November 10th, 2013

’60 Minutes’ retracts Benghazi story

Today on CNN’s  Reliable Sources with guest host Eric Deggans of NPR, Bill Carter, reporter for the New York Times, Kelly McBride, editor of Poynter Institute, and David Brock, founder of Media Matters for America, spoke to CNN about CBS’s “60 Minutes” latest controversy over their inaccurate reporting on Benghazi.

A full transcript is available after the jump.

DEGGANS:  Two weeks ago CBS’s “60 Minutes” released a controversial report detailing new aspects of the embassy attack in Benghazi.  At the center of the story was a security officer they called Morgan Jones.


DYLAN DAVIES, FORMER SECURITY OFFICER:  One guy saw me.  He just shouted.  Couldn’t believe he had seen me because it was so dark.  He started walking toward 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. 


DEGGANS:  But within days, “The Washington Post” published a story questioning Jones’ credibility and revealing his true identity.


DEGGANS:  Correspondent Laura Logan came forward with a lengthy apology.


LOGAN:  Well, 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.  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 are wrong.  And in this case, we were wrong.

And he said that he told the FBI the same story that he had told us.  But what we now know is that he told the FBI a different story to what he told us and that was the moment for us when we realized that we no longer had confidence in our source and that we were wrong to put him on air and we apologize to our viewers.


DEGGANS:  Now the publisher of Davies’ new book has suspended publication and sales.  But with more than a year to investigate Davies’ claims, how did CBS fall victim to a suspect source?

Joining us in New York, Bill Carter from “The New York Times”, who first confirmed discrepancies Davies stories to the FBI and CBS; and in Tampa, Kelly McBride, lead and instructor at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies; and here in D.C., David Brock, founder of Media Matters for America, a progressive media watchdog group.

Bill, I’m going start with you.  The key problem here seems to be that CBS trusted Davies when he said his account to the FBI matched an account in his book and that also in their reporting but you guys at “The New York Times” were able to discover that that wasn’t necessarily true.

So what happened here?  Where did CBS go wrong?

BILL CARTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  Well, it looks like they didn’t actually vet the guy thoroughly clearly because they didn’t have this information from the FBI and he was telling them that would corroborate the story he told them.

Yet, the FBI, when it was willing to reveal this, undermined the story.  They should have been able to find out through their own sources it seems to me in advance that this was not going to be the case.  But they went ahead with this because he was the key to the story.  They didn’t have a lot else that was new and he was telling something exciting and extremely dramatic like hitting someone in the head with a rifle.

DEGGANS:  Now, David, you called for “60 minutes” to retract this story more than a week before they actually did.  What did you see in reporting that made you question what they were doing and what do you think happened here?

DAVID BROCK, MEDIA MATTERS FOR AMERICA: Well, the first thing we saw was the day after the “60 Minutes” report ran.  On FOX News, it was disclosed they had used Davies as a source up to the point where he demanded money.  So, that was one flag.

Obviously, Davies has a book out from a right wing publisher.  That was the second flag.

And then “The Washington Post” story ran, that day, we asked for a retraction.  That took quite a while.  The excuse that CBS is giving now is that they were dupes.  Dupes of what?

I think they were eager and willing dupes of a right wing hoax.  They suspended the traditional standards of CBS News and they adopted the shoddy practices of FOX News, and when you get and go down the FOX path, that’s where you end up.

And, really, the bigger piece for me is we have written a book called “Benghazi Hoax” for Media Matters and everybody that followed this story for the past 13 months knows that the entire scandal is a hoax.  The only reason the story exists is partisan politics, Republicans trying to sabotage health care, and prevent Hillary Clinton from running for president.

DEGGANS:  Now, we would expect that from a group like Media Matters, you would see it that way.

Let me turn to Kelly McBride in Tampa.

You are an ethics instructor.  Before CBS retracted this story, Lara Logan made a point saying they spent a year investigating this.

So, should there be an independent investigation to figure out what happened with reporting in this story and what do you make of David’s allegations about why this story may have happened in the first place?

KELLY MCBRIDE, POYNTER INSTITUTE FOR MEDIA STUDIES:  So, whether it’s an independent investigator or whether CBS does its own investigation, the really important thing is that they transparently reveal to the public why they made these mistakes.  The day after their report came out, “The Washington Post” story pointed out that Davies original account that he gave to his employer was very different.  CBS, at that point, was defending the story.  So, it makes you think they knew that there was a discrepancy with their source.  They knew that there were some red flags.

Normally, when you have something like that as a journalist, you try and resolve it by at least talking to other people at the scene who could confirm that Davies was actually there.  Because that’s what’s being questioned is, was he really at the embassy when it was being attacked?  And because they didn’t reveal whether they did that, it’s — the public has no idea right now what went wrong with CBS.

Was it — was it a problem with their reporting or was it a problem that proceeds their reporting where they just accepted this source because he already had a book out, because the book was published by a company that is owned by CBS.  There’s so many questions that what’s really important is revealing the answers to those very specific questions to the public and not necessarily whether it’s an independent investigator or an internal investigator.

DEGGANS:  OK, I will point out that “The Washington Post” report you talked about came out a few days after the “60 Minutes” report.

So, Bill, I’m going to play devil’s advocate here and say is it possible that intelligence and military sources held back news of this incident report and the FBI report from “60 Minutes” in order to let them report something that was false and then kind of ambushed them with this news to you and perhaps to some other sources?  Could this have been some kind of weird sucker punch?

CARTER:  I think you can guess almost anything in the story because it’s clear there are so many agendas at work here.  Clearly, the State Department’s agenda here was to undermine this report right away.  They wanted to do whatever they could to undermine it.  And, yes, they obviously leaked that incident report.

The incident report CBS knew something about because they felt like he had already told them he lied to his boss, you know, because he’s countermanding orders or whatever.  The FBI report was to now be contradiction to that.

But I think you have to take into account that this is a very hot political issue from both sides.  You have so many vested interests.  Mr. Brock has a book.  This guy had a book.  There’s many interests in this story.

And I think, in a nonpartisan way, to step back and say, why did they make a mistake?  I think they believed a guy they shouldn’t have believed.  That’s fundamental part of this and that’s what’s got them into this situation.

DEGGANS:  Now, David, isn’t it possible that the core notion at the heart of this controversy about Benghazi that the government should have known that a terrorist attack was being planned for quite some time before it actually happened.  Isn’t it possible that could be true even though this source for “60 Minutes” turned out to be compromised?

BROCK:  First, I just wouldn’t equate my book with this false book.

No, here’s the thing.  I don’t know what Lara Logan knew.  She spent a year working on this story.  If she had paid attention, we would know on the night of the attacks, Mitt Romney politicized this tragedy for his own agenda.  He trashed the president. He trashed Secretary Clinton and said they were sympathizing with the attackers.

So, “60 Minutes” and its story is another version of the same hoax and scandal that they unearthed as “60 Minutes” has nothing to do with Benghazi.  It’s their willingness to be duped by the right.

DEGGANS:  Now, Kelly, I’m to go to you, quickly.  Is part of the problem here how CBS initially reacted to this story so quick to defend Davies and so unwilling to allow that there might have been a problem?

MCBRIDE:  Yes.  That’s part of the problem.

The bigger problem though is them not being open about their reporting process.  Why were they so quick to defend him given the fact that there was a discrepancy about his actual presence there?  They made you think they had done their due diligence.

So, now, to come back two weeks later and for them to say, actually, we didn’t do our due diligence on this makes you really question what was going on in the year that they said they reported this story.

DEGGANS:  Yes.  And so do you think what they have to do tonight — we don’t know what they’re going to say on “60 Minutes”, to reveal more about how they made this mistake, is that with a they need to do

MCBRIDE:  Yes.  I mean, they need to say, you know, so how did Davies come to them as a source?  Was it through Simon & Shuster, the book publisher, or had he come to them before then?  And when he came to them, what type of questions did they ask him and what type of questions did they ask other people who were at the scene to verify his story?

DEGGANS:  OK, Kelly, I’m sorry.  I’m sorry I’m going to have to — I’m going to have to break in.

Thank you, guys, so much for coming on the show.  There’s so much to talk about here and hopefully we’ll get a chance to deal with it more in the future.