Media critic

CBS News continues to defend its reporting on Benghazi despite a controversy over a much-talked-about “60 Minutes” clip of President Obama discussing whether the Benghazi assault was a terrorist act. That video hit the Internet on Sunday, under circumstances that Fox News’s Bret Baier considered suspect.

This media screwup is all about dates:

Sept. 12: Steve Kroft of “60 Minutes” interviews Obama about all kinds of things, including the news of the day, Benghazi. Here’s a key exchange from that interview, an exchange that didn’t make the ”60 Minutes” broadcast:

KROFT: Mr. President, this morning you went out of your way to avoid the use of the word “terrorism” in connection with the Libya attack. Do you believe that this was a terrorist attack?

OBAMA: Well, it’s too early to know exactly how this came about, what group was involved, but obviously it was an attack on Americans. And we are going to be working with the Libyan government to make sure that we bring these folks to justice, one way or the other.

Oct. 16: The president’s hesitancy to term Benghazi a ”terrorist” act becomes the country’s biggest news story. In a town-hall debate at Hofstra University, Obama tangles with Mitt Romney over his honesty in describing the attack. The president protests that he’d called the attack an “act of terror,” referring to a Rose Garden speech on the same day as his interview with “60 Minutes.” (Had CBS News posted the Kroft-Obama exchange within a couple of news cycles of the Oct. 16 debate, the Erik Wemple Blog would have launched a series on the matter.)

Nov. 4: CBS News posts the Kroft-Obama exchange around the time that the Superstorm Sandy cleanup is preoccupying the country.

Nov. 5: Fox’s Baier spots the video and questions why the news outlet waited so long. CBS News issues a terse statement on the affair, saying, “We’re proud of our Benghazi coverage, which from Libya to Washington has been the most comprehensive original reporting of any network.”

The case for CBS News rests in part on its use of snippets from newscasts that drew from the Kroft-Obama interview. The editions of “CBS Evening News” on Sept. 12, Oct. 19 and Oct. 23 took Libya-related excerpts from the Kroft-Obama tilt.

Here’s a portion of the Oct. 23 version:

SHARYL ATTKISSON, CBS INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Fourteen hours after the attack, President Obama sat down with Steve Kroft of “60 Minutes” for a previously scheduled interview and said he did not believe it was simply due to mob violence.

OBAMA: You`re right that this is not a situation that was exactly the same as what happened in Egypt. And my suspicion is that there are folks involved in this who were looking to target Americans from the start.

The Oct. 19 broadcast features this bit:

DAVID MARTIN, CBS CORRESPONDENT: Shortly after he spoke to State Department employees about the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, President Obama sat down with Steve Kroft of “60 Minutes” for a previously scheduled interview. It had been about 14 hours since the attack and the president told Kroft he did not believe it was due simply to mob violence.

OBAMA: You’re right that this is not a situation that was exactly the same as what happened in Egypt and my suspicion is that there are folks involved in this who were looking to target Americans from the start.

MARTIN: Shortly after that, he stepped into the Rose Garden and spoke of the killing of four Americans as if it were a terrorist attack.

OBAMA: No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation.

In response to inquiries from the Erik Wemple Blog, Sonya McNair , CBS News’s senior vice president, communications, issued an expanded statement today on the Libya thing:

CBS News visited the scene of the Benghazi attacks the very next day, 9/12, and, in an interview with President Obama on that day, asked about the attacks. Over time a number of CBS News correspondents have reported on all aspects of the incident, including two separate reports from Washington (on October 19th and October 23rd) detailing and including the President’s response to the incident from the 9/12 interview.

We were also the first to show pictures of a compromised safe house at a second location within Benghazi (9/15), the first to interview a whistleblower who decried the security preparations in Libya (October), and the first, last week, to report what organizational steps were not taken in Washington after the attack.

As part of our ongoing reporting process, we wanted to publish the most detailed account of the events before, during, and after the attacks — that is the timeline which went up this past weekend on

In other words, CBS News sunk immeasurable resources into the Benghazi story. It did solid reporting. It did an excellent timeline. And to judge from its official statements, it doesn’t believe it erred in handling the “60 Minutes” video.

Take at face value the network’s protestations about enterprise reporting. Yet consider, too, that the network would have done more to enhance the public’s understanding of White House actions if it had foregone some of that enterprise in favor of simply highlighting the Kroft-Obama exchange when it was most relevant. Right after the town-hall debate, that is.

A CBS News source is at pains to explain just how the network failed to alert its viewers to the terrorist question at the proper time. There was no effort to “hide” anything, says the source.

Whatever the intentions, there was an editorial failure, a breakdown of some sort. And this breakdown will feed bias claims against CBS News until it explains whatever innocent screwups led to it. Instead of touting its Benghazi greatest hits, that is.