An explosive report on the venerable CBS News program “60 Minutes,” alleging that the Obama Administration was slow to respond to the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead including the U.S. ambassador, lies in ruins today after CBS retracted the story and issued a public apology, two weeks after the story aired.
The reason? The story’s main source was exposed as liar. Security contractor Dylan Davies, who told “60 Minutes” that his name was Morgan Jones and that he was there as the attack unfolded. While no U.S. military responded, Davies said, he personally climbed the 12-foot wall of the diplomatic mission and fought the terrorists himself.
But it turns out, Davies wasn’t even there the night of the attack, much less did he engage in face-to-face combat with terrorists.
In the days immediately following the “60 Minutes” broadcast, many conservative media outlets and commentators sang the praises of the story. Fox News in particular had been reporting similar information for many months, much of it relying on the same discredited source. The network was quick to seize on the CBS report as corroboration of its own stories.
“One of journalism's heavy hitters reaffirmed what we knew and had reported on,” gloated Fox reporter Bret Baier, while “Fox & Friends” co-host Steve Doocy declared that CBS was “finally catching up” to Fox’s own coverage.
But Davies’ tale was easily debunked. It contradicted the version of events that he, himself, earlier gave to the FBI — a fact quickly uncovered by the Washington Post and New York Times, but somehow missed by “60 Minutes,” despite spending what it said was a full year to prepare its report.
A contrite CBS correspondent Lara Logan, who reported the story, gave an interview on “CBS This Morning” Friday in which she apologized for the story.
“The most important thing to every person at ‘60 Minutes’ is the truth,” Logan said in the interview. “And today the truth is that we made a mistake. That’s very disappointing to any journalist.”
But critics say that the story may have been more than a “mistake.” They say that CBS’s willingness to believe Davies’ lies shows that CBS went into the story with the intention of pleasing a conservative audience.
“This wasn’t story that was breaking news, this was a story that they worked on for a year,” New York Times reporter Brian Stetler, who covered the media response to the “60 Minutes” piece, said in an interview with CNN. “That’s why I think people wonder, did they come in with an agenda?”
“They appear to have done that story to appeal specifically to a politically conservative audience that is obsessed with Benghazi and believes that Benghazi was much more than a tragedy,” said former “60 Minutes” producer Mary Mapes.
Mapes was fired from “60 Minutes” in 2004 when a story she produced about the National Guard service of President George W. Bush turned out to be based on fabricated documents. That incident also led to the resignation of legendary reporter Dan Rather.
So far CBS has not said whether Logan’s job is at stake or if the network will conduct any inquiries into how the story was botched when information casting doubt on its main source was readily available.