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The Buck Stops Below C-Suite in Wake of 60 Minutes Probe

In the wake of factual disclosures that called into question the accuracy of an October 27, 2013 story that aired on 60 Minutes about the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, CBS News commissioned an internal investigation. It sought to determine how the Emmy Award-winning news magazine got duped into reporting the supposedly eyewitness account of a private security employee who was not actually on scene. The attack killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans

On the broadcast at issue, 60 Minutes correspondent Lara Logan interviewed Dylan Davies, a employee of Blue Mountain, a British security company that the U.S. government had hired to protect the Benghazi compound, who claimed that he witnessed the terrorist attack that killed Stevens and the other Americans on September 11, 2012. Davies told Logan that he scaled a 12-foot wall, knocked out a terrorist with his rifle, and later saw Stevens dead in the hospital.

Four days later, The Washington Post reported that Davies had provided an incident report to his superiors at Blue Mountain Group indicating that he had never reached the compound that night. 60 Minutes Executive Producer Jeff Fager stood by the story in an interview with The Huffington Post despite this. He did not seem troubled by Davies’ admission that he had lied to his employer in denying his presence at the embassy and comforted by Davies’ assurance that his on-camera story would match the one he had provided to the FBI. A day later, The New York Times reported that his account to the FBI matched the one provided to Blue Mountain and was contrary to Logan’s story. In the wake of that second conflicting report, 60 Minutes pulled the piece and Logan made an on-air apology for being duped.

Fager, by the way, is not just the executive producer of 60 Minutes but also the Chairman of CBS News. The man in charge.

With egg on its face, the network began an internal investigation under the leadership of Executive Director of Standards and Practices, Al Ortiz. His findings were reported in a follow-up story by The Huffington Post and summarized in a memorandum finding the primary flaw to be a lack of fact-checking by Logan and her producer, Max McClellan:

“The fact that the FBI and the State Department had information that differed from the account Davies gave to 60 Minutes was knowable before the piece aired. But the wider reporting resources of CBS News were not employed in an effort to confirm his account. It’s possible that reporters and producers with better access to inside FBI sources could have found out that Davies had given varying and conflicting accounts of his story.”

Fager followed that with his own memorandum to the troops that read:

“By now most of you have received the report from Al Ortiz about the problems with the 60 Minutes story on Benghazi.

There is a lot to learn from this mistake for the entire organization. We have rebuilt CBS News in a way that has dramatically improved our reporting abilities. Ironically 60 Minutes, which has been a model for those changes, fell short by broadcasting a now discredited account of an important story, and did not take full advantage of the reporting abilities of CBS News that might have prevented it from happening.

As a result, I have asked Lara Logan, who has distinguished herself and has put herself in harm’s way many times in the course of covering stories for us, to take a leave of absence, which she has agreed to do. I have asked the same of producer Max McClellan, who also has a distinguished career at CBS News.

As Executive Producer, I am responsible for what gets on the air. I pride myself in catching almost everything, but this deception got through and it shouldn’t have.

When faced with a such an error, we must use it as an opportunity to make our broadcast even stronger. We are making adjustments at 60 Minutes to reduce the chances of it happening again.

There is a lot of pride at CBS News. Every broadcast is working hard to live up to the high standard set at CBS News for excellence in reporting. This was a regrettable mistake. But there are many fine professionals at 60 Minutes who produce some of the very best of broadcast journalism, covering the important and interesting stories of our times, and they will continue to do so each and every Sunday. [Emphasis added.]”

So in the end, Logan and McClellan will cool their jets on the sideline for some unknown period of time, while Fager apparently suffers no punishment by his own hand or from above. The Ortiz report is sketchy at best and his methodology is unknown, but it appears that Fager was knee-deep in the story before it fell apart and by his own admission was the one responsible for getting the Benghazi story broadcast.

Harry Truman he apparently isn’t.

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One Comment on "The Buck Stops Below C-Suite in Wake of 60 Minutes Probe"

  1. Stuart Showalter says:

    This sounds like Dan Rather all over again. When will CBS learn?

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