CAIRO — When “60 Minutes,” perhaps the United States’ premier news program, apologized for featuring a security contractor in its report on Benghazi whose story turned out to be a lie, it said it had been “misled.” But a close examination of the controversial piece by McClatchy shows that there are other problems with the report, whose broadcast renewed debate about one of the most contentious events in recent U.S. diplomatic history.
In its first acknowledgement that the issues with the report may go deeper than just the interview with security supervisor Dylan Davies, CBS on Wednesday, in response to a series of questions posed by McClatchy, said that it had undertaken “a journalistic review that is ongoing.”
“60 Minutes” spokesman Kevin Tedesco said CBS had begun the review “the moment we confirmed there was an issue in our story.” But he declined to elaborate on the investigation and did not respond to the specific issues McClatchy had raised, which included unsourced assertions that al-Qaida was behind the Benghazi attacks and claims about the investigation into the attacks that the FBI and other experts question or deny outright.
The “60 Minutes” report, narrated by longtime CBS correspondent Lara Logan, was controversial almost from the moment it was broadcast Oct. 27, as could be expected for another rendition of what took place Sept. 11, 2012, when gunmen stormed a U.S. diplomatic compound and set its main building on fire. U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and State Department computer expert Sean Smith, trapped inside, died of smoke inhalation. Two hours later, attackers assaulted a CIA compound nearby, killing two security contractors.
Soon after the segment aired, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who has been a critic of the Obama administration’s response to the Benghazi attacks, announced that he would block all administration appointments until the FBI surrendered to Congress notes of the interviews it had done with survivors.
But the credibility of the report also immediately came into question. CBS was taken to task for not revealing that Davies, on whose recollections the report was largely based, was the author of a soon-to-be released book published by a CBS-owned publishing company that features the work of politically conservative authors. On Oct. 31, The Washington Post revealed that Davies had filed a report with his employer, Blue Mountain Security, that contradicted his “60 Minutes” account, and The New York Times revealed Nov. 7 that Davies also gave an account to the FBI at odds with the report.
On Sunday, Logan, in a brief appearance at the end of the regular “60 Minutes” broadcast, acknowledged that Davies had misled her and her crew and that “it was a mistake to include him in our report.”
But Logan’s mea culpa said nothing about other weaknesses in the report that a line-by-line review of the broadcast’s transcript shows.
The report repeatedly referred to al-Qaida as solely responsible for the attack on the compound and made no mention of Ansar al-Shariah, the Islamic extremist group that controls and provides much of the security in restive Benghazi and that has long been suspected in the attack.
Logan claimed that “it’s now well established that the Americans were attacked by al-Qaida in a well-planned assault.” But al-Qaida has never claimed responsibility for the attack, and the FBI, which is leading the U.S. investigation, has never named al-Qaida as the sole perpetrator. Rather, it is believed a number of groups were part of the assault, including members and supporters of al-Qaida and Ansar al-Shariah, as well as attackers angered by a video made by an American that insulted Prophet Muhammad. The video spurred angry protests outside the U.S. embassy in Cairo hours beforehand.
Another questionable assertion in the “60 Minutes” report was Logan’s unsourced reference to the Benghazi Medical Center as being “under the control of al-Qaida terrorists,” an assertion that McClatchy correspondents on the ground at the time and subsequent reporting in Benghazi indicates is untrue.
The piece closed with a picture of a document outlining Stevens’ schedule for Sept. 12, “a day (Stevens) did not live to see.” According to the piece, “When a member of our team went to the U.S. compound earlier this month, he found remnants of the Americans’ final frantic moments still scattered on the ground.”
But the compound owner, Jamal el-Bishari, told McClatchy on Wednesday that he began clearing debris in April from the compound’s four buildings and is still renovating the site. Bishari said it is unlikely such a document could have been discovered recently.
“It is impossible to find a document now,” he told McClatchy.