I considered doing a post today that would be titled something like “10 Things That Lasted Longer Than 60 Minutes Apology for Its Benghazi Story,” but I figure after last week I should probably keep things straightforward at least for a little while.
And here it is, as straightforward as it can be: 60 Minutes screwed the pooch big time last night, making an already bad situation much worse. The show’s official “apology” for what amounted to a truly monumental fuck-up on its part was anemic and unsatisfying, a cheap dodge that addressed the undeniable fact that “mistakes were made” without actually explaining to anyone how they were made and what’s going to be done about it moving forward.
Last week I said that there’s a good chance Lara Logan won’t be fired over this and I still believe that. It doesn’t mean, however, that both she and her producer, Max McClellan, shouldn’t be fired. Through either gross negligence or outright malice — we don’t know at this point because, again, no one’s talking — they went to air with a story that essentially accused the Obama administration of lying to the American people. That story was based almost entirely on the word of a supposed witness to the Benghazi siege who wasn’t, in fact, a witness at all. He was a bullshit artist who told a story he was paid handsomely for by a publishing company that was a conservative-leaning imprint of Simon & Schuster, which is owned by CBS. The whole thing stinks, regardless of whatever political beliefs you happen to espouse, and there are so many questions out there to which the public deserves answers.
The 90 seconds at the end of last night’s 60 Minutes broadcast in which Lara Logan said for the second time that she, the show, and the network were sorry for having supposedly been duped doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of a proper reaction. At this point, an apology isn’t what’s necessary — what’s necessary is a full-throated explanation. Contrast the 60 Minutes response to its screw-up with that of NPR’s This American Life, which ran a story last year on the making of Apple products in China that contained, as the show admitted, “significant fabrications.” This American Life took a full hour to reexamine the story and to dig deeply into and make fully transparent its own processes that led to the mistake. Why did the show do this? Because it took the mistake seriously and understood the kind of legacy it could have on the way its journalism was interpreted moving forward. It wanted to not only apologize but to prove that it was taking the necessary steps to make the wrong things right.
60 Minutes, meanwhile, probably the most venerated news programs that’s ever existed, spent a minute-and-a-half saying it was sorry. That’s it. It spent almost two full weeks stridently defending its reporting and its source, Dylan Davies — its sanctimony and silence the hallmarks of a kind of journalistic arrogance — then proved that it didn’t take the criticism being leveled against it the least bit seriously by barely conceding it had made the kind of mistake that should tarnish its reputation for years to come. As I said on Friday, scandal doesn’t stick these days — our attention spans are simply too short and we’re not willing to fixate on anything for any length of time — and if 60 Minutes doesn’t begin explaining what happened and firing those responsible, it will likely prove that the show and CBS News in general know this and plan to cynically exploit it for their own benefit.
We deserve more — and better. And so does journalism.