November 8, 2013
Fox's Benghazi sourcing: Suspect? (ESAM OMRAN AL-FETORI / Reuters)
Fox’s Benghazi sourcing: Suspect? (ESAM OMRAN AL-FETORI / Reuters)

In her contrition today on “CBS This Morning,” Lara Logan discussed the credentials of the fellow, Dylan Davies, who had provided what now appears to be a bogus account about events at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya — an account that was featured on the Oct. 27 edition of “60 Minutes.” “He was the manager of the local guard force at the Benghazi special mission compound,” said Logan. He was employed by the Blue Mountain Group, a Britain-based private security contractor.

Now toggle back almost exactly one year. FoxNews.com reported on Nov. 3, 2012, that there was chaos milling around the diplomatic compound in the hours ahead of the fateful attack of that night, which got underway around 9:40 p.m. Benghazi time.

Some important context is required here. Days before this report hit the Internet, Fox News had published a thundering report on Benghazi. Among its allegations was that security forces near the consulate were told to “stand down” instead of rushing to help. From the story:

Fox News has learned from sources who were on the ground in Benghazi that an urgent request from the CIA annex for military back-up during the attack on the U.S. consulate and subsequent attack several hours later on the annex itself was denied by the CIA chain of command — who also told the CIA operators twice to “stand down” rather than help the ambassador’s team when shots were heard at approximately 9:40 p.m. in Benghazi on Sept. 11.

The CIA called foul on that contention: “There were no orders to anybody to stand down in providing support.” To the contrary, contended intelligence officials, security forces had rushed to help within a half-hour of getting a distress call.

A strong denial. Fox News wasn’t done, however. It published its Nov. 3 story to challenge the CIA’s pushback. The story alleged that, contrary to the official line, “armed militia was gathering up to three hours before the attack began.” Explosive stuff: If true, that would mean that the security backup should have been sent into the melee hours before it eventually was.

How did Fox News source the contention that trouble was brewing for hours? Let’s go to the text of correspondent Adam Housley’s Nov. 3 piece. There’s this:

But according to multiple people on the ground that night, the Blue Mountain Security manager, who was in charge of the local force hired to guard the consulate perimeter, made calls on both two-way radios and cell phones to colleagues in Benghazi warning of problems at least an hour earlier. Those calls allegedly went to local security contractors who say that the CIA annex was also notified much earlier than 9:40 p.m. U.S. military intelligence also told Fox News that armed militia was gathering up to three hours before the attack began.

Yes, “the Blue Mountain Security manager.” And there’s this:

Both American and British sources say multiple roadblocks set up by fighters believed to be with Ansar al-Sharia were in place in Benghazi several hours before the 9:40 p.m. timeline and that communications also alluded to “heavily armed troops showing up with artillery.” Fox News was told by both American and British contacts who were in Benghazi that night that the CIA timeline rolled out this past week is only “loosely based on the truth” and “doesn’t quite add up.”

After the “60 Minutes” investigation aired — and before it was debunked — Housley appeared on air to discuss how CBS’s work supported the reporting of Fox News:

[S]ome of our reports for FoxNews.com last fall included this ’60 Minutes’ witness’s account. He spoke to me on the phone a number of times, and then we stopped speaking to him when he asked for money. But what he does do in his ’60 Minutes’ appearance last night is once again kind of reaffirm the fact that this attack was vicious. That it was pre-planned. That they knew from the very beginnings of this attack this was not some random situation, this was a pre-planned attack.

For the record, the claims about artillery and roadblocks received a rebuke from an official State Department report, which indicated that all was quiet in the runup to the attack: “When the UK security team departed via the C1 gate at about 2030 local, there were no signs of anything unusual, including no roadblocks outside of the compound, and traffic flowed normally.”

And Time Magazine reported: “At around 9:30 p.m. on Sept. 11, 2012, the four guards at the compound entrance — Nasser, Ubayd, Abdullah and Anwar – were casually eating sandwiches and talking about a recent soccer game, trying to pass the time on another monotonous night of watch duty. This one seemed no different from the others before: days and nights staring at the high walls that obscured the luxury villas in the posh Benghazi neighborhood where the American mission was located. But on this night, the silence of the secluded streets was dramatically shattered.”

A request to Fox News on whether the discrediting of the “60 Minutes” source would prompt a review by the network wasn’t immediately returned.

 

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Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.