely take her seriously after that? If her next gig isn’t at Fox News, then it might as well be with The Blaze.

    • angelicvh

      Actually Fox is a credible as anyother news source. Victor I would suggest if you are truly trying to be factual and not tout a line, do some research. I did and it surprized me!

      • Victor_the_Crab

        Uh, no! Fox News has done far too much lying for too long for me to take them seriously.

      • Tort Master

        Haha!

  • muselet

    Lara Logan is the female equivalent of an empty suit: physically attractive but having no skills relevant to her position and, ultimately, utterly incompetent.. The shades of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite will haunt Les Moonves and Jeff Fager for the rest of their miserable lives if they let Logan back on the air.

    –alopecia

  • RenoRick

    C’mon Chez! She’ll end up with a gig at Fox! Or she’ll be welcomed with open arms by the wingnut welfare machine. Her career is not over, that’s for sure…

  • D_C_Wilson

    The missing piece I still don’t understand is what was Logan’s motive for such shuddy journalism? Was ideology or just the naked ambition to be the one who gets the juicy scoop first?

    • Neddy Merrill

      Logans’ husband was involved with right wing agitprop during the Iraq war. I’m
      guessing she shares hubbies worldview.

      Media Matters has the poop, http://mediamatters.org/blog/2013/11/23/newsweek-was-lara-logans-husband-involved-in-60/197037

    • trgahan

      I would not be surprised if it is the latter fueled by the former.

      The right wing media infotainment complex is always looking for TV media talent willing to present the conservative party line as news. It is just too lucrative and easy a path that I really can’t blame people who take the Faustian deal.

      Let us face it there is no progressive media analog to this situation.

  • Schneibster

    It probably wouldn’t have helped to know the signs of lying; really good liars study how to avoid tipping off the mark.

    This of course is the fruits of firing Rather for telling the truth. I haven’t trusted CBS since they rolled over for that Republican chode.

  • http://pfoct.blogspot.com/ James Knauer

    Someone please tell Rep. Gowdy, not that it will do any good.

    http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/trey-gowdy-select-committee-benghazi

  • Neddy Merrill

    According to the article the CBS CEO, Les Moonves, “has soured on” LL and
    “attractive blond, fluent in three foreign languages” Clarissa Ward “is
    waiting in the wings.”

    I’m rooting for the new glamor puss.

    • Christopher Foxx

      I suppose that’s the other thing that could knock Logan off for good. Not just that CBS needn’t worry about her getting a job at a competitor, but that CBS has a replacement so “who needs her?”

  • Bubble Genius

    Fire them all. Incompetence has become the norm. Nobody thinks it’s their job to do their fucking job. It’s a wonder they can dress themselves in the morning.

    • Christopher Foxx

      Nobody thinks it’s their job to do their fucking job

      On the contrary. Their job isn’t to inform and act as a counter to political power any more. Their job is to generate revenue. And they’re doing that fucking well.

      • Bubble Genius

        Their stated job is to report the news accurately. I’m so sick of money being the bottom line for everything.

        • Christopher Foxx

          I know that’s what they say it is. It may even be what a lot of them believe it is.

          But that’s not really what it’s actually been for a while.