Deconstructing the “60 Minutes” report on Benghazi
Even if you didn’t see it when it aired, you’re probably aware by now that a so-called investigative report by the CBS newsmagazine “60 Minutes” on the Benghazi controversy has been thoroughly discredited, and CBS has apologized for it.
But, of course, that’s not the end of the matter. Question remains as to how CBS got suckered on this story and as to what the network should do to completely correct the record.
Nancy Yousseff has come up with this HELPFUL ANALYSIS of the issue:
When “60 Minutes” apologized for featuring in its report on Benghazi a security contractor whose story turned out to be a lie, it said it had been “misled.” But a close examination of the controversial piece by McClatchy shows that there are other problems with the report, whose broadcast renewed debate about one of the most contentious events in recent U.S. diplomatic history.
In an email Wednesday, CBS declined to respond to questions about the accuracy and origin of some of the other aspects of the report. But it said that it was undertaking “a journalistic review that is ongoing” – the network’s first acknowledgement that concerns about the report may go deeper than just the discredited interview with security supervisor Dylan Davies.
“60 Minutes” spokesman Kevin Tedesco said CBS had begun the review “the moment we confirmed there was an issue in our story.” But he declined to elaborate on the investigation and did not respond to specific issues McClatchy raised about the segment, including unsourced assertions that al Qaida was behind the Benghazi attacks and claims about the investigation that the FBI and other experts question or deny outright.
The “60 Minutes” report, which was narrated by longtime CBS correspondent Lara Logan, was controversial almost from the moment it was broadcast Oct. 27, as could be expected for another rendition of what took place Sept. 11, 2012, when gunmen stormed a U.S. diplomatic compound and set its main building on fire. U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and State Department computer expert Sean Smith, trapped inside, died of smoke inhalation. Hours later, attackers assaulted a CIA compound nearby, killing two security contractors.
Shortly after the segment aired, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who has been a critic of the Obama administration’s response to the Benghazi attacks, announced that he would block all administration appointments until the FBI surrendered to Congress notes of the interviews it had done with survivors.
But the credibility of the report soon came into question. CBS was taken to task for not revealing that Davies, on whose recollections the report was largely based, was the author of a soon-to-be released book published by a CBS-owned publishing company that features the work of politically conservative authors. On Oct. 31, The Washington Post revealed that Davies had filed a report with his employer, Blue Mountain Security, that contradicted his “60 Minutes” account, and The New York Times revealed Nov. 7 that Davies also gave an account to the FBI at odds with the “60 Minutes” version.
After The New York Times story was posted online, CBS quickly purged its websites of any mention of the piece and even demanded that a copy of the segment be removed from YouTube. On Sunday, Logan, in a brief appearance at the end of the regular “60 Minutes” broadcast, acknowledged that Davies had misled her and her crew and that “it was a mistake to include him in our report.”
But Logan’s mea culpa said nothing about other weaknesses in the report that a line-by-line review of the broadcast’s transcript reveals. McClatchy turned to LexisNexis, a legal research service, for a transcript of the broadcast because the segment no longer appeared on CBS sites.
The report repeatedly referred to al Qaida as solely responsible for the attack on the compound and made no mention of Ansar al Shariah, the Islamic extremist group that controls and provides much of the security in restive Benghazi and that has long been suspected in the attack. While the two organizations have worked together in Libya, experts said they have different aims – al Qaida has global objectives while Ansar al Shariah is focused on turning Libya into an Islamic state.
It is an important distinction, experts on those groups said. Additionally, al Qaida’s role, if any, in the attack has not been determined, and Logan’s narration offered no source for her repeated assertion that it had been.