CBS News correspondent Lara Logan and producer Max McClellan will take leave of absence from the network in the wake of a flawed “60 Minutes” report on last year’s attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.
The suspension was a result of CBS News’ internal review of the Oct. 27 segment about Benghazi, which the network found to be lacking in its efforts to substantiate the assertions of a key source, security officer Dylan Davies. The review was disclosed in an internal memo from CBS News chairman Jeff Fager issued Tuesday.
The “60 Minutes” Benghazi controversy has spiraled during the past month into a major black eye for CBS News. Logan is one of the Eye’s star correspondents, and Fager is known to be a favored lieutenant of CBS Corp. topper Leslie Moonves.
Even with his exec role, Fager remains exec producer of the venerable newsmagazine that he inherited from its founder, Don Hewitt, in 2004.
“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,” Fager said in the memo to staff. “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.”
The “60 Minutes” report came under scrutiny after reports in the Washington Post and the New York Times suggested Davies, the security officer whose statements provided the grist for the segment, had given inaccurate information to the CBS program.
During the Nov. 20 broadcast of “60 Minutes,” Logan delivered a rare on-air mea culpa, telling viewers that producers came to realize they had “been misled, and that it was a mistake to include him in our report” after a discovery that Davies had given a different account of his time in Benghazi to the FBI. In the segment, Davies claimed to be an eyewitness to the attack by insurgents that left U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens and three others dead.
“The most important thing to every person at ’60 Minutes’ is the truth,” said Logan, “and the truth is, we made a mistake.”
The review of the troubled segment by CBS News executive director of standards and practices Al Ortiz found the reporting “deficient in several respects,” including producers’ inability to check thoroughly the account of Davies, the main source of the segment and who used the pseudonym Morgan Jones. The review also said “60 Minutes” should have disclosed the fact that Jones’ account had originally appeared in a book published recently by an imprint of Simon & Schuster, also a unit of CBS Corp.
“There is a lot to learn from this mistake for the entire organization,” Fager said in the memo. ” 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.”
He added: “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.”
The internal review found that CBS producers had been told before airing the segment that Davies had lied to his own employer about his whereabouts during the night of the attack. “This crucial point – his admission that he had not told his employer the truth about his own actions – should have been a red flag in the editorial vetting process,” Ortiz said in the review.
CBS also found that Logan had pushed the boundaries of CBS News standards by saying in a speech a month before the Benghazi segment aired suggesting actions the U.S. should take in response to the attack on the compound. “From a CBS News standards perspective, there is a conflict in taking a public position on the government’s handling of Benghazi and Al Qaeda, while continuing to report on the story,” Ortiz said in the review.
Even though CBS News issued an apology on “60 Minutes,” some critics felt the unit had to do more. In a statement released earlier Tuesday, the Assn. for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, called for CBS News to make the original segment available on the Web and other digital properties, along with Logan’s mea culpa.
“Correcting an inaccurate broadcast that has aired is challenging, but in today’s digital world, it can be done in a way that simultaneously preserves the original broadcast for the historical and journalistic record and tells the truth about the inaccurate content,” said Paula Poindexter, the group’s president. “Therefore, AEJMC recommends that ’60 Minutes’ embed the original report together with Logan’s official correction and the link to her Nov. 8, 2013, ‘CBS This Morning’ interview in which she answered tough questions about events that led to the defective report. Additionally, a correction should be superimposed across the video so there is no misunderstanding about the inaccurate content in the report.”
Admission of the reporting error echoes a previous controversy surrounding the “60 Minutes” franchise a decade ago.
Claims made in a 2004 edition of the now-defunct “60 Minutes II” newsmagazine about President George W. Bush’s service in the National Guard in the 1970s turned out to be based on documents that could not be authenticated. In the aftermath of that report, CBS set up an independent investigation into the report, which eventually led to the supervisor of the segment being fired while three other supervising executives were asked to resign. The report also tarnished the reputation of CBS News anchor Dan Rather.