Jeff Fager, the executive producer of the venerated news program “60 Minutes,” announced Tuesday that he had asked reporter Lara Logan and producer Max McClellan to take a leave of absence after numerous questions surfaced about the veracity of an Oct. 27 report on the Sept. 11, 2012, attack that killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
The request that the two leave their jobs was the culmination of an internal “journalistic review,” first reported by McClatchy, which found the segment “deficient.”
How long the leave would last remained unclear. In response to that question, CBS spokesman Kevin Tedesco told McClatchy only that “the ‘60 Minutes’ journalistic review is concluded, and we are implementing ongoing changes based on its results.”
“As executive producer, I am responsible for what gets on the air,” Fager said in a memo to his staff. “I pride myself in catching almost everything, but this deception got through and it shouldn’t have.”
The memo provides no details of how Fager, who as executive producer is the person who vets every piece that appears on “60 Minutes,” reviewed the faulty report. The review was conducted by Al Ortiz, the network’s executive director of standards and practices, who reports to Fager, who is also chairman of CBS News.
Ortiz’s 10-point summary of his findings skirts some of the main issues still lingering about the segment. He offered no explanation, for example, of how Logan came in contact with Dylan Davies, the main source for the story, or why Logan did not reveal that Davies had written a soon-to-be-published book for another CBS-owned company. The book project since has been canceled.
The review also did not explain Logan’s assertions that al Qaida was behind the attack – that is a widely disputed assertion – or that the hospital where Stevens was treated was controlled by al Qaida, something that was inaccurate. The review concluded only that Logan had not attributed those assertions properly.
The segment featured Davies, who was a supervisor for the British company that had provided security guards for the U.S. compound. Davies claimed that he had confronted attackers inside the U.S. special mission on the night of the attack and had struck one of the approximately 70 attackers in the head with his rifle butt. Davies also told Logan that he had gone to Benghazi Medical Center and saw Stevens there shortly after doctors had declared him dead from smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning.
Four days after the piece appeared, The Washington Post reported that the “60 Minutes” segment was contradicted by a report that Davies had filed with his employer about the attack. A week after that, The New York Times reported that Davies had told the FBI that he had not been near the compound or the hospital the night of the attack. In his statement to the FBI, Davies said he went the following day and first learned of Stevens’ death then.
Many questioned how one of the nation’s most celebrated news shows did not properly vet Davies’ claims, particularly on a story as politically charged as the Benghazi attack, the first killing of a U.S. ambassador on the job since 1979.
“The fact that the FBI and the State Department had information that differed from the account Davies gave to ‘60 Minutes’ was knowable before the piece aired,” Ortiz wrote. “But the wider reporting resources of CBS News were not employed in an effort to confirm his account. It’s possible that reporters and producers with better access to inside FBI sources could have found out that Davies had given varying and conflicting accounts of his story.”
Ortiz did not address whether Davies was put in touch with “60 Minutes” by the would-be publisher of his book, Threshold Editions, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, which is owned by CBS. “‘60 Minutes’ erred in not disclosing that connection in the segment,” Ortiz concluded.
The review also refers to other questions raised by McClatchy. The 15-minute segment repeatedly referred to the attack as an al Qaida operation, saying that fact was “well known,” and claimed Stevens was treated at a hospital controlled by al Qaida.
But who took part in storming the compound is disputed, and there is no known information that the attack was led by al Qaida. Instead, the attackers consisted of members of several jihadist groups, including Ansar al Shariah, a Libyan militia that was responsible for security in much of Benghazi. Several Libyans told McClatchy the hospital was guarded by Ansar al Shariah, not al Qaida.
The journalistic review did not question the accuracy of Logan’s assertions about al Qaida but said they were inadequately attributed in the segment.
“Logan declared in the report that al Qaida fighters had carried it out,” the review said. “Al Qaida’s role is the subject of much disagreement and debate. While Logan had multiple sources and good reasons to have confidence in them, her assertions that al Qaida carried out the attack and controlled the hospital were not adequately attributed in her report.”
The review also backed the report’s assertion that Stevens’ schedule for Sept. 12, 2012, had been found in the compound more than a year after the attack. But it skirts the fact that the only person CBS dispatched to Benghazi during what “60 Minutes” called a “year-long investigation” was a security contractor who, in his words, “works in journalism.”
“Video taken by the producer-cameraman whom the ‘60 Minutes’ team sent to the Benghazi compound last month clearly shows that the pictures of the Technical Operations Center were authentic, including the picture of the schedule in the debris,” the memo said.
But the contractor did not describe himself as a producer-cameraman in a conversation with McClatchy, in which he recounted hiring two Libyans to accompany him on Oct. 4-7 for the story. The contractor, who contacted McClatchy, refused to give his real name or name the company for which he works, but he provided photos from his visit.
On Tuesday, McClatchy found the memo shown in the “60 Minutes” report, lying on top of debris in the compound’s technical operations center.
The memo, however, undercuts Logan’s assertion that the Benghazi Medical Center was under al Qaida control at the time of the attack. The schedule shows that Stevens was scheduled to visit the medical center at 11 a.m. – an unlikely destination if the hospital had been controlled by al Qaida.