When I was in journalism school a long time ago, CBS was rightfully used as an example of great journalism. Such industry giants as Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Robert Trout, Harry Reasoner, Eric Sevareid, Roger Mudd, Charles Kuralt, Mike Wallace, Robert Pierpoint, Howard K. Smith, Douglas Edwards, Ed Bradley, and Daniel Schorr were part of the world’s premier news organization. They were idolized for their impartiality and determination to get at the truth.
Since those halcyon days, CBS News has sunk to such lows that journalism schools may now use its 60 Minutes report on Benghazi as an example of what not to do.
Lara Logan’s story was fraught with holes, inconsistencies and outright lies. Apparently Logan and the 60 Minutes crew were determined to break a sensational story that would expose some sort of cover-up by the Obama administration. Certainly, the story was sensational. It was also false.
In filing the report, CBS News broke some of the most basic rules that are taught to would-be reporters in Journalism 101. There were so many red flags, it’s astounding that an editor, any editor, would agree to air the report, let alone make it the lead story on the telecast. First, the “source” (independent contractor Dylan Davies) asked to be given an asumed name (Morgan Jones) for protection, yet he agreed to appear on camera making it easy to identify him. Second, Davies admitted to the reporter(s) that he had lied to his employers when asked if he had reached the US consulate during the attack. Third, it was known that Davies had also shopped a manuscript of his tale to a book publisher.
To most experienced reporters any one of these issues would place the source’s credibility in question.
Finally, and more important, Davies’ testimony was in direct contradiction with what was already known about the events in Benghazi. It not only contradicted accounts by the State Department, the Department of Defense and the Obama administration. It contradicted reports from independent groups empaneled to investigate the matter. This should have caused CBS News to seek further corraboration. At very least, it should have caused the network to do much more investigation before running with the story. But it seems, CBS News and 60 Minutes were more intent on exposing or, more accurately, creating a scandal.
The only scandal they created centered on their failure to accurately present the news.
Yet the most astonishing aspect of this sorry mess is that CBS News chairman, Jeff Fager, stood by the story after serious questions were raised. Indeed, he used the fact that Davies had previously lied (not once, but twice) as evidence of his credibility!
Not until CBS News became aware that Davies had told a different story during his testimony to the FBI, did Fager and CBS News start to question Davies’ credibility. Seriously, CBS? No one in your news organization thought to check out your source? No one thought to read the volumes of testimony on the events at Benghazi? No one thought to ask the administration, the State Department or others for a rebuttal? The editor of my college newspaper would have fired me for less.
Of course, CBS News did pull the story from its website several days after it aired. And it apparently arranged for Lara Logan to apologize for the story during her appearance on CBS This Morning. It also has stated that it will correct the story on an upcoming 60 Minutes. That may undo some of the political damage from the story. But it won’t undo the damage done to the proud reputation of CBS News.
All of this is painfully ironic when you consider the network’s actions following Dan Rather’s report on the favoritism shown to George W. Bush during his service in the Air National Guard. If you remember, Rather presented documents showing that Bush had gone AWOL and never served the remainder of his enlistment. When the veracity of those documents was questioned, CBS News hung Rather out to dry. Three producers were fired and Rather left the network shortly afterward with his career in tatters. Yet, since that time, it has been determined that the documents could have been authentic, and that Bush likely was AWOL.
Maybe this time, instead of punishing the reporter(s), the network should fire Fager and the editor(s) who failed to question the Benghazi story. Maybe it should commit to raising its news standards. Maybe it should ask itself, “What would Edward R. Murrow do?”
UPDATE: Lara Logan gave a “correction” at the end of a “60 Minutes” telecast in which she admitted to errors. Given the fact, that her apology was at the very end of the program and lasted only 90 seconds, there’s only one word that adequately characterizes the “correction”: LAME!
Logan did not explain why the network chose to give so much credibility and air time to an admitted liar who was looking to cash in by selling his story to a book publisher. She failed to explain why CBS did so little investigation. And she did not explain why CBS chose to give the “correction” so little time and attention.