CBS to Correct Erroneous Report on Benghazi
By BILL CARTER and MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT
Published: November 8, 2013
CBS Apologizes for Benghazi Report: Accounts
differ from a man interviewed by “60 Minutes”
who said he was at the U.S. mission the night
of the attack that killed
Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
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.
The executive, Jeff Fager, conceded that CBS appeared to have been duped by the primary source for the report, a security official who told a national television audience a harrowing tale of the attack last year at the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. On Thursday night it was disclosed that the official, Dylan Davies, had provided a completely different account in interviews with the F.B.I., in which he said he never made it to the mission that night.
After that revelation, CBS decided to take multiple actions Friday. It removed the report from the CBS News website, and the correspondent for the segment, Lara Logan, appeared on the CBS morning news show to apologize personally for the mistakes in the report. And the company’s publishing division, Simon & Schuster, said it was suspending publication of a book by Mr. Davies, in which he tells the same narrative he recounted on “60 Minutes.”
“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.
The retractions and the scale of the mistake spurred comparisons with another embarrassing episode for CBS News — a report in 2004 about George W. Bush’s National Guard record that CBS was also forced to retract. That report, which actually appeared on a short-lived spinoff program called “60 Minutes II,” resulted in several firings and played a role in the eventual separation between CBS and its longtime anchor, Dan Rather.
Mr. Davies, identified as Morgan Jones on the “60 Minutes” report and on the jacket of his book, “The Embassy House,” gave three separate interviews to the F.B.I., according to Obama administration officials. Each time he described the events in ways that diverged from his account to CBS, when he claimed to have been personally involved in the action during the attack — to the point of disabling one of the attackers with a blow from a rifle.
His interviews with the F.B.I., disclosed Thursday night by The New York Times, were critical in the unraveling of his story. Mr. Davies had already told his employer, the security firm Blue Mountain, that he never appeared at the mission the night of the attack, and the firm had prepared an incident report with that information. Mr. Davies contended that he had not created or approved the incident report and that he had needed to lie to his employer because he had defied orders to remain at his villa. The justification for believing him, Mr. Fager said Friday, was Mr. Davies’s assurance that had told the real truth to the F.B.I., one that would corroborate his account to CBS.
With agents unable to operate freely in Benghazi, the F.B.I., which is conducting an investigation into the attack, has struggled to get interviews with the guards hired to protect the mission and other witnesses. That has forced the agents to rely on the accounts provided by State Department officials and contractors who have left the country. As part of those efforts, the F.B.I. interviewed Mr. Davies by phone, teleconference and in Wales, where Mr. Davies lives. (Mr. Davies could not be reached Friday. Mr. Fager said he had told CBS News he had “gone into hiding.”)
Mr. Fager said CBS had been duped by a convincing liar. “There are people in the world who try to deceive others,” he said. “We believe we have a really good system to guard against that. This guy got through that.”
But the program seemed to make a crucial error in going ahead with its report before it knew for certain what was in the F.B.I. interviews. Mr. Fager said CBS had made extensive efforts to determine what Mr. Davies told the F.B.I. He said the network had sources who led the program to believe that the report was “in sync” with the account Mr. Davies gave to “60 Minutes.”
Informed Thursday night by The Times that the F.B.I. version diverged from what Mr. Davies said on “60 Minutes,” CBS News quickly checked its own F.B.I. sources, Mr. Fager said, and learned that what Mr. Davies had told the F.B.I. “differed from what he told us.”
Mr. Fager said that led to a difficult night with “a tremendous amount of soul-searching.” He said, “We were sick. We knew we were misled and for us that is a mistake and we shouldn’t have put him on the air.”
He called Ms. Logan and said she would have to appear on “CBS This Morning” to admit the error and apologize. “It is one of the most difficult things for a reporter to do and she did it extremely well, with the recognition that this is about the organization, not about her,” Mr. Fager said.
As CBS was backtracking on its report, Threshold Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, said in a statement that it was recommending that booksellers remove Mr. Davies’s book from their shelves. “The Embassy House” was published Oct. 29, and more than 38,000 copies are in print.
Ms. Logan did not reply to requests for an interview Friday. In an interview earlier this week, she had ardently defended Mr. Davies’s character and his veracity against charges that he had given differing accounts of the events that night in Benghazi.
She also suggested, as Mr. Fager did on Friday, that the “60 Minutes” report became enmeshed in the continuing political battle over the Benghazi incident. The compelling account from Mr. Davies had provided congressional Republicans with new ammunition to criticize the Obama administration.
Since the attack on the mission in Libya, Republicans have contended that the administration failed to secure the mission adequately, held back on sending military forces to rescue the Americans there, then tried to cover up how it handled the matter.
The day after the CBS report, several Republican senators held a news conference, demanding that the administration allow congressional investigators to interview survivors of the Benghazi attack. In particular, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said that he would block all administration nominations until it met the Republicans’ demands.
“We really hope that this will force him to drop his block on the nominations,” a senior administration official said on Friday.
A spokesman for Mr. Graham declined to address the matter on Friday, saying that Mr. Graham would address it on Sunday in an interview with CNN.
A version of this article appears in print on November 9, 2013, on page B1 of the New York edition with the headline: CBS to Correct Erroneous Report on Benghazi.
The Lede: Lara Logan’s On-Air Apology for Flawed Benghazi Report (November 8, 2013)
Accounts Differ to F.B.I. and CBS on Benghazi (November 8, 2013)