NEW YORK -- "60 Minutes" correspondent Lara Logan apologized Sunday night for her discredited Oct. 27 report featuring an “eyewitness” account of the Benghazi terrorist attack that proved to be false.
But “60 Minutes” doesn’t need to apologize anymore. It needs to fully explain what went wrong.
Logan already apologized Friday morning for the report featuring Dylan Davies, a security officer who told “60 Minutes” about his heroism at the U.S. compound during the night of the Sept. 12, 2012, attack.
However, news outlets soon challenged that version of events by revealing that Davies previously told both his employer and the FBI that he didn’t reach the compound that night -- accounts that directly conflicted both with what he said on “60 Minutes” and with his description of the night in a memoir published two days later by CBS subsidiary Simon & Schuster's conservative book imprint, Threshold Editions. On Friday, Jeff Fager, the chairman of CBS News and executive producer of “60 Minutes,” also owned up to the mistake and addressed some questions in an interview with The Huffington Post, such as why the program kept defending a source who had admitted to lying once and no longer appeared credible.
Still, Sunday's brief acknowledgment didn't resemble a news program seriously trying to get to the bottom of how it got duped. Logan didn't address during the show how Davies came to be a source for "60 Minutes," the vetting process of his account, whether the FBI was contacted during the original reporting or after doubts were raised, and the connection between the television booking on Oct. 27 and publication by a CBS subsidiary on Oct. 29.
Logan spent roughy 90 seconds at the end of Sunday' s broadcast commenting on the network’s most high-profile mistake since Dan Rather’s discredited report on George W. Bush’s military record over nine years ago on “60 Minutes Wednesday.” (By comparison, "This American Life" devoted an hour-long program last year to a story it retracted.) On Sunday, Logan said she was making a “correction,” which downplayed the severity of CBS News retracting a story that took a year to report and had political impact. The day after the CBS report featuring Davies, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham called for holding White House nominees until all Benghazi witnesses appear before Congress.
The terse manner in which “60 Minutes” handled the “correction” Sunday night follows the cavalier way in which the program handled questions about Davies' credibility for a week, only admitting the mistake after the revelation of a second conflicting account.
“60 Minutes” dodged questions about Davies credibility after The Washington Post reported on Oct. 31 that the paper had obtained a company incident report indicating he never reached the compound on the night of the attack.
After ignoring questions for several days, Fager defended the report Wednesday in a statement to HuffPost. Fager said he was “proud” of the report and “confident” in the sources used, while sidestepping the lingering questions about Davies’ credibility.
The New York Times reported Thursday that Davies also told the FBI in an interview that he did not reach the compound, a second example of Davies giving a conflicting account from the one on air and in his book, The Embassy House. HuffPost confirmed Davies account to the FBI through a U.S. official that night.
On Friday, Fager told HuffPost that "60 Minutes" was aware Davies gave a second account to his employer, Blue Mountain Group, but that the security officer claimed he'd lied to them because he was instructed not to go to the compound during the attack. So Davies story was that he lied then to protect himself, but was telling the truth now. Fager said "60 Minutes" didn't know about the incident report, so "60 Minutes" contacted Davies. Davies claimed not to have written it and said the FBI interview would be the same account he told "60 Minutes," Fager said. A week later, that proved not to be true.
While Logan and Fager have apologized and acknowledged that trusting Davies was a mistake, questions about the relationship between "60 Minutes" and its discredited source -- and the network's response, or lack thereof -- remain unanswered. Here are several questions "60 Minutes" may consider addressing in order to present a fuller picture of what went wrong and who, if anyone, should be held accountable.
-- How did "60 Minutes" meet Davies and what steps did the program take to vet his version of events?
"60 Minutes" had some reason to trust Davies, given that he did train Libya guards for the State Department. It's not like he had nothing to do with Benghazi. But it's unclear what led "60 Minutes" to trust his harrowing account of the attack, complete with claims of scaling the compound wall, knocking out a terrorist with his rifle and seeing Ambassador Christopher Stevens dead in the hospital -- one of four Americans killed in the attack. Also, once Davies told "60 Minutes" that the FBI report would back up his on-air account, did the program or CBS News -- boasting several journalists with great FBI sources -- try to confirm his account with the bureau?
-- What was the relationship between "60 Minutes" and Threshold Editions?
Theshold Editions, a conservative imprint of CBS subsidiary Simon and Schuster, published Davies' memoir two days after the broadcast under the pseudonym "Morgan Jones." (He also went by "Morgan Jones" on the broadcast to supposedly protect his identity, yet did not cover his face in any way on air.) Clearly, there's the issue of the financial relationship, with "60 Minutes" providing a national platform to an author being published by a Simon & Schuster imprint. But beyond that, who had an arrangement first with Davies to speak out on Benghazi: "60 Minutes" or Threshold Editions?
-- Why didn't "60 Minutes" respond to questions after the Washington Post report?
The Washington Post report informed "60 Minutes" of something on Oct. 31 which producers didn't know: Davies' employer had an incident report from Sept. 14, 2012, written in his first-person voice, claiming not to have been at the compound on the night of the attack. While Davies still insisted to "60 Minutes" that he was telling the truth, the moment he admitted to The Daily Beast that he had lied about his whereabouts that night, it then became incumbent on "60 Minutes" to explain why Davies could be trusted now. And yet it didn't bother.
-- How can "60 Minutes" hold itself accountable?
Following the Rather mess, CBS News created the "Public Eye" blog as a way to challenge news executives and journalists on stories -- not unlike a newspaper ombudsman or public editor. But the blog was killed in early 2008, and so there is no longer an in-house mechanism for raising questions when credibility has been challenged. That job then falls to those outside the network, which would be fine if "60 Minutes" responded to media reporters and critics. But in this case, Executive Director Kevin Tedesco, who is tasked with responding to press inquiries, ignored questions from HuffPost about Davies conflicting accounts on Nov. 1, 4, and 5. Sonya McNair, CBS News' senior vice president of communications, also did not respond to a request on Nov. 1.
-- Will "60 Minutes" launch an independent investigation?
Following 2004's "Memogate," the network created an independent panel to investigate what went wrong. In the end, four producers were fired, and Dan Rather was marginalized and left the network by 2006. Progressive watchdog Media Matters has been all over Davies' discrepancies for the past 10 days, and on Sunday night, Chairman David Brock called on the network in a statement to "come clean by appointing an independent commission to determine exactly how and why it fell prey so easily to an obvious hoax.” There was no mention of an investigation on Sunday's broadcast.
-- Will anyone be punished?
On Friday, Fager declined to address the question about possible firings or suspensions. A few weeks back, The Associated Press fired a 27-year veteran reporter and two editors over an erroneous story. So the question remains whether Logan and her producer, Max McClellan, keep their jobs or face any punishment over this mistake. So far, McClellan has kept silent on the matter, and has not responded to multiple requests from HuffPost.
-- What about David Rhodes?
David Rhodes, a former Fox News and Bloomberg News executive who became the president of CBS News in 2011, has not yet commented on the breakdown. While "60 Minutes" isn't his particular domain -- it's Fager's -- the news division still could have aggressively looked into the credibility issue when it was raised by other media outlets. There's no indication it did. HuffPost first contacted Rhodes on Nov. 4, several hours before publishing a piece looking at Davies' conflicting accounts. Rhodes referred HuffPost to Tedesco, who did not respond. Rhodes did not respond to subsequent emails regarding Davies' credibility over several days.
-- And what about Jeff Fager?
When Fager became CBS News chairman in 2011, he held on to his previous role as executive producer of "60 Minutes." The Benghazi breakdown highlights a problem with Fager serving these dual roles, in which the top executive at "60 Minutes" (Fager) would be the one to address a major on-air blunder with the top executive at CBS News (also Fager). So in light of the latest CBS mess, will Fager continue to wear two hats at the network?