CBS News: Defending “60 Minutes” Brand after Flawed Benghazi Report

In any business, your reputation is paramount. Whether it’s excellent food, a quality automobile, exceptional customer service or simply a smile when pouring another cup of coffee, your image makes and breaks your success. And once you lose the trust of the consumer, your colleagues and peers, you might as well consider another line of work. You more often than not either won’t survive or will own an irreparably damaged brand.

CBS News has long been a standard bearer when it comes to integrity in news coverage, dating back to the Edward R. Murrow days, thru the Walter Cronkite Era and taken into this century with the hard hitting reporting of Mike Wallace. Granted, they are at times like every other broadcast news network and must plead guilty to occasional bouts of hyperbole and seeking more flash than facts. That’s called “making a profit”, something every business strives for. But CBS News, and especially their “60 Minutes” brand, has a long history of factual reporting. In the eyes of many in the broadcast news industry, there is no greater standard-bearer for news integrity than “60 Minutes”.

And when that integrity is challenged, whether it’s CBS News, “60 Minutes”, your business or your personal reputation, you absolutely must move swiftly and decisively to correct the situation. If you dawdle, you cost yourself much more than just profit.

Veteran reporter Lara Logan, who has an excellent reputation for reliable sources, presented a story on “60 Minutes” that questioned what really happened in the deadly Benghazi attacks. She brought forth an “eyewitness” to events who cast plenty of doubt on specific Government assertions about the attack and the murderous aftermath. Here’s the complete story as it appeared on “60 Minutes”:

 

But it turns out upon closer review, the person Logan interviewed for the story and based the story on wasn’t telling the truth. And it didn’t take long for question to be raised about the authenticity of his story. Here’s how the “Los Angeles Times” covered this part of the story (the entire story with links can be read here at the LA Times):

Looks like “60 Minutes” is getting ready to walk away from at least part of Lara Logan‘s controversial Benghazi report.

 The CBS newsmagazine featured a segment last month about the deadly attack on the U.S. mission in Libya, which happened on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The CBS newsmagazine and Logan herself had been staunchly defending the segment for days against critics who argued that a key source — British security expert Dylan Davies, a.k.a. “Morgan Jones” — may not have been telling the truth. But late Thursday, the network acknowledged problems with Davies’ story.

“’60 Minutes’ has learned of new information that undercuts the account told to us by Morgan Jones of his actions on the night of the attack on the Benghazi compound,” CBS said in a statement. “We are currently looking into this serious matter to determine if he misled us, and if so, we will make a correction.”

A “60 Minutes” spokesman declined to elaborate. But reports elsewhere said that Davies had told the FBI previously that he did not visit the U.S. compound on the night of the attacks. That contradicted his interview with correspondent Logan, in which he said he barged his way into the mission during a ferocious battle and found the body of American ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. Overall, his story was used to buttress CBS’ implication that top U.S. officials downplayed the terrorism threat in Benghazi prior to the attacks and failed to protect or rescue personnel there once the situation grew dire. When it aired, CBS said it spent months reporting the story.

Management didn’t wait when discovering the possible errors, and they told Logan that as the reporter, charged with insuring every detail to be true, she would have to be the face of the mistake and issue a public apology on the “CBS Morning News”:

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The apology was never meant to be the final fallout. Logan and her producer got an unscheduled vacation:

Lara Logan, producer ordered to take leave in aftermath of ’60 Minutes’ Benghazi reporting scandal

CBS takes action after an internal review of the handling of an Oct. 27 story, which interviewed a security contractor who said he was at the U.S. mission in Libya the night it was attacked in 2012, but questions surfaced over his credibility.

By David Hinckley / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

(THE ENTIRE STORY WITH LINKS CAN BE READ HERE AT THE NY DAILY NEWS)

Lara Logan issues an on-air correction on a story ‘60 Minutes’ first broadcast on Oct. 27 about the attack on the American Special Mission compound in Benghazi. A key source was later discovered to have lied about his whereabouts at the time of the attack.

An embarrassed CBS News Tuesday sent reporter Lara Logan on a leave of absence in the wake of her discredited “60 Minutes” report on the Benghazi attack.

CBS News Chairman Jeff Fager called the report “a regrettable mistake.” He said Logan and her producer, Max McLellan, had been asked to take the leaves of absence and had agreed to do so.

There was no indication how long they will last.

In a CBS memo obtained by the Huffington Post, Fager also said, “As executive producer (of ’60 Minutes’), 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.”

CBS’s internal sanction follows on-air apologies by both Logan and the show.

 

The CBS News internal review found more than a few flaws in the manner with which this story was vetted and presented:

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.

Al Ortiz
Executive Director of Standards and Practices
CBS News

CBS News took the proper action. Logan is no news neophyte, and she will recover. Her personal brand will for a time carry a stigma, that of someone who rushed a story to air and failed to check, check and check again. Her producer also bears the same stigma, but because he’s not in front of the camera won’t suffer so publicly. Still, both will have to do some serious fence mending to their news reputations.

“60 Minutes” management, much like any other employer, must instill a level of trust in the employees, and they must carry it forward at all times. Anything less would severely damage the necessary rapport between manager and worker. They trusted Logan and her producer, and thus did not feel the need to roll over the report with a fine-tooth comb. It won’t be the same ever again for Logan and her producer, who for the rest of their careers will be second-guessed at some level. They have their professional reputation work cut out for them.

INTELLIGENCE: NO ONE IS PERFECT. PEOPLE MAKE MISTAKES. WHEN YOU DO, DO NOT FOR ONE INSTANT CONSIDER COVERING IT UP. COME CLEAN. TAKE THE HEAT AND OWN UP TO YOUR MISTAKE IMMEDIATELY. YOUR BRAND WILL SUFFER, BUT THE DAMAGE WILL BE IRREPARABLE IF YOU TRY TO HIDE WHAT YOU DID. PEOPLE WILL FORGIVE, BUT ONLY IF YOU SHOW INTEGRITY IN APOLOGIZING. AND OF COURSE, MAKE DAMN SURE YOU NEVER SCREW UP LIKE THIS EVER AGAIN, BECAUSE SOME SECOND CHANCES ARE SCARCE OR NON-EXISTENT IN OUR CURRENT SOCIETY.

2018-01-01T01:16:57+00:00