On Tuesday, Salon writer Alex Pareene published a column entitled: “How can CBS possibly not fire Lara Logan?,” adding: “This was a screw-up just as bad as ‘Rathergate,’ but the reporter responsible probably won’t suffer the same fate.”
Pareene is referring to the October 27th 60 Minutes Benghazi report by long-standing CBS News reporter, Lara Logan. By now, most Breitbart readers are aware that one of the report’s eyewitnesses’ accounts, that of government contractor Dylan Davies, who claimed he was there, scaled a 12-foot-wall, and knocked a terrorist out with the butt of his rifle, turned out to be, well, probably bogus, as Davies’s account conflicted with the information he provided to the FBI (there is also the possible motive of creating interest in his — now recalled — book about the tragic event). Four days later, CBS pulled the story and acknowledged its mistake, and on Friday Ms. Logan apologized.
Immediately, however, the Left has risen up with comparisons to the 2004 ‘Rather-gate’ controversy, shrieking: ‘If producers were fired over that, why not over this? Heads must roll!’
For those needing a refresher on 2004’s ‘Rather-gate’, here you go: Only weeks before the 2004 election, on September 8, 2004, CBS’s 60 Minutes Wednesday, anchored by Dan Rather, featured a story by CBS producer Mary Mapes, purportedly blowing the lid on George W. Bush’s record in the Texas Air National Guard, where he served in 1972-73. Memos obtained by CBS, allegedly written by Bush’s commanding officer at the time, the late Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian, highly criticized Bush, stating that Bush disobeyed and disregarded orders, failed to perform according to standards, sought to be excused from duties, and that higher-ups applied pressure to give Bush positive evaluations.
But the documents turned out to be forgeries, only noticed thanks to the keen eye of viewers who realized the typography used in the memos actually did not exist at the time the memos were reportedly created. After much controversy and review, Mapes and other producers were thereafter fired, and Rather eventually resigned.
Curiously, Pareene glosses over the egregious nature of Rather-gate, describing it as:
“In 2004, CBS News anchor and reporter Dan Rather presented a ’60 Minutes Wednesday’ report on President George W. Bush’s Air National Guard service that involved documents that may have been forged.”
A-hem! May have been forged?! Does Pareene actually hold any doubt about whether these documents were real? Apparently so, as, in the same paragraph, he then notes: “The documents were never conclusively proven to be fake….” Oh dear. Perhaps Pareene can explain the mental gymnastics involved in entertaining the authenticity of documents that employ a font not yet in existence at the time of their alleged creation.
But lets get back to the issue at hand. Is this ‘Logan-gate’ similar to ‘Rather-gate,’ and should CBS hold Logan — and/or others — accountable, as Pareene urges?
In fairness, Pareene’s overall question is certainly worth asking. Reporters and producers can and should be held responsible for the accuracy of their work, regardless of politics. And, realistically, it would not behoove conservatives to blindly defend an erroneous Benghazi report’s production, as doing so would mean losing all standing to demand accountability should another ‘Rather-gate’ arise in the future (and we know it will). Consistency (and integrity) is key.
The problem with comparing the two, as Pareene does, is that, once one scratches the surface… well, the two events are remarkably different and pretty much the only similarity is that… well, they both involve 60 Minutes.
Allow me to illustrate the differences:
1) The motives
Rather-gate: Almost certainly purely political. The feature aired a few weeks before the 2004 election and directly attacked/concerned President Bush’s character/person.
Logan-gate: Unclear, other than the standard ratings by reporting on a story in which there is interest (i.e., not exactly scandalous).
2) Was the source credible, based on information available to the reporter/producers at the time?
Rather-gate: No. The source of the ‘documents’ was a former Guard officer who, since 2000, had spoken out against Bush and was reportedly considered by some to be an ‘anti-Bush zealot.’ He was also reportedly asking CBS producers to set up a meeting with the Kerry campaign. In addition, there were other easily-verifiable sources-of-concern that apparently went ignored, e.g., one of the memos noted that Col. Walter ‘Buck’ Staudt was applying pressure for Bush to receive special treatment – problem was, Buck had retired a year and a half before the memo was allegedly written!
Logan-gate: Yes. Apart from the (admittedly concerning) failure of neglecting to compare his account to that which he provided the FBI, Davies otherwise seemed straightforward, reliable, and his background checked out. Additionally, the report featured other sources and testimonies — it was not solely based on Davies’s account, whereas Rather-gate was indeed based on a sole source.
3) Was the (proven erroneous) source easy to authenticate/verify and thus the error unjustified?
Rather-gate: Yes. We’re talkin’ about hard-copy documents here. Even the most cursory of examinations would have sent red flags flying, as the typography did not match that used in the 1970’s. One need not be an expert, whatsoever, to notice something was fishy and the documents looked quite modern. Error excusability level? 1.
Logan-gate: Not really. The stories of government contractors in the Middle East are quite difficult to check out with any certainty, to say the least. But Logan and 60 Minutes did apparently check into Mr. Davies’s background and claims — they just didn’t compare his account to the FBI report but, even then, the story may have stood (after all, who’s to say the FBI account was the correct one?). Error excusability level? 7.
4) Were clear red flags ignored?
Rather-gate: Yes. In addition to the source’s suspicious motives, Rather-gate even pushed ahead with the story despite examiners who warned them in advance of the report’s airing that these documents may be fake.
Logan-gate: No. No one at CBS News — not Lara Logan, not Jeff Fager (CBS News chairman and 60 Minutes executive producer) — had any third-party informing or warning them that there were red flags here.
5) Were false assurances given to the audience?
Rather-gate: Yes. In addition to ignoring the concerns raised by the documents’ examiners, Rather erroneously told the audience that documents had been authenticated by experts and that they came from Bush’s superior’s personal files (they hadn’t – they came from someone who provided CBS with copies he claimed to have obtained from Bush commanding officer’s files via another former member of the Guard).
Logan-gate: No. At no point did Logan or CBS News give any false assurance regarding the source or the credibility of the statements, much less do so in flagrant defiance of information they had on hand.
6) How egregious and/or harmful was the error?
Rather-gate: Very. Forged documents. I repeat: forged documents. On the list of scummy things humans can do, forging or faking documents intended to harm anyone (including a sitting president) is pretty high up there. As for its harm, no one knows. Sure, Bush went on to win the election but the hit his image took — even if the report was later proven false — cannot be measured. After all, writers such as Pareene still do not even accept the documents were definitely false.
Logan-gate: Not egregious at all. A source was used whose story about being at the compound was apparently fabricated but, even if true, while chilling, was not exactly damning or hurtful to President Obama.
7) How and when was the error corrected?
Rather-gate: Dragged their feet to do so. Despite the overwhelming evidence that the typography used in the memos did not exist in the 1970’s, CBS, Dan Rather, liberal bloggers, and the mainstream media (including The New York Times) defended the story for nearly two weeks, with Rather himself insisting “the story is true” and that the Internet is “full of all kinds of rumors.” But on September 20th, unable to ignore various independent analyses, unable to ignore the mounting evidence on the typography issue, unable to ignore Killian’s former secretary saying Killian never typed memos, and unable to ignore Killian’s son questioning the memos due his late father’s positive view of Bush, CBS finally admitted it made a mistake. Mapes and three CBS executives exited, as well as Rather who resigned the following year.
Logan-gate: The network acknowledged the mistake and pulled the story just shy of two weeks. Logan apologized — Rather continues to defend the story.
So there you have it. Sorry, folks — Rather-gate and this CBS Benghazi report, as much as the Left would like to draw similarities between the two, are nothing alike.
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