Things continue to get worse for 60 Minutes' already retracted Benghazi report and its discredited "eyewitness" Dylan Davies. Gawker's J.K. Trotter reports that CBS News and Simon & Shuster may have failed to properly vet significant "discrepancies" in Davies' accounts of his military background.
60 Minutes' October 27, 2013, segment about the 2012 terror attacks in Benghazi, Libya, collapsed after it was revealed that Davies had given conflicting accounts of his actions that night. CBS News eventually pulled the segment and released a "journalistic review" finding that the report was "deficient in several respects" and "did not sufficiently vet Davies' account of his own actions and whereabouts that night." Correspondent Lara Logan and producer Max McClellan were put on a leave of absence.
Two days after the 60 Minutes report aired, Simon & Schuster imprint Threshold Editions -- which is owned by CBS Corporation, a blatant conflict of interest -- released The Embassy House under the Davies pseudonym Morgan Jones. The book was pulled from shelves shortly after CBS retracted its segment, but a number of inconsistencies in the book have raised questions about whether Davies' publishers and CBS News adequately vetted Davies before promoting his dubious story.
Gawker's J.K. Trotter has uncovered further discrepancies in Davies' account, this time related to claims about his military service. Trotter notes that while Simon & Schuster highlight the rank of "Sergeant Morgan Jones," "there is zero evidence Davies obtained the rank of sergeant in the British Army." Furthermore, "Davies and his editors seem to disagree about the length of his military service." During the book Davies claims to have served for fourteen years, but the book's jacket and website both say he served for only twelve -- "So either Davies is lying about his enlistment date, or Threshold Editions is lying about their own author."
Trotter also revealed that no one at Threshold Editions or 60 Minutes appears to have verified Davies' claim that he worked on the security detail of U.S. Major General James T. Conway. According to Conway, no one at either organization contacted him to verify Davies' account, despite Conway's importance to Davies' personal narrative:
At several points in the book, Davies recounts leading a security detail as a private contractor in Afghanistan for the (now retired) commandant of the United States Marine Corps, Major General James T. Conway.
But when contacted by Gawker, Conway couldn't verify Davies' story. "[His] name is vaguely familiar but [I] cannot put a face with it," he wrote in an email. "That is not to say his claim is not true."
Nobody at Threshold Editions--or 60 Minutes--contacted Conway to determine whether Davies' claims checked out.
"You are the first person to contact me about any of this," Conway told Gawker.
This is doubly notable because his book's marketing apparatus--including, most of all, 60 Minutes--depended on Davies' image as a dedicated, experienced, well-regarded security professional. "He's been helping to keep U.S. diplomats and military leaders safe for the last decade," is how Logan introduced him. His proximity to Conway earned a special mention in Davies' jacket biography.
Fact-checking is essentially non-existent in the book publishing world, meaning there are few safe guards in place to prevent such failure. Threshold Editions did not respond to Media Matters' previous requests for comment regarding an explanation of its procedures. Threshold representatives declined to comment to Gawker.
But 60 Minutes should have vetted Davies more thoroughly before featuring him in their segment, and their flagrant disregard for basic journalistic standards and ethics helped earned CBS News the distinction as Media Matters' 2013 Misinformer of the Year.
Gawker and Trotter, on the other hand, seem to be doing the investigative research into Davies' background that CBS News should have done before ever putting him on air.
As the consequences for 60 Minutes' botched story on Benghazi continue to unfold, it's unclear whether the apparent charlatan at the center of that report will face punishment from the publisher of his book.
After the October 27 segment aired, it was revealed that Dylan Davies, the supposed eyewitness featured in the story, had given conflicting accounts of his actions the night of the 2012 attacks in Benghazi. CBS News eventually pulled the segment and announced after an internal review that correspondent Lara Logan and her producer Max McClellan would be taking a leave of absence from 60 Minutes.
But the 60 Minutes segment wasn't the only publicity boost CBS Corporation gave to Davies' story. Two days after the 60 Minutes report aired, Simon & Schuster imprint Threshold Editions released The Embassy House, a book featuring Davies' dubious account.
While Threshold pulled the book from shelves shortly after CBS retracted its segment, the publisher has not revealed any action it plans to take against Davies to recoup costs or damages from his apparent lies. Requests for comment have been ignored.
But book publishing veterans, including several attorneys who handle such cases, said Threshold's options are clear according to traditional author agreements. They admit, however, that the publisher may have trouble actually collecting any damages.
"One of the important elements in a book publishing contract is a clause called representations and warranties, a list of promises and guarantees that an author makes to the publisher. These are very standard -- the customary assurances that the author gives is that the work is original and does not infringe on copyright," said Jonathan Kirsch, a publishing attorney based in Los Angeles. "Some publishers are smart enough or have lawyers who are smart enough to include additional assurances that the book is true, accurate, and based on sound research."
Kirsch added, "If you had a contract where the representation and warranties clause didn't include these assurances, the publisher would be in a more exposed position. If they do include that assurance then the publisher can sue for breach of contract. At the very beginning of the book contract it says that the book is a work of fiction or non-fiction. If the contract characterizes it as a work of non-fiction or an autobiography or an historical account, there is an implication that it is true and the publisher can sue on that account."
While 60 Minutes is conducting some kind of "journalistic review" of its discredited story about the Benghazi attack, publishers of a related book that has been removed from stores have been largely mum about how they published an apparent fabrication.
Threshold Books published The Embassy House by "Sgt. Morgan Jones" and then retracted the book after it became clear that the author -- a British former security contractor whose real name is Dylan Davies -- had apparently lied about being at the scene of the September 2012 assault.
Some critics have questioned how Threshold could have published such a story in the first place without verifying it. But according to publishing veterans, there are few safeguards to prevent such a failure in an industry that provides only minimal review and fact-checking. Without in-house fact-checkers at most publishing houses, authors themselves typically bear the sole responsibility for the accuracy of their work.
"As a general course of business, publishers do not conduct a thorough fact-check on most of their books," said Sloan Harris, a literary agent at ICM Talent who represents New Yorker veterans Jane Mayer and Ken Auletta. "A number of our prominent authors will, in fact, employ an outside fact-checker at their own expense."
But such fact-checking arrangements are far from mandatory or routine.
Harris explained, "publishers are already under huge market pressures and seem to be overworked every year, adding another function to their obligation is not a likely outcome at this point."
Threshold, a conservative imprint of the CBS publishing division Simon & Schuster, announced last week that the Davies book would no longer be for sale following the revelation that the author had told a dramatically different story to the FBI and his employer than he provided in the book. Davies' co-author Damien Lewis reportedly issued a statement saying:
If there are inconsistencies in the events as told in The Embassy House and Mr. Davies's previous renderings of the story, Mr. Davies needs to answer those inconsistencies. Those who were injured on the night of Benghazi 9/11 deserve to know the truth, as do the families of those who lost their lives.
But so far, that truth has yet to be provided, and Threshold does not seem in a hurry to explain it. The publisher has not responded to requests for comment or an explanation about how it vetted Davies, if the book was fact-checked, or what is being done to investigate how a book largely based on lies of its author could be approved.
Editors and agents who spoke with Media Matters agree that non-fiction book authors have the leeway to write what they wish without editors seeking to verify their claims. In the case of authors like Davies, who apparently choose to fabricate their stories, the lack of accountability can be devastating to publishers, journalists, and readers.
"It's true that it is up to the author a lot of the time," said Barry Harbaugh, a veteran editor at Harper Collins. Citing a biography of the cyclist Lance Armstrong he is editing, Harbaugh noted, "We made sure the author hired a fact-checker."
A former magazine fact-checker, Harbaugh recalled his surprise when he first arrived at the publishing house and discovered "there is not a full-time fact-checker here in the way that there is at most big magazines."
After CBS retracted its flawed 60 Minutes report on Benghazi featuring discredited "eyewitness" Dylan Davies, Media Matters founder and chairman David Brock wrote to CBS and its affiliated publisher which published Davies' book, calling on them to investigate the vetting of Davies' story, halt production of his book, and reprint it as a work of fiction. Davies' book The Embassy House featured the same discredited story that caused CBS to retract its report.
CBS retracted its story Friday morning after The New York Times reported that the story Davies told 60 Minutes in its October 27 broadcast conflicted with the account he gave the FBI -- namely, his claim that he went to the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi while it was under attack, scaled a wall, and dispatched a terrorist with his rifle butt.
According to the Times, Davies told the FBI he didn't go to the diplomatic facility until the day after the attack. On November 8, 60 Minutes executive producer Jeff Fager told The Daily Beast that "CBS news confirmed with our own sources at the FBI that the story he told the FBI was not in agreement with what we were told."
TPM published the letter from Brock, which is posted below:
The premise of Jack Cashill's new book, Deconstructing Obama, published by Simon & Schuster, is that President Obama's entire life is one massive fraud, as demonstrated (Cashill claims) by the fact that Obama almost certainly did not write the two memoirs that eloquently and movingly retell the president's life story. And I have to admit that Cashill's skepticism is contagious -- having read Deconstructing Obama, I find myself wondering whether it was written by Jack Cashill, or a sophisticated computer program meant to simulate the effects of low oxygen levels on the brain.
I've never encountered anything -- on the left or the right -- so aggressively stupid, so terminally self-unaware, so pathetically festooned with self-aggrandizing tripe as Deconstructing Obama. When not retreading the already well-worn ground of Obama's "radical" associates, Cashill describes at length his own journalistic expertise and gift for literary analysis -- praise that he unwittingly steps on when recounting his amateurish and nonsensical attempts at "detective work" into Obama's books and past. (At one point, Cashill faults his critics for not acknowledging "my frequent caveats about the limits of my knowledge.")
More than anything else, Deconstructing Obama is a bizarre book. It's a frayed string of conspiracy theories that loops and knots itself into a tangled mess. It's a disjointed harangue in which chapters seem to repeat themselves and an entire section is inexplicably devoted to Sarah Palin's "perseverance in the face of resistance." It's an intellectually and morally offensive screed in which 19-year-old Barack Obama's poetry serves as the launching point for an outlandish theory about Obama's grandfather bribing Barack Obama Sr. to pose as the future president's father. (Cashill's candidates for Obama's "real" father include Malcolm X and Jimi Hendrix.)
Simon & Schuster is drawing fire for using a video to promote a new book that includes the address for a website raising money for the National Republican Congressional Committee. The book, Young Guns: A New Generation of Conservative Leaders, is authored by GOP Reps. Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy each of whom are prominently featured on the website as well. The book is being published under Threshold Editions, Simon & Schuster's conservative imprint helmed by Mary Matalin, a former assistant to President George W. Bush and counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney.
Politico reports this afternoon that the "Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's attorneys sent Simon & Schuster a letter Thursday, hinting that the publisher may have violated several campaign finance laws that prohibit in-kind contributions by corporations by posting on its website a promotional video for a book penned by three top House Republicans."