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Missing from the conversation about a now-discredited 60 Minutes report on Benghazi that CBS has retracted is Innocence of Muslims, the YouTube trailer for a feature film that CBS and other news outlets originally said was at the heart of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack that left an ambassador and three others dead at the U.S. outpost in the Libyan city.
Four days after the embassy attack, President Barack Obama, in his weekly address, spoke of an “angry mob” driven to violence by the anti-Muslim film. And Susan Rice, then the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, for two days blamed the attack in Benghazi on the video, including on CBS’ Face the Nation.
But the CBS report on Benghazi that the network retracted never mentioned the film, despite the fact that the newsmagazine spent a year in its reporting before Thursday’s retraction and Friday’s on-air apology.
In fact, the man behind Innocence of Muslims, Mark Basseley Youssef, says no one from CBS reached out to him for the piece that aired Oct. 27. That’s odd, he says, given that his video was initially blamed by most major media outlets for the attacks. Egypt has since sentenced Youssef, also known as Nakoula, to death in absentia for insults against Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.
“They never talked to me,” Youssef told The Hollywood Reporter. “My lawyer was expecting they would call me before the program, but they didn’t call. They never asked me for anything.”
Youssef was released from a halfway house in October after serving several months in prison for an unrelated 2010 bank fraud conviction.
When it comes to reporting on Benghazi, CBS has come under particular scrutiny from conservatives because the network had Obama on record one day after the Benghazi attacks saying that “there are folks involved in this who were looking to target Americans from the start,” though CBS didn’t air that part of its interview with the president. It later repeated the talking point that it was not a planned attack but a response to a video.
The snippet with the president insinuating it was a coordinated attack was eventually revealed more than a month later when it appeared in a CBS.com article by Sharyl Attkisson, who has been roundly praised by the right for her skeptical reporting about Benghazi and the YouTube video.
In the 60 minutes piece, anchor Lara Logan not only makes the case that Benghazi was a preplanned terrorist attack against Americans, she also never mentions the YouTube video, only vaguely alludes to it.
“Contrary to the White House’s public statements, which were still being made a full week later, it’s now well established that the Americans were attacked by Al Qaeda in a well-planned assault.”
Ever since the 60 Minutes report, CBS has been on the defensive, especially from the progressive watchdog group Media Matters for America, which issued about two dozen written reports condemning the network’s reporting.
Complaints focused on Dylan Davies, the network’s key witness who has been accused of offering varying accounts of whether or not he was at the compound the night of the attack and whether he saw the ambassador’s body in a local hospital.
After a few weeks of standing by its report, CBS backed away from it Thursday and again on Friday. Logan apologized on CBS This Morning for the report, and CBS News chairman Jeff Fager told THR that the 15-minute segment is a “black eye” on the network’s credibility.
A CBS spokesperson did not respond to questions on Friday about what it now considers to be the cause of the Benghazi attack, and video of the retracted 60 Minutes segment is no longer on the CBS News website.
Meanwhile, Youssef says he is at peace either way.
“I know that much of the media is against me,” he said. “A lot of people want me punished. I always said I am not an angel or a devil. Some media blame me and some do not. I cannot judge myself.”
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