Newsweek contributing editor Jeff Stein is raising questions about whether 60 Minutes correspondent Lara Logan's husband -- a former employee of a firm that planted "pro-U.S. stories in the Iraqi media in 2005" -- was involved in the show's now-retracted Benghazi report.
CBS has been the target of a firestorm of criticism since the October 27 airing of a 60 Minutes segment on the 2012 terror attacks on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. The network eventually retracted their story after it became clear that the supposed Benghazi "eyewitness" featured in the segment had lied about his actions the night of the attacks. (A subsequent review of the segment by McClatchy News identified several other glaring weaknesses in the CBS report.)
Under intense pressure from numerous media observers -- including Media Matters founder and chairman David Brock -- CBS eventually announced that it is conducting a "journalistic review" of the story.
Citing the fact that "nobody at 60 Minutes has been fired or even publicly disciplined for its odd, inflammatory and dead-wrong" Benghazi report, Newsweek's Jeff Stein points to Logan's husband, Joseph Burkett, as "the most interesting figure in this mystery."
Stein explains that Burkett is "a former Army sergeant and onetime employee of a private intelligence outfit hired by the Pentagon to plant pro-U.S. stories in the Iraqi media in 2005." The Lincoln Group, Burkett's former employer, apparently specialized in producing videos and phony news clips that they would then feed to media outlets, "making them appear as originating from legitimate news organizations." From Newsweek:
According to an internal company document obtained by Newsweek, the Lincoln Group specialized in producing films, news clips, and print stories in Baghdad that would be fed to the media through cutouts on an unattributed basis, making them appear as originating from legitimate news organizations.
During the 2006 battle for Fallujah, "Our development of documentaries of the Fallujah campaign and our ability to develop non-Coalition attributable messages enabled us to reach out to the Iraqi audience," the document says. "This multifaceted project produced content for Western, Arab, and Iraqi audiences and is still ongoing. For each audience we have identified content and formatting that is appropriate and non-attributable to the actual source." (Italics added.)
A 2006 New York Times article highlighted the vast scope of the multimillion-dollar "aggressive propaganda campaign" carried out by the Lincoln Group in Iraq, which reportedly included "paying Iraqi editors to run stories":
Early last summer, military commanders made Lincoln Group the main civilian contractor for carrying out an aggressive propaganda campaign in Anbar Province, known as the Western Mission project. Over the next several months, the military transferred tens of millions of dollars to Lincoln for the project, records show.
The company hired dozens of employees, including academics and former military personnel, as well as hundreds of contract workers in Iraq and elsewhere, a number that fluctuates by contract requirements, according to Mr. Dixon, the Lincoln spokesman.
With the new duties came substantial new requirements, including producing television and radio ads, buying newspaper ads and placing many more articles in the Iraqi press. The military also approved paying Iraqi editors to run stories, according to ex-Lincoln employees.
In his article for Newsweek, Stein writes that Burkett "appears to have cut ties with Lincoln and its various corporate permutations, but he has clearly kept a hand in the world of security contractors," though his current job is unclear. (Logan apparently told The New York Times last year that her husband is currently a "work-at-home Congressional liaison.")
Highlighting one of the flaws McClatchy identified in the CBS report -- the unsourced claim "pinning responsibility for the attack solely on al Qaeda" -- Stein ponders where such a claim could have come from, and points to Logan's husband as a possible source:
The unmasking of security contractor Davies as a fabricator was the starting point for Youssef and other critics, but what stood out for them was Logan's unsourced allegations pinning responsibility for the attack solely on al Qaeda, and in particular, operatives with close ties to Osama Bin Laden. The effect of such allegations is to once again undermine the Obama administration's position that the attack had local origins and came as a surprise, and that all that made rescuing the besieged Americans very difficult, if not impossible. And the 60 Minutes broadcast was hardly off the air when South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham, a persistent critic of the administration for its handling of the Benghazi attack, declared he would block all of Obama's nominations for government posts until he got more answers.
The State Department and CIA have conducted extensive internal investigations that, to unbiased observers, persuasively debunk charges of an orchestrated cover-up of the events in Benghazi.
In other words, [Logan's] a smart, tough, experienced reporter. And the producer and writers and reporters who helped her put this Benghazi story together are honored, respected professionals, many of whom have been covering the region for years. Whoever fooled them, whoever convinced them that al Qaeda orchestrated that attack on the U.S. embassy, had to be smart, incredibly persuasive and savvy about the media. And unquotable.
In other words, an intelligence source. And the person closest to Logan with those credentials is her husband. But he's not talking.
Until CBS offers a full accounting of how exactly its botched Benghazi report made it to the air, it's likely going to continue to be the target of speculation about how such a shoddy segment made it onto 60 Minutes.