Still the Gold Standard

All of us make mistakes, but the test of an ethical individual and organization is how they handle the aftermath of those mistakes.

Last Friday (Nov. 8), CBS News reporter Lara Logan went on CBS This Morning show with an admission. “The most important thing to every person at 60 Minutes is the truth, and today the truth is that we made a mistake,” Logan began. “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.”

Logan is referring to a 60 Minutes report looking into the death of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, at the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. On October 27, Logan interviewed Dylan Davies, an ex-security officer, who went into great detail about that night in Benghazi, claiming to have not only been there but confronted one of the attackers.

Logan, a two-time Murrow Award-winning reporter known for her integrity in getting the details of a story right, confides that “Dylan Davies worked for the State Department in Libya, was the manager of the local guard force at the Benghazi Special Mission compound.

“He described for us his actions the night of the attack, saying he had entered the compound and had a confrontation with one of the attackers, and that he had seen the body of Ambassador Chris Stevens in a local hospital. And after our report aired, questions were raised about whether his account was real, after an incident report surfaced that told a different story about what he’d done that night. He denied that report and said that he told the FBI the same story he told us. But what we now know is that he told the FBI a different story from what he told us. That’s when we realized that we no longer had confidence in our source and that we were wrong to put him on air…”

According to 60 Minutes Executive Jeff Fager, the veteran news team appeared to have been deceived by Davies. Contradictory details of the incident report were not known to Fager and Logan until the day before the reporter’s apology.

How did this happen?

Explaining her reporting, Logan said, “We verified and confirmed that [Davies] 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. He gave us access to communications he’d 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. He also showed us photographs that he had taken at the Special Mission compound the following morning. We take the vetting of sources and stories very seriously at 60 Minutes and we took it seriously in this case. But we were misled and we were wrong, and that’s the important thing… We have to set the record straight and take responsibility.”

One week earlier, however, The Washington Post ran a story which called into question key elements of Davies report. According to an incident report given after the attack, Davies states that he never made it to the compound that night.

O’Donnell asked Logan, “Did you know about that incident report?”

“No,” Logan says, “we did not know about that incident report before we did our story. When the Washington Post story came out, [Davies] denied it, he said that he never wrote it, had nothing to do with it, and that he told the FBI the same story that he told us. But as we now know, that was not that case.”

“But why would you stand by this report after Dylan Davies admitted lying to his own employer?” O’Donnell asks.

“Because he was very upfront about that from the beginning,” Logan said. “That was always part of his story. And, the context of it when he tells his story is that his boss is someone he cared about enormously. He cared about his American counterparts in the mission that night, and when his boss told him not to go, he couldn’t stay back. That was always part of the record for us. And that part didn’t come as any surprise.”

The New York Times reported on Friday (Nov. 8): “Mr. Fager said CBS had been duped by a convincing liar. ‘There are people in the world who try to deceive others,’ he said. ‘We believe we have a really good system to guard against that. This guy got through that.’

“With agents unable to operate freely in Benghazi,” The Times writes, “the FBI, which is conducting an investigation into the attack, has struggled to get interviews with the guards hired to protect the mission and other witnesses. That has forced the agents to rely on the accounts provided by State Department officials and contractors who have left the country. As part of those efforts, the FBI interviewed Mr. Davies by phone, teleconference and in Wales, where Mr. Davies lives. (Mr. Davies could not be reached Friday. Mr. Fager said he had told CBS News he had ‘gone into hiding.’)

After the discovery of the incident report, CBS took several immediate steps: it removed the Davies story from the 60 Minutes Website; reporter Lara Logan made an on-air apology on CBS This Morning; and Simon & Schuster, a division of CBS, pulled a book from publication by Davies which mirrors the story he told 60 Minutes.

“Journalists,” ethicist Michael Josephson writes, “should accept moral responsibility for the foreseeable consequences of actions and inactions… and when in error, they should make full, fair, prominent and prompt corrections.”

Both 60 Minutes and correspondent Lara Logan have taken those necessary steps. From my perspective, both Logan and CBS have demonstrated credibility by owning up and detailing how they made their mistake. It remains to be seen how the public will judge their credibility going forward.

 

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