CBS News Chief: Faulty Benghazi Report a 'Black Eye' for '60 Minutes'
Jeff Fager tells The Hollywood Reporter how the FBI's incident report prompted the news division's retraction of the story, defends anchor Lara Logan and describes why Dylan Davies was used as a source: "He deceived us. … This is not some sort of rogue player. There were a lot of reasons to believe he was credible. We were wrong to believe that."
An FBI incident report that directly contradicts eyewitness claims made by Dylan Davies about the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya, was the "lynchpin" for CBS News executives' decision to retract an Oct. 27 60 Minutes report.
"As soon as we learned about the FBI report, we knew right away. All of us. There wasn't any debate about it," CBS News chairman and 60 Minutes executive producer Jeff Fager told The Hollywood Reporter during a phone interview on Friday.
Until then, Fager had defended Lara Logan's report despite growing questions about Davies' credibility. But The New York Times uncovered the contents of the FBI report on Thursday night, citing "two senior government officials" who said that Davies told the FBI he was not on the scene until the next morning.
Logan appeared on Friday's CBS This Morning where co-anchor Norah O'Donnell led the questioning. Logan said Davies provided the 60 Minutes team "communications he'd had with U.S. government officials" as well as photos from the scene of the attack that he took the following morning. And CBS News sources reiterated to THR that substantiation was considerable. Fager said the show would thoroughly investigate its mistake, but he declined to say if anyone would be officially reprimanded.
"He deceived us," said Fager of Davies. "He works very hard at his deception. There are a lot of people out there who try to deceive reporters. And I think we're really good at finding it. We worked this one hard."
Fager admitted that the report is a "black eye" for the august broadcast, which is watched by more than 13 million viewers each week and remains one of the few programs that regularly devotes the time and resources to investigations. But he added that he hopes viewers will give the show the benefit of the doubt for taking responsibility for the mistake; 60 Minutes will correct the report on the Nov. 10 broadcast.
"I think truthfully, part of that is how well you respond when you get something wrong," continued Fager. "I don't think people expect we're going to always be perfect. But I really do believe that as a broadcast, we need to explain it and tell people we made a mistake rather than try to beat around the bush."
And he said he did not think that Logan, an experienced war correspondent, might have been predisposed to believe Davies because of her close ties to the military.
"She's one of the best reporters I know," said Fager. "Sometimes there is a fog of war that makes it difficult. And I think maybe [Davies] took advantage of that. He was a State Department security officer. He was in charge of the guard [at the U.S. embassy in Benghazi]. This is not some sort of rogue player. There were a lot of reasons to believe he was credible. We were wrong to believe that. That's the difficult part."
The account Davies relayed on 60 Minutes -- that he went to the U.S. embassy compound twice during the night of Sept. 11 and at one point was confronted by one of the attackers whom he claimed he struck in the face with the butt of his gun -- is the same story he recounts in his book, The Embassy House, co-written under the pseudonym Morgan Jones with Damien Lewis.
A spokesperson for Simon & Schuster -- which is a unit of CBS Corp. -- told The New York Times on Thursday that the book was under "review." On Friday, the publisher said it would withdraw the book.
"In light of information that has been brought to our attention since the initial publication of The Embassy House, we have withdrawn from publication and sale all formats of this book, and are recommending that booksellers do the same. We also are notifying accounts that they may return the book to us," Jennifer Robinson, a spokesperson for Simon & Schuster imprint Threshold Editions, said in a statement released Friday afternoon.
But The Embassy House was still available for purchase on the Simon & Schuster website until well after 3 p.m. ET. It even includes under the "book reviews" tab a blog post in which Media Matters chairman David Brock sarcastically asks that the book be reprinted "indicating it is a work of fiction."
E-mail: [email protected]