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Tue November 26, 2013
CBS Puts Lara Logan On Leave After Review Of Flawed Benghazi Report
Originally published on Wed November 27, 2013 7:42 am
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An internal review of a report that aired on CBS' "60 Minutes" about the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, reached damning conclusions. Now, Laura Logan, the CBS correspondent who reported that story, and her producer are taking leaves of absence at management's request.
CBS was forced to admit that one of the story's central figures fabricated an eyewitness account. Earlier, he had told the FBI that he wasn't even there on the night of the attack. And, according to the network's review, there were many other red flags about the story before it aired on "60 Minutes."
NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik joins me now. And, David, let's go back to that "60 Minutes" story and the account from this supposed eyewitness to the attack. What was wrong?
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Well, in late October, Laura Logan, a star correspondent for CBS who's covered so much conflict there, presented this story to "60 Minutes'" viewers that really indicated a narrative in which American authorities were perhaps cavalier about taking security concerns seriously in Benghazi and the possible presence of a threat from Al-Qaida.
This former British security contractor, a guy named Dylan Davies, you know, offered this account of scaling a 12-foot wall the night of September 11th, 2012, during an attack on the U.S. consulate there in Benghazi. You know, he in fact encountered one of the attackers there and hit him in the face with the butt of a rifle, you know, taking the guy down. And it really was this very personalized, emotional core of this story that was intended to show that the U.S. authorities really hadn't taken those security concerns seriously.
BLOCK: And then that reporting was called into question, which led up to this internal review. What did the review find?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, you know, what didn't it find? I mean, there were a series of red flags raised by the guy who did the review for CBS. He's the executive producer of Standards and Practices, Al Ortiz. He found that "60 Minutes" and Laura Logan had failed to, you know, recognize that when this very contractor, Mr. Davies, had said, you know, I lied to my superior, my boss, after the fact, saying that I hadn't been there that night. At minimum, that suggested he hadn't been consistent in his story throughout.
It turned out, as shown by reporting from the Washington Post and the New York Times, that he had given other accounts to say the FBI and to his contractor in what's called an after-incident report. CBS, Mr. Ortiz found, could have easily come across that material if it had done its own reporting. "60 Minutes" failed to reach out to journalistic resources at other units within the network to work their sources in the FBI and other places. They really sort of defined their reporting within the "60 Minutes" family and that was seen as a failing.
Laura Logan had made comments previously suggesting that she was predisposed to believe that the U.S. authorities hadn't taken this seriously. And that violates CBS' standards, as well, because they wanted her to come to this story with an open mind. Ortiz argued, you know, essentially that this was in conflict with CBS' practices. And Al Ortiz also found that "60 Minutes" failed to disclose that a book that Mr. Davies was promoting through this interview was published by a publishing house that itself was owned by CBS. And this, and a variety of other ways, Ortiz found that CBS had violated its covenant with its audience.
BLOCK: So now, Laura Logan and her producer are being forced to take leaves of absence. Is there some sense, David, that responsibility for this flawed report should go higher up the chain of command at "60 Minutes?"
FOLKENFLIK: Well, obviously, veteran producer not known to our listeners, as well, Max McClellan(ph) has been forced to take this leave of absence as well. But questions have been raised about the role that Jeff Fager plays. He's the chairman of CBS News. He's been an incredibly successful figure there, really vitalized its news division in recent years after essentially a decade or more of woes. But Fager also serves as the executive producer of "60 Minutes." He says that he's, you know, sorry and very upset that this got past him. He says he ultimately takes responsibility.
Some external critics have said he shouldn't serve this dual role, that somehow it may shield "60 Minutes" from needed scrutiny. But, you know, people I talked to at "60 Minutes" say regardless of his title, he will always take a strong interest in this show that's so important to the news division's fortunes.
BLOCK: And, David, the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya was such a hugely charged political subject. Are there implications for this story beyond the internal problems at "60 Minutes"?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, this obviously has been a surrogate for an argument over whether or not the Obama administration has been tough enough on terrorist threats. It's been used to try to discredit the administration from a national security standpoint. And also, perhaps later on, it could be used to color our looking at Hillary Clinton as she prepares for a likely presidential bid. This story has now been - even though other elements of the story were unaffected, this story has now been discredited to a point that it can't add to that catalog of criticism.
BLOCK: OK, NPR's David Folkenflik. David, thanks so much.
FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.