In keeping with this time of the year, it’s a good old-fashioned turkey bloodletting in TV news today.
Not only is Alec Baldwin reportedly fired from MSNBC, but Lara Logan and her producer Max McClellan have been put on a forced leave-of-absence from CBS in the wake of last month’s horribly botched 60 Minutes story on Benghazi.
Here’s the official word, in its entirety:
“By now most of you have received the report from Al Ortiz about the problems with the 60 Minutes story on Benghazi.
There is a lot to learn from this mistake for the entire organization. We have rebuilt CBS News in a way that has dramatically improved our reporting abilities. Ironically 60 Minutes, which has been a model for those changes, fell short by broadcasting a now discredited account of an important story, and did not take full advantage of the reporting abilities of CBS News that might have prevented it from happening.
As a result, I have asked Lara Logan, who has distinguished herself and has put herself in harm’s way many times in the course of covering stories for us, to take a leave of absence, which she has agreed to do. I have asked the same of producer Max McClellan, who also has a distinguished career at CBS News.
As Executive Producer, I am responsible for what gets on the air. I pride myself in catching almost everything, but this deception got through and it shouldn’t have.
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.
There is a lot of pride at CBS News. Every broadcast is working hard to live up to the high standard set at CBS News for excellence in reporting. This was a regrettable mistake. But there are many fine professionals at 60 Minutes who produce some of the very best of broadcast journalism, covering the important and interesting stories of our times, and they will continue to do so each and every Sunday.
Chairman, CBS News
Executive Producer, 60 Minutes
And here, according to CBS News, is what their internal investigation uncovered:
SUMMARY OF FINDINGS
My review found that the Benghazi story aired by 60 Minutes on October 27 was deficient in several respects:
–From the start, Lara Logan and her producing team were looking for a different angle to the story of the Benghazi attack. They believed they found it in the story of Dylan Davies, written under the pseudonym, “Morgan Jones”. It purported to be the first western eyewitness account of the attack. But Logan’s report went to air without 60 Minutes knowing what Davies had told the FBI and the State Department about his own activities and location on the night of the attack.
–The fact that the FBI and the State Department had information that differed from the account Davies gave to 60 Minutes was knowable before the piece aired. But the wider reporting resources of CBS News were not employed in an effort to confirm his account. It’s possible that reporters and producers with better access to inside FBI sources could have found out that Davies had given varying and conflicting accounts of his story.
–Members of the 60 Minutes reporting team conducted interviews with Davies and other individuals in his book, including the doctor who received and treated Ambassador Stevens at the Benghazi hospital. They went to Davies’ employer Blue Mountain, the State Department, the FBI (which had interviewed Davies), and other government agencies to ask about their investigations into the attack. Logan and producer Max McClellan told me they found no reason to doubt Davies’ account and found no holes in his story. But the team did not sufficiently vet Davies’ account of his own actions and whereabouts that night.
–Davies told 60 Minutes that he had lied to his own employer that night about his location, telling Blue Mountain that he was staying at his villa, as his superior ordered him to do, but telling 60 Minutes that he then defied that order and went to the compound. This crucial point – his admission that he had not told his employer the truth about his own actions – should have been a red flag in the editorial vetting process.
–After the story aired, the Washington Post reported the existence of a so-called “incident report” that had been prepared by Davies for Blue Mountain in which he reportedly said he spent most of the night at his villa, and had not gone to the hospital or the mission compound. Reached by phone, Davies told the 60 Minutes team that he had not written the incident report, disavowed any knowledge of it, and insisted that the account he gave 60 Minutes was word for word what he had told the FBI. Based on that information and the strong conviction expressed by the team about their story, Jeff Fager defended the story and the reporting to the press.
–On November 7, the New York Times informed Fager that the FBI’s version of Davies’ story differed from what he had told 60 Minutes. Within hours, CBS News was able to confirm that in the FBI’s account of their interview, Davies was not at the hospital or the mission compound the night of the attack. 60 Minutes announced that a correction would be made, that the broadcast had been misled, and that it was a mistake to include Davies in the story. Later a State Department source also told CBS News that Davies had stayed at his villa that night and had not witnessed the attack.
–Questions have been raised about the recent pictures from the compound which were displayed at the end of the report, including a picture of Ambassador Stevens’ schedule for the day after the attack. Video taken by the producer-cameraman whom the 60 Minutes team sent to the Benghazi compound last month clearly shows that the pictures of the Technical Operations Center were authentic, including the picture of the schedule in the debris.
–Questions have also been raised about the role of Al Qaeda in the attack since Logan declared in the report that Al Qaeda fighters had carried it out. Al Qaeda’s role is the subject of much disagreement and debate. While Logan had multiple sources and good reasons to have confidence in them, her assertions that Al Qaeda carried out the attack and controlled the hospital were not adequately attributed in her report.
–In October of 2012, one month before starting work on the Benghazi story, Logan made a speech in which she took a strong public position arguing that the US Government was misrepresenting the threat from Al Qaeda, and urging actions that the US should take in response to the Benghazi attack. From a CBS News Standards perspective, there is a conflict in taking a public position on the government’s handling of Benghazi and Al Qaeda, while continuing to report on the story.
–The book, written by Davies and a co-author, 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.
Executive Director of Standards and Practices
These last two points are obviously the most important — and the penultimate one could be what CBS will use to eventually hang Logan for good. I still maintain that the network will bend over backward to do anything in its power to keep Logan because, from a strictly business perspective, she’s a star player they don’t want going to the competition; if she’s going to redeem herself, and she will eventually, better she do it under their tent. But certainly CBS News is admitting to all the problems with the Benghazi report that others have spent weeks uncovering and pointing out.
In a just and ethical world, no way Logan or McClellan keep their jobs. But TV news is hardly just or ethical these days, no matter how much it claims otherwise.
Chez Pazienza was the beating heart of The Daily Banter, sadly passing away on February 25, 2017. His voice remains ever present at the Banter, and his influence as powerful as ever.