Journalism Experts Criticize "Severely Lacking" And "Flimsy" 60 Minutes Correction

Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

60 Minutes' weak, incomplete apology for its since-pulled October 27 Benghazi report is drawing harsh criticism from all corners of the media world, including numerous veteran media watchdogs.

Longtime journalists and news ethicists who spoke with Media Matters described CBS correspondent Lara Logan's limited correction as "lacking" and "flimsy."

"I was really surprised by how it wasn't just that it was flimsy and lacked any kind of substance, but in its way it was kind of high-handed," said David Zurawik, Baltimore Sun TV critic. "It certainly wasn't contrite."

Logan's brief appearance at the end of the November 10 broadcast explained that Dylan Davies, the former security contractor who appeared as a supposed Benghazi "eyewitness" during the October 27 segment, had "misled" the network about his actions the night of the Benghazi attacks. 

But Logan's November 10 apology didn't offer additional information about why 60 Minutes trusted Davies' accounts, why they did not review his report to the FBI, or whether any further internal investigation will take place. 

Logan had previously appeared on CBS's This Morning on November 8 to apologize to viewers and offer an incomplete explanation for how the Davies story had made it to air. 

Though former NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard praised Logan's This Morning appearance, she added that "last night's brief mea culpa was severely lacking." Shepard continued, "It needed an explanation of why the mistake occurred in the first place. It needed more on their initial contact with Davies. Did the conservative CBS Corp. imprint, which was publishing Davies memoir, suggest the story? 

"What was disappointing is that 60 Minutes, heralded for investigative reporting, didn't apply its chops to telling the audience why this happened."

Michael Getler, former Washington Post ombudsman and current PBS ombudsman, offered similar views.

"I watched 60 Minutes last night and felt the apology fell way short of what was needed," Getler said via email. "60 Minutes should have done a segment on what went wrong, not just a brief apology. 60 Minutes is the gold standard for credible investigative reporting on hot-button issues on network television, where precious little of that is done elsewhere. So it is important to journalism and to the public, not just to CBS, that it gets things right."

Kelly McBride, ethics instructor at The Poynter Institute, agreed with critics who are pointing out the shortcomings of 60 Minutes' apology.

"I think the criticism is spot on and I don't think people are going to let this go until CBS explains the answer to two very specifics questions," she said in an interview. "The first is, what did they do to vet Dylan Davies? And where did the process breakdown?"

She later added, "It is entirely possible that someone with an agenda was trying to influence the story. Who was inappropriately influencing that story? The big question to 60 Minutes is 'do you think that [correction] will do? I don't think it will."

Tim McGuire, journalism professor at Arizona State University and former editor of The Star-Tribune in Minneapolis, said, "Davies is clearly a liar but when viewers viewed the original report they rightfully had every expectation that CBS and Logan had thoroughly checked out Davies. It would seem viewers are still owed an answer as to why that vetting failed."

Edward Wasserman, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley and a Miami Herald columnist, highlighted the "very problematic element" that CBS Corporation-owned Simon & Schuster published a book based on Davies' account two days after the October 27 segment aired. 

"They had some cowboy, they didn't check him out and they were already putting their chips on the table with him," Wasserman said, pointing to Davies' accompanying book, The Embassy House, which has since been pulled from bookstore shelves. "That was a very problematic element."

"When I heard the apology, I wanted to know how I should now view the report, they never addressed that," he added. "The real question the viewer has is what conclusions do I now draw from the report?"

Zurawik agreed: "If they think that that kind of apology is going to make it okay to turn the page and move forward with their credibility in tact they are mistaken. This is serious, serious business."

60 Minutes, CBS News
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