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CBS made a highly unusual apology this morning, for its Oct. 27 “60 Minutes” report on the 2012 attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya.
In the segment, CBS correspondent Lara Logan interviewed a former security officer whose credibility has since been undermined by revelations he gave a different account of the attack to the FBI.
NPR’s media correspondent David Folkenflik joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to explain the story and its implications.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW.
CBS News is apologizing for its recent "60 Minutes" report on Benghazi. The segment, which originally aired on Oct. 27th, featured an interview with a British security contractor, Dylan Davies, who said he rushed to the scene as the attack on the U.S. mission on Benghazi was underway. In the segment, reporter Lara Logan asked Davis about what he saw. She called him by the pseudonym Morgan Jones.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "60 MINUTES")
LARA LOGAN: Morgan Jones scaled the 12-foot-high wall of the compound that was still overrun with al-Qaida fighters.
DYLAN DAVIES: One guy saw me. He just shouted. I couldn't believe that he'd seen me because it was so dark. He started walking towards me.
LOGAN: And as he was coming closer?
DAVIES: As I got closer, I just hit him with the butt of the rifle in the face.
DAVIES: Oh, he went down, yeah.
LOGAN: He dropped?
DAVIES: Yeah, like a stone.
LOGAN: With his face smashed in?
LOGAN: And no one saw you do it?
LOGAN: Or heard it?
DAVIES: No, there was too much noise.
HOBSON: Well, now, CBS says, it no longer has confidence in that story. Joining us for more is NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. David, welcome.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Hey. Thanks, Jeremy.
HOBSON: Well, I want to get to the apology that we've just gotten in a moment. But first, let's just talk about the impact that this story had. Republicans jumped all over it after it came out. The day after it aired, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina went on "Fox & Friends" with this reaction.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX & FRIENDS")
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: I think the story was about the fact that our folks died in a different way than explained by the administration. So I'm going to block every appointment in the United States Senate until the survivors are being made available to Congress. I'm tired of hearing from people on TV and reading about stuff in books.
HOBSON: David, every story that's on "60 Minutes" has a bigger impact than it would in other places. But what was the significance of this story?
FOLKENFLIK: Sure. Well, this story was, you know, in a sense, affirming and underscoring a narrative or that way in which the story was being perceived, that there had been - not only was this a terrible incident which Americans lost their lives, but that it might somehow have been preventable, that there was lapses in security in attention to warnings raised earlier than previously disclosed. And, you know, the entire report wasn't built around this guy, but the emotional impact sure was.
The sense was he was saying, look, in arriving in town, you know, you saw signs of al-Qaida present, that he had been raising red flags, in a sense, and that it was ignored. And it was really bolstered by this very emotional, personal account of saying that he had gone, you know, without permission, gone back there, scaled the wall, taken on, you know, an al-Qaida operative.
The politics of this became, you know, we saw Lindsey Graham attacking the administration in some ways. And defenders of Hillary Clinton, as she gears up for a likely presidential run in 2016, are also, you know, interested in attacking the press for covering it in this way, in part because, you know, she was Secretary of State at the time and this was a diplomatic mission.
HOBSON: And now there has been this apology. Let's listen to Lara Logan on CBS this morning talking with Norah O'Donnell.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CBS THIS MORNING")
LOGAN: You know, the most important thing to every person at "60 Minutes" is the truth. And today the truth is that we made a mistake. And that's very disappointing for any journalist. It's very disappointing for me. Nobody likes to admit that they made a mistake, but if you do, you have to stand up and take responsibility and you have to say that you were wrong. And in this case, we were wrong.
NORAH O'DONNELL: Why were you convinced that Dylan Davies was a credible source, that the account that he provided was accurate? How did you vet him?
LOGAN: Well, we verified and confirmed that he was who he said he was, that he was working for the State Department at the time, that he was in Benghazi at the special mission compound the night of the attack, and that, you know, he showed us - he gave us access to communications he had with U.S. government officials. We used U.S. government reports and congressional testimony to verify many of the details of his story, and everything checked out.
HOBSON: So, David Folkenflik, how significant was that apology for a program like "60 Minutes"?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, it's a huge black eye for "60 Minutes." CBS has been aggressive in reporting on Benghazi, challenging the Obama administration's line on this. CBS, you know, has taken under the tenure of its chairman of CBS News, Jeff Fager, a turn toward a more serious and a more hard news approach, not only for "60 Minutes," which Jeff Fager concurrently serves as the executive producer of, but also for its evening newscast with Scott Pelley, and for its morning show.
All of these have done better, sort of, with CBS offering what it argues as a harder news approach to news coverage than, say, its competitors at NBC and ABC, even as it's lagged in some of their sectors and done so very well as a top 10 program year after year with "60 Minutes." You know, it's just complicated because you have this, you know, give them points for having Lara Logan come forward publicly, take questions and to apologize for it - take questions, at least, from their own anchors, but they were good questions.
Maybe take points away for the fact that it took so many days to get there. It was last Thursday that The Washington Post's Karen DeYoung reported a story in which she cited at what was called an after-action account given by Mr. Davies to his superiors, explaining what had happened, in which his account showed him, at least by his own description, seemingly, not to have been present at the mission at all that night.
And so, you know, she was able, you know, some days after that October 27th initial report on "60 Minutes" to say, you know, he has given conflicting accounts regardless of which is true, which tends to raise questions about the credibility of a source. CBS, time and again, as questions were being raised, until last night and again this morning, CBS tended to dismiss its critics as been driven by partisan rather than being driven by journalistic questions about the credibility of this source.
HOBSON: And a lot of people hear this and they're going to think of what happened in 2004 during the presidential campaign when Dan Rather had to apologize for that report that he got wrong on CBS that involved phony documents related to George W. Bush's time in the Texas Air National Guard. Let's take a listen to Dan Rather.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CBS EVENING NEWS")
DAN RATHER: Now news about CBS News, and the questions surrounding documents we aired on this broadcast and on the Wednesday edition of "60 Minutes" on September 8th. The documents purported to show that George W. Bush received preferential treatment during his years in the Texas Air National Guard. At the time, CBS News and this reporter fully believed the documents were genuine. Tonight, after further investigation, we can no longer vouch for their authenticity.
HOBSON: David Folkenflik, just in the minute or so we have left, that wasn't the only time CBS has had to do something like this.
FOLKENFLIK: No. There have been moments where they've done other apologies. You know, Lesley Stahl came out and apologized for her coverage on "60 Minutes" and CBS being overly credulous about claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and there have been - you can go back decades and find other instances.
You know, the difference between what happened, in my mind, with the Dan Rather apology on a sister show, "60 Minutes II," which blew up Rather's career at CBS, blew up "60 Minutes II" as a program and, you know, caused Jeff Fager's predecessor at the top of CBS News to go, was that in that they used their own airwaves to attack their critics. In this one, at least, they held off coming back to it until they had something firm to go with. Sadly for them, what they had firm to go with was a retraction of that seemingly eyewitness account.
HOBSON: Well, hopefully they will come back from this because "60 Minutes" is really one of my favorite shows. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik, thanks so much.
FOLKENFLIK: You bet.
HOBSON: You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.