We had a good idea just how screwed up the “60 Minutes” report on Benghazi, Libya, that aired on Oct. 27 was. Now we know a bit better.
In a deep story on the piece and its aftermath, New York Magazine’s Joe Hagan documents all the journalistic and managerial errors that made possible this debacle. To recap: “60 Minutes” correspondent Lara Logan, in an investigation that was in the works for a year, trotted out one “Morgan Jones,” a pseudonym for Dylan Davies, a security contractor who “60 Minutes” said was on the ground for the events of the Benghazi attacks, which claimed the lives for four U.S. personnel. Davies talked about the poor U.S. preparations, the chaos of the night and so on.
As it later turned out, Davies wasn’t even around; he’d stayed at his villa. The account that he gave to CBS News differed from what he’d told the FBI. His version of events, such as it was, stemmed from a book that he’d written for a publishing house that’s part of the CBS corporation, a little detail that “60 Minutes” had left out of its broadcast.
An internal review of the episode turned up mistakes in fact-checking: “[T]he wider reporting resources of CBS News were not employed in an effort to confirm his account,” said Al Ortiz, CBS News executive director of standards and practices, in the report.
Hagan puts a finer point on the fact-checking failure: “No calls were made to the State Department or the FBI specifically to vet Davies’s claims.” That “60 Minutes” suddenly and inexplicably got out of the business of fact-checking boggles the mind and body. How could this have not happened? Hagan steps back and explains that Logan had powerful backers at CBS News, including Chairman Jeff Fager. So no one challenged her. Another consideration: Linda Mason, the network’s senior vice president of standards and practices, had left her post months before the Benghazi story. According to Hagan, she had the authority to bring “outside scrutiny” to segments. No replacement for Mason was in place for the Oct. 27 story.
And boy did she need someone to challenge her. Just sample this paragraph from Hagan’s account:
Logan’s own credulity, it seems, was the central pillar of the report. When asked why she found Davies’s account believable, Logan said that Davies was one of the “best guys you’ll ever meet” and a few minutes with him would convince anyone of his candor, according to a person familiar with her comments. And Davies’s tale of heroic special-forces operators being let down by politicians and bureaucrats thousands of miles from the front made sense in the world in which Logan had been living for the better part of a decade.
Logan was suspended in connection with the story and hasn’t returned to work. It’s unclear whether she’ll return in the fall, reports Hagan.