On September 11, 2012, terrorists killed four Americans during attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. Conservatives immediately sought to use those tragic killings for political benefit.
By January 1, with conservatives having failed to prevent President Obama's re-election, but succeeding in using the issue to torpedo Susan Rice's bid for Secretary of State, Media Matters had some reason to hope that this effort would subside.
We were wrong.
Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media doubled down, spending much of the year trying to turn Benghazi into Obama's Watergate (or Iran-Contra, or both) and try to end any potential presidential run by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before it can begin. And some mainstream outlets, more eager to win over a conservative audience than to check their facts, ran their own misleading, sketchily-sourced Benghazi exposés.
Much of the discussion has centered around two "unanswered questions" that in reality were answered long ago.
Right-wing media outlets (and mainstream outlets seeking to attract their audience) have been obsessed with asking why the Obama administration initially linked the attacks with an anti-Islam YouTube video that spurred violent protests across the Middle East in mid-September, even after it became clear that the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis had believed there was a connection between the two.
They've also taken every opportunity to question why help wasn't sent to aid U.S. diplomats in Benghazi. Reporters have continued asking this "lingering question" even as a long line of national security experts, from both inside and outside of the administration, have explained that while the Defense Department quickly deployed Special Forces teams to the region, due to logistical issues they were unable to reach the scene until long after the attacks had concluded.
To comprehensively debunk these claims and many more about the attacks, in October 2013 Media Matters' David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt released the ebook The Benghazi Hoax.
Here are seven of the worst media reports and conspiracies from the last year on the Benghazi hoax:
From the November 26 edition of MSNBC's All In With Chris Hayes:
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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."
On October 27, CBS' 60 Minutes aired a segment anchored by correspondent Lara Logan and featuring the results of her year-long investigation into the September 11, 2012, attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. Right-wing media outlets and conservative politicians promptly seized on the story, claiming it validated their extensive effort to turn the attacks into a political scandal for President Obama and Hillary Clinton.
12 days later, the network pulled the report and apologized to viewers, with the network acknowledging that it had committed its biggest failure since the 2004 controversy surrounding a 60 Minutes story on President Bush's Air National Guard service.
After facing withering criticism for issuing an apology on 60 Minutes that failed to detail what the network had done wrong or any investigation CBS would undertake to explain how its blunder had occurred, CBS announced on November 14 that it had begun an ongoing "journalistic review" of the segment. But the network declined to detail who is performing that review or whether its results will be made public.
Much of the criticism has revolved around the network's handling of its interview with the former British security contractor Dylan Davies, identified by CBS as a "witness" to the attacks. But numerous flaws in the report have been identified since the segment aired.
Here are all of those flaws.
Addressing the falling standards at CBS News and its hallmark Sunday night news magazine program, Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hilzik recently lamented how 60 Minutes "used to stand for rigorous, honest reporting. What's happened to it?" Hiltzik accused 60 Minutes of practicing a "ghastly" brand of journalism.
Hiltzik has hardly been alone been expressing his amazement at CBS's dubious performance. What's key about his observation was that it came in early October, three weeks before CBS became enmeshed in the humiliating Benghazi controversy, in which the network was forced to retract a badly flawed report that featured a bogus "eyewitness."
So why in early October, prior to the Benghazi fiasco, was Hiltzik bemoaning the appalling journalism sponsored by 60 Minutes? The columnist took aim at an October 6, scare report the CBS program aired, alleging widespread fraud within the Social Security disability program. ("A secret welfare system.") Told from the perspective of a crusading Republican lawmaker, Media Matters noted at the time the CBS report relied almost entirely on anecdotal evidence to dishonestly portray the social welfare program as wasteful, despite the fact that award rates fell during the recession and that fraud is less than one percent of the program.
After watching the report, Hiltzik denounced CBS correspondent Steve Kroft's "rank ignorance about the disability program: how it works, who the beneficiaries are, why it has grown." The columnist was hardly alone in expressing his amazement at CBS's deficiencies. Kroft's one-sided, badly flawed report sparked widespread criticism.
But the disability and Benghazi debacles have hardly been isolated incidents. CBS News' Sharyl Attkisson this week aired a Republican-sponsored attack piece on the supposed security lapses of Healthcare.gov based entirely on a partial transcript leaked by President Obama's most partisan, and untrustworthy, critics on Capitol Hill. (Upon closer review, Attkisson's erroneous report completely fell apart.)
And during the roll-out of Obamacare when lots of news outlets were badly misreporting about the implications of insurance companies sending out health care plan cancellation notices, CBS News' Jan Crawford produced perhaps the most misleading and factually challenged report of them all; a report that came to symbolize the mainstream media botching the health care coverage with misleading scare coverage.
Viewed as a whole, it seems something is unraveling inside CBS News, as it now produces gotcha reports that are quickly proven to be flat-out wrong; reports that appear to be built around attempts to obfuscate the truth. And yes, in all these instances the target is the Democratic administration and those cheering the loudest are President Obama's most dedicated critics.
In the disability, health care and Benghazi cases, CBS aired four outrageously misleading and factually inaccurate reports. And CBS did all of that in the window of just six weeks. I'm hard pressed to point to the same number of ABC or NBC reports that have aired in the last 12 months that were as egregious as the CBS foursome.
McClatchy News has offered a damning critique of 60 Minutes' now-retracted story on the September 2012 Benghazi attacks, pointing out that several aspects of the story feature minimal sourcing and contradict the statements of experts.
The report comes as CBS News discloses that a "journalistic review" of the heavily criticized October 27 segment, which featured a since-discredited "witness" and promoted his book on the attacks without disclosing that the book was published by a CBS division. CBS has declined to explain who is conducting that review, how it is being conducted, and whether its findings will be public.
During the segment, correspondent Lara Logan made a number of claims about the attack and its perpetrators, often sourced only with the statement "[w]e have learned" or with nothing at all. McClatchy News Middle East Bureau Chief Nancy Youssef's reporting suggests that these claims were also inaccurate. Given that the report's sources included a man whose account CBS News has already acknowledged was fraudulent, it's fair to question the sourcing of other claims in the report.
A full, complete, and independent investigation of the segment could provide answers to these and other questions about CBS News' reporting.
"Other weaknesses" identified in Youssef's "line-by-line review" include:
The Role Of Al Qaida
The report repeatedly referred to al Qaida as solely responsible for the attack on the compound, and made no mention of Ansar al Shariah, the Islamic extremist group that controls and provides much of the security in restive Benghazi and that has long been suspected in the attack. While the two organizations have worked together in Libya, experts said they have different aims - al Qaida has global objectives while Ansar al Shariah is focused on turning Libya into an Islamic state.
It is an important distinction, experts on those groups said. Additionally, al Qaida's role, if any, in the attack has not been determined, and Logan's narration offered no source for her repeated assertion that it had been...
Logan claimed that "it's now well established that the Americans were attacked by al Qaida in a well-planned assault." But al Qaida has never claimed responsibility for the attack, and the FBI, which is leading the U.S. investigation, has never named al Qaida as the sole perpetrator. Rather it is believed a number of groups were part of the assault, including members and supporters of al Qaida and Ansar al Shariah as well as attackers angered by a video made by an American that insulted Prophet Muhammad. The video spurred angry protests outside Cairo hours beforehand.
Journalism veterans and media observers continue to strike the same chord while launching a chorus of criticism at CBS News in recent days: The network needs to be transparent and explain exactly what happened with its botched Benghazi report, and start detailing how such an obviously flawed report made in onto the most-watched news program in America.
And yet it's silence from CBS, which is now stonewalling press inquiries, as well as the calls for an outside review of its Benghazi reporting. CBS' refusal to undergo a public examination in the wake of such a landmark blunder stands in stark contrast to how news organizations have previously dealt with black eyes; news organizations that once included CBS News.
CBS is now taking a radically different approach. There appears to have been a corporate decision made that granting members of an independent review panel unfettered access to 60 Minutes represents a greater danger than the deep damage currently being done to the network's brand via the two-week-old scandal.
So again and again the question bounces back to this: What is CBS hiding? And who is CBS protecting?
I'm sure network executives there are embarrassed by the controversy and wish the report hadn't aired as it did. There's a reason Jeff Fager, Chairman of CBS News (above left), ranked it as among the worst mistakes in the nearly 50 year history of 60 Minutes. But as we learn more and more about the errors and oversights, it's becoming increasingly difficult to understand the magnitude of the malfeasance; the refusal by CBS to follow even rudimentary rules of journalism.
In a small but telling example, Mother Jones recently reviewed the Benghazi book that CBS' discredited "witness," Dylan Davies, co-wrote, and which CBS supposedly relied on to corroborate this tale, which included him informing the FBI about his heroic actions the night of the attack at the U.S. compound in Benghazi. (It was later confirmed Davies wasn't even at the compound and the book was quickly recalled.) Mother Jones found Davies' published account to be completely, and almost comically, unbelievable:
60 Minutes still hasn't told its viewers that its since-retracted report on the September 2012 Benghazi attacks promoted a book that was published by a CBS subsidiary -- a conflict of interest the network acknowledged was a mistake a week ago.
Media commentators have been raining criticism on CBS News in response to 60 Minutes' tepid, incomplete apology for their retracted report on Benghazi. Those critics have pointed out that the 90-second apology failed to explain how the segment made it to air given the serious questions about the credibility of its star "witness" Dylan Davies, and have lambasted the network for failing to announce an investigation into the handling of the story.
But even before CBS News finally acknowledged the problems with Davies story, the network conceded it had made a mistake in failing to tell the viewers of the October 27 story that Davies' book, which the segment promoted, was published by Simon & Schuster, which is a division of CBS.
On November 5, The New York Times reported:
CBS said that Jeffrey Fager, chairman of CBS News and executive producer of "60 Minutes," said on Tuesday that he regretted not making the connection between Mr. Davies and CBS public.
[CBS correspondent Lara] Logan said, "Honestly, it never factored into the story. It was a mistake; we should have done it, precisely because there's nothing to hide. It was an oversight."
That "oversight" was not corrected during 60 Minutes' brief November 10 apology, which discussed only the failure to properly vet Davies' story, not the conflict of interest.
Likewise, when CBS Evening News covered the story on November 8, anchor Scott Pelley said that Davies had written a book that had been published by a CBS division, but did not note that that information had not been mentioned during the original 60 Minutes segment.
CBS has only acknowledged this problem on air during a November 8 segment on CBS' This Morning, when anchor Jeff Glor reported that "60 [Minutes] has already acknowledged it was a mistake not to disclose that the book was being published by Simon & Schuster, which is a CBS company."
Notably, This Morning typically has an audience of 2.5 to 3 million viewers. 60 Minutes, by contrast, is the most-watched news program in America; the October 27 broadcast was seen by almost 11 million people, while the November 10 edition was watched by more than 15 million.
After 60 Minutes ran a flawed report on President Bush's National Guard service in 2004, CBS News and its parent company formed an independent panel to investigate the segment and instituted many of the panel's recommendations, including firing several of the responsible parties. This stands in stark contrast to the aftermath of 60 Minutes' recent flawed report on the Benghazi attacks.
CBS News is under mounting pressure to launch an independent investigation into how 60 Minutes came to mislead its audience in an October 27th report that relied almost exclusively on a source they knew was an admitted liar.
CBS came under similar scrutiny in September 2004, when questions arose about the authenticity of documents 60 Minutes II used in a report challenging then President Bush's service in the National Guard.
On September 22, 2004, after CBS decided to appoint an independent investigation, a New York Times editorial said it was the right thing to do:
After an uncomfortably long wait, CBS has rightly gone public with its own doubts about the validity of the documents and commissioned an independent investigation.
On November 10, 60 Minutes reporter Lara Logan issued an inadequate apology that has been dismissed by a broad range of media observers. The statement came after nearly two weeks of stonewalling amid evidence that CBS' key eyewitness, a British security contractor named Dylan Davies, had told conflicting stories about his whereabouts during the September 11, 2012, terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya.
Media Matters founder David Brock called Logan's November 10 apology "wholly inadequate and entirely self-serving," and reiterated his call for CBS to appoint an independent commission to investigate the since-retracted report.
The message from CBS News, following the high-profile implosion of its October 27 Benghazi report? We're sorry. But we're not that sorry.
Coming days after CBS News chief Jeff Fager categorized the Benghazi mess as among the worst blunders in the show's history, the network's eagerly awaited apology on Sunday's night's 60 Minutes turned out to be an extremely tepid and limited effort, with correspondent Lara Logan taking just 90 seconds to walk back what she described as a sourcing error.
Logan's correction, in which she conceded the program "made a mistake," failed to capture the scope of the 60 Minutes Benghazi blunder. She also refused to address the pressing questions about how she and her colleagues produced such a flawed report; a report that 60 Minutes reportedly worked on for an entire year. (Logan's previous apology on CBS This Morning also failed to address those key issues.) The correction was widely derided by critics as being insufficient and misleading.
Perhaps more importantly, Logan offered no indication that CBS News is undertaking any kind of review to figure out what went so wrong at 60 Minutes, how an entire report was built around a charlatan "eyewitness," and how the show's bosses can prevent a colossal embarrassment like this from transpiring again.
Remember: In the days that followed the original airing of the troubled Benghazi report, CBS did nothing to re-report or fact-check the story. Other journalists, including those from the Washington Post and the New York Times, took on that burden. Basically, CBS waited for outside journalists to vet CBS' own Benghazi story, and only after they uncovered glaring inconsistencies did the network's news division admit that mistakes were made.
To date, CBS has pointedly failed to appoint an independent panel to review the controversial report. That refusal stands in stark contrast to the path CBS took in the wake of its 2004 story about questions surrounding President's George W. Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War. That 60 Minutes II report featured documents from one of Bush's former commander that could not be authenticated and sparked widespread condemnation from CBS' conservative critics, as well as an internal crisis at the network.
The double standard here is striking: CBS News chief Jeff Fager says the Benghazi story is among the biggest mistakes in the history of 60 Minutes. So why not appoint an independent review to figure how it happened, the way CBS did the last time the news magazine franchise was embroiled in a politically charged controversy? Why did the National Guard story require a painstaking autopsy performed by outside observers, but Benghazi garnered just a 90-second correction on 60 Minutes? Are CBS executives that nervous about what an autonomous review might undercover this time?
Also, are politics in play? Does CBS not feel the need for an independent review because this time the criticism is coming from mainstream media reporters as well as those on the left? When CBS faced the wrath of the right-wing media in 2004, the network's corporate reaction was noticeably different.
Not only was the review ordered, but it was later discovered that CBS officials were so spooked by the conservative attacks that when it came to assembling its "independent" panel the network reportedly considered including Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge on a list of possible review panelists. Also, CBS insiders were concerned that former GOP senator Warren Rudman would not "mollify" the network's right-wing critics so he was not selected for the "independent" panel.
Meanwhile, note that the importance of an outside and truly independent review is even more pressing today because CBS News boss Fager is also the Executive Producer of 60 Minutes, which would make it impossible for there to be a truly thorough, internal vetting of what went wrong considering Fager himself would be questioned about why his own program screwed up so badly. Ultimately, it would be Fager who'd likely come under the most scrutiny from an outside review; an outside review that Fager so far refuses to appoint.
60 Minutes aired an inadequate apology that not only failed to address fundamental questions about the CBS news magazine's vetting of an admitted liar who served as a key eyewitness in a story that the network has since retracted, but actually conflicts with CBS' prior explanation of that error.
During the November 10 edition of 60 Minutes, correspondent Lara Logan apologized to the audience and issued what she called a correction over an October 27 report on the September 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
LOGAN: We end our broadcast tonight with a correction on a story we reported October 27 about the attack on the American special mission compound in Benghazi, in which Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed. In the story, a security officer working for the State Department, Dylan Davies, told us he went to the compound during the attack and detailed his role that night.
After our report aired, questions arose about whether his account was true, when an incident report surfaced. It told a different story about what he did the night of the attack. Davies denied having anything to do with that incident report and insisted the story he told us was not only accurate, it was the same story told the FBI when they interviewed him.
On Thursday night, when we discovered the account he gave the FBI was different than what he told us, we realized we had been misled, and it was a mistake to include him in our report. For that, we are very sorry. The most important thing to every person at 60 Minutes is the truth, and the truth is, we made a mistake.
Logan's claim that it was only after the 60 Minutes report aired that questions arose about the truth of security contractor Dylan Davies' account is undermined by what she said during an apology she issued over the same segment just two days earlier.
During a November 8 appearance on CBS' This Morning, Logan discussed the fiasco surrounding 60 Minutes with anchor Norah O'Donnell. During her apology, Logan made clear that the fact that Davies had previously told a different account of the events of that night was known inside 60 Minutes before they aired the version that lined up with what he wrote in his book:
O'DONNELL: But why would you stand by this report after Dylan Davies admitted lying to his own employer?
LOGAN: Because he was very upfront about that from the beginning, that was always part of his story. 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. So, that was always part of the record for us. And, that part didn't come as any surprise.
Media Matters founder David Brock called Logan's apology "wholly inadequate and entirely self-serving":
This evening's 60 Minutes response was wholly inadequate and entirely self-serving. The network must come clean by appointing an independent commission to determine exactly how and why it fell prey so easily to an obvious hoax.
Logan's slippery apology glosses over a key question that remains unanswered: why did 60 Minutes fail to inform its audience during the initial segment that its key eyewitness had told two contradictory accounts of what he did the night of the September 11, 2012, terrorist attacks?
Davies told both his employer and the FBI that he had not made it to the diplomatic facility until the morning after the attack. 60 Minutes aired a version that had Davies scaling a wall during the terrorist attack and striking an assailant with the butt of his gun. The version that 60 Minutes chose to air matched what Davies wrote in a book that was published by Simon & Schuster, a CBS subsidiary. Simon & Schuster has since pulled the book amid the controversy over the author's honesty.
How CBS News came to the decision to believe his current story is critical since a CBS subsidiary had a clear financial interest in the version of events 60 Minutes aired.
The chairman of CBS News confessed to The New York Times that 60 Minutes' bogus Benghazi report is "as big a mistake as there has been" in the program's history.
Chairman Jeff Fager, who also serves as the executive producer of 60 Minutes, spoke to the Times following the network's decision to pull its October 27 report on the 2012 terror attacks in Benghazi from CBS' website and YouTube. The report was heavily criticized by veteran journalists and media critics after The Washington Post reported that 60 Minutes' purported eyewitness to the attacks, Dylan Davies, had given contradictory statements to CBS and his employer regarding his whereabouts on that night.
On November 8, Fager told the Times that 60 Minutes would be issuing an on-air correction, adding that the debacle is "a black eye" to the network. The paper reported:
As it prepared to broadcast a rare on-air correction Sunday for a now-discredited "60 Minutes" report, CBS News acknowledged on Friday that it had suffered a damaging blow to its credibility. Its top executive called the segment "as big a mistake as there has been" in the 45-year-old history of the celebrated news program.
"It's a black eye and it's painful," Mr. Fager said in a phone interview. He declined to say whether there would be negative consequences for any of the journalists involved.
Fager's remarks come the same day that 60 Minutes' reporter Lara Logan issued an apology for the story, saying "we were wrong. We made a mistake."
On October 27, CBS' flagship news program 60 Minutes aired a segment on the 2012 terror attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. The report was quickly seized on by conservative media outlets and Republican lawmakers for supposedly having validated their 14 month-long quest to turn Benghazi into a Watergate-level political scandal for the Obama administration.
12 days later, 60 Minutes pulled the report, apologized to viewers, and corrected the record on-air. A month after the initial report ran, CBS News announced that following an internal review, the correspondent and producer who helmed the segment would be taking an indefinite leave of absence from the program.
Here's what happened.
A year before CBS News aired -- and then retracted -- a segment featuring a British security operator claiming to be an eyewitness of the 2012 Benghazi attacks, a U.K. paper reported he wasn't even in the city that night.
Here's the October 14, 2012 report -- differing from the story Dylan Davies apparently told the FBI and his bosses as well as his publisher and CBS' Lara Logan -- from The Telegraph:
Darryl Davies, the manager of the Benghazi contract for Blue Mountain, flew out of the city hours before the attack was launched. The Daily Telegraph has learned that relations between the firm and its Libyan partner had broken down, leading to the withdrawal of Mr Davies.
Any attempt to fact-check Davies' story should have included Googling his name and that of his company, which would have unearthed the Telegraph story. While there's no evidence this account -- which is both unsourced and gets Davies' first name wrong -- is accurate, the existence of another story should have been a red flag for CBS that they needed to be wary and make every possible effort to confirm his report.
Apologizing for her report on CBS' This Morning, Logan said that the network had confirmed Davies' identity and that he had "was in Benghazi at the special mission compound the night of the attack" and had used "U.S. government reports and congressional testimony to verify many of the details of his story":
LOGAN: Well, we verified and confirmed that he 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, and that, you know, he showed us -- he gave us access to communications he 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 and, you know, 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. That's what we have to say here. We have to set the record straight and take responsibility.
But it's unclear what "government reports" they reviewed -- clearly not the incident report Davies' company had filed, of which she said she had not been aware, or the FBI report that reportedly corroborating it.
Those documents show Davies saying that he had never been to the Benghazi compound on the night of the attack, while the CBS segment and Davies' CBS-published book claim that he scaled the wall and knocked out a terrorist.
Nor is it clear how Davies' presence at the compound was "verified" -- did they seek out the other people in the story Davies tells and try to confirm his tale?