CBS News’s chairman expressed disappointment and contrition Friday for a mistaken “60 Minutes” report about the Benghazi, Libya, terrorist attacks, but he suggested the program and his network intended to move past the flawed story.
“Credibility is really the most important thing we have,” Jeff Fager, the head of the network’s news division and executive producer of the weekly newsmagazine, said in an interview. “Did we let people down? Yes. Do people expect us to get it right? Of course they do. Do they expect us to be perfect? I don’t think so. When you come forward and admit a mistake, people will understand.”
Fager spoke after CBS correspondent Lara Logan acknowledged Friday morning that her “60 Minutes” story on Oct. 27 about Benghazi was mistaken. After a week in which CBS had defended the story, Logan retracted and apologized for it during a segment of “CBS This Morning.”
Logan said her source, a security contractor named Dylan Davies, had “misled” her by falsely portraying his involvement in the events of Sept. 11, 2012, when the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi came under attack.
Davies, who was employed to protect the compound, told “60 Minutes” that he had scaled a wall of the compound and fought off an attacker. He said he later viewed the body of the American ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, in a hospital. Stevens was one of four Americans killed in the compound siege.
The truth began to emerge last week when The Washington Post reported that Davies had told his employer, a British security company called Blue Mountain Group, that he had been nowhere near the compound on the night it was attacked. The New York Times reported late Thursday that Davies had made similar statements to the FBI, further clouding the account he gave to Logan and CBS. CBS said Davies’s FBI interviews prompted its apology and retraction.
In addition, “60 Minutes” failed to disclose that Davies had written a book about his alleged experiences that was published by a division of Simon and Schuster, which is owned by CBS. The publisher said Friday it is withdrawing the book, called “The Embassy House: The Explosive Eyewitness Account of the Libyan Embassy Siege by the Soldier Who Was There.”
CBS’s withdrawal of the story not only undermined its reporting, but that of Fox News, which apparently relied on Davies as a source for stories that have challenged the Obama administration’s account of events. Fox had cited the “60 Minutes” story repeatedly to validate its earlier reporting. “We stand by our reporting on Benghazi, and given what is still unknown, we anticipate further fact finding from those who know the truth about what took place on 9/11/12,” said Michael Clemente, executive vice president of news for Fox News.
The Benghazi story was the most serious black eye for “60 Minutes” — for decades, the most prestigious newsmagazine on the air — since a 2004 report about President George W. Bush’s National Guard service by “60 Minutes II,” a spinoff program.
The “60 Minutes II” story, which relied on suspect documents to support the contention that Bush had used family connections to avoid service in the Vietnam War, led to the dismissal of several CBS News producers and helped end anchorman Dan Rather’s career at CBS. Rather had hosted the “60 Minutes II” segment.
There were no indications Friday that anyone at CBS would be fired for the Benghazi report.
Steve Glauber, a veteran CBS News producer who retired last year, said it was unlikely that the Benghazi episode will enmesh the network in the kind of public-relations nightmare it faced after the Bush story exploded. Rather was a controversial figure at the time, Glauber said, and had long been the object of conservatives’ complaints that he was biased against Bush. Logan, by contrast, has no such baggage relative to President Obama.
“The Rather story involved the reputation of the news department and the political and economic viability of the company,” he said. “The Logan story is just one incorrect article, and there is no cost to the news department or the company in saying sorry and moving on.”