'60 Minutes' Benghazi Story Named Journalism 'Error of Year'

Wednesday, 18 Dec 2013 03:12 PM

By Lisa Barron

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The Poynter Institute's annual journalism "Error of the Year" award has gone to a "60 Minutes" report on Benghazi challenging the official version of events surrounding the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound.

"As is often the case with Error of the Year, the award is given partly because of the mistake itself, and partly because of the mistake's fallout," said the institute.

The Benghazi story centered on a former State Department security contractor, Dylan Davies, who purportedly shared new facts about what happened on the night of Sept. 11, 2012.

"Problem one: he lied in the show about what he did and saw, thereby making a core piece of evidence in the '60 Minutes' counter-narrative false and undercutting the entire segment," Poynter explained.

"Problem two: it only took days for other news outlets, such as The Washington Post and The New York Times, to reveal significant flaws with the story, and with Davies. The Times in particular received details from an important FBI interview with Davies
that CBS News somehow never managed to get or check prior to airing the story."

Poynter also pointed to subsequent "troubling revelations," including the fact that Davies' book was being published by an imprint of Simon & Schuster, a sister company of CBS News, which was not revealed in the story.

"When '60 Minutes" aired an apology during a subsequent show, the lack of disclosure was included in its list of failures," Poynter said.

In addition, the program initially took a "stand by our story" stance and "didn't engage with critics other than to dismiss them." When it realized it had been wrong, "correspondent Lara Logan was dispatched to give a mea culpa — but only to a CBS show."

"To this day, there hasn't been a significant opportunity for a non-CBS media outlet to speak to the principals about what went wrong," Poynter noted.

Although CBS News ordered an internal review, it was conducted by a staff member who reports to Jeff Fager, the head of CBS News and the executive producer of "60 Minutes."

"Fager was responsible for what aired. Yet he was also the person who would receive the report about what went wrong, and determine what actions to take as a result. A conflict of interest, to be sure," Poynter determined.

Finally, when excerpts of the Davies book were published after the fact, "the key passage about his interview with the FBI after that attack, in particular, lacked a basic level of believability that should have been a red flag for both '60 Minutes' and Simon & Schuster," said the institute.

It continued, "Today, after all the attention, an internal review, and leave of absences for Logan and the segment's lead producer, we still don't know why the mistake was made. It may come out later in a book or other account, but what's clear is CBS News itself has no interest in sharing that detail."

"It seems the fifth 'w' of reporting — why — doesn't matter to '60 Minutes' when it involves their own work, Poynter said.

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