The scandal surrounding the botched Benghazi report has echoes of Rathergate: a journalist with a political predisposition to believe a story presented by a dubious source; an apparent failure to do the most basic fact-checking; and, perhaps most important, a lack of oversight from CBS brass.
In paid speeches and off-the-cuff remarks, Logan has often sounded more like a talking head than a reporter. At the Better Government Association’s annual luncheon last year, she mocked the Obama administration for sending the FBI to investigate the Benghazi attack and urged it to “exact revenge and let the world know that the United States will not be attacked on its own soil. That its ambassadors will not be murdered, and that the United States will not stand by and do nothing about it.” In the wake of Michael Hastings’s bombshell Rolling Stone report that led to the dismissal of General Stanley McChrystal, she criticized Hastings for violating an “unspoken agreement” not to report on intra-military banter and concluded, “Michael Hastings has never served his country the way General McChrystal has.”
Logan sounded similarly starry-eyed recounting, in an interview with 60 Minutes Overtime, the travails of the now-discredited British security contractor Dylan Davies. Davies, she said, was “tortured by guilt that he was not able to save his friends in the U.S. compound,” and while “that may sound ridiculous to people who couldn’t think of anything more insane than rushing towards a burning building that is overrun with al-Qaeda terrorists . . . [Davies] is the kind of man who would do that and who did do that.” In fact, the Washington Post and the New York Times revealed that Davies told both his employer and the FBI that he remained at his villa through the night and did not visit the scene of the attack until the following morning.
CBS’s internal review confirms in general terms that Logan’s team failed to consult with others at CBS who could have prevented them from being misled by their key source. Sources say those colleagues include investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson, who has reported aggressively on Benghazi, and senior correspondent John Miller, a former FBI spokesman who maintains sources in the agency. Beyond that, they say that 60 Minutes staff rarely consult with their colleagues elsewhere at the network. (One former 60 Minutes producer calls Logan’s failure to push to get the FBI report that ultimately undermined her source, either through CBS sources or another means, “inexcusable.”)
Though Logan and her producer, Max McClellan, claim to have worked on the story for over a year, conducting “exhaustive” research along the way (“dozens and dozens and dozens” of interviews, McClellan said, possibly “over a hundred”), the piece was littered with inaccuracies. McClatchy DC combed the transcript and found not merely a bad source but brought into question the totality of the reporting in the piece. It pointed out the following factual errors: Logan’s assertion that al-Qaeda carried out the attack (experts agree Ansar al-Sharia, a local militia connected to al-Qaeda, was the primary perpetrator); her claim that, on the night of the attack, the medical center in Benghazi was “under the control of al-Qaeda terrorists” (McClatchy’s own reports suggest it wasn’t); and her assertion that the U.S. is investigating the role of an al-Qaeda terrorist, now set to stand trial in the U.S. for his role in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (a law-enforcement source told McClatchy that no such investigation is underway).
“She obviously really wanted to believe this story,” says a former 60 Minutes producer. “I look at some of the comments she’s made, and I think geez, that goes way over the line, over CBS News guidelines,” a fact that the network’s report made clear. “From a CBS News Standards perspective, there is a conflict in taking a public position on the government’s handling of Benghazi . . . while continuing to report on the story,” it concluded.
One television insider, who characterizes Logan as a grandstander, is even more biting. “I mean, other than putting herself in danger, she is not a reporter,” he says. A South African journalist whose name began percolating as an up-and-comer in journalistic circles after the 9/11 attacks, she was snapped up by 60 Minutes II in 2002 at the tender age of 31. Since then, Logan has certainly put herself in harm’s way: She was detained by the Egyptian army during the country’s 2011 revolution; sexually assaulted by a mob in Egypt’s Tahrir Square just weeks later; and shot at on the front lines of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unlike some of her less fortunate colleagues, she survived the 2005 cancellation of 60 Minutes II and has since then been at the original program. She has won admiration, and plaudits, along the way.
Logan also has an important backer at CBS who one former 60 Minutes producer has described as her “patron”: Jeff Fager. “Jeff was very, very, very instrumental in the success of her career,” the producer says. “It’s more than he is her executive producer and chairman of CBS News; he is also her champion.” While he describes Logan as a “unique talent,” he says that the latest scandal is not the first time she has stirred controversy at the network. “She was a controversial figure before this,” he tells me.
Indeed, Logan’s arrival at CBS, where she replaced legendary correspondent Carol Marin, caused a stir. The tabloid coverage of Logan’s move hinted at the fact that she has inspired resentment for using her good looks to her advantage. The U.K.’s Sun, under the headline “Put Those Bazookas Away, Lara,” had reported months earlier that Logan was reprimanded for wearing “low-cut tops” and “skimpy outfits” on a military base in Afghanistan. Former CNN president Andrew Heyward had announced that he could no longer afford Marin and her two producers, but the Chicago Sun-Times was having none of it, snarking, “Somehow, the same folks who couldn’t find a place in the budget for Marin came up with a million bucks to hire Lara Logan as a contributing correspondent for 60 Minutes II.”