Friday, November 8, 2013

CBS's Black Eye

CBS has more experience exposing other organizations' shortcomings than explaining their own -- but that is no excuse.

The network did not distinguish itself in handling an apparently bogus report they aired on 60 Minutes.

In case you missed it -- on October 27th the network aired an interview with a man they called "Morgan Jones" who told a compelling story of what he said were his actions in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012.  "Jones" (whose real name is Dylan Davies) was a security contractor and has a new book out called "The Embassy House: The Explosive Eyewitness Account of the Libyan Embassy Siege by the Soldier Who Was There."

Set aside the fact that 60 Minutes forgot to mention that the book was published by an outfit part of their own corporate family -- the story had bigger problems.  Jones claimed, among other things, to have scaled a 12 foot wall around a U.S. diplomatic compound in the middle of an attack, leveled an insurgent with a rifle butt blow to the face, and personally viewed the body of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens at a Benghazi hospital.  It turns out these assertions may well be contrary to the facts.

The story started to unravel on October 31 when the Washington Post reported that the CBS story was quite different from a written report Davies had apparently filed with his employer just three days after the attack.

At the 15SecondsBlog we don't give advice to the media -- we give advice to those being questioned by journalists -- but in this case CBS quickly found itself on the receiving end of journalist's inquiries.

Their first response when challenged was to simply say that they "stood by their report."  Hardly a compelling response.  You can't imagine 60 Minutes letting some government agency get away with that as a defense for some action.

Then correspondent Lara Logan told the New York Times  on November 2 that she and her colleagues "worked on this for a year" and while admitting they erred in not mentioning the corporate connection with the publisher -- otherwise defended the accuracy of the report.

On November 6, 60 Minutes Executive Producer Jeff Fager issued a written statement saying "We are proud of the reporting that went into the story and have confidence that our sources, including those who appeared on 60 Minutes, told accurate versions of what happened that night."

But on November 7,  the New York Times reported that Davies "gave the F.B.I. an account of the night that the terrorist attacked the mission on September 11, 2012 that contradicts a version of events he provide in a recently published book and in an interview" with 60 Minutes.

CBS told the Times they were "surprised to hear about this" and the next morning Logan appeared on CBS This Morning to issue an apology and say that "We were wrong.  We made a mistake," adding that they will apologize on their broadcast Sunday night and correct the record.

Update: CBS and Fager, to their credit, did subsequently give interviews to outside media on the debacle...even adopting our "black eye" terminology  (an admittedly obvious line).  Fager called it "as big a mistake as there has been" in 60 Minutes' 45 year history.  We still think CBS was too slow with their apology and, as yet, has failed to adequately explain how the mistake was made -- a necessary step in repairing their damaged reputation. 

H/T Media Matters

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