'60 Minutes' and the curious case of the Benghazi expose

Eliana Johnson at National Review has written a thorough post-mortem on the bungled “60 Minutes” Benghazi piece, a high-profile special report that unfortunately spotlighted the dramatic stylings of B.S. artist Dylan Davies.  Davies sold CBS News reporter Lara Logan a bill of goods about his thrilling exploits on the night of the Benghazi attack, which directly contradicted the account he gave the FBI.  When government sources leaked the discrepancies to other media, Logan and her producer, Max McClellan, ended up with egg on their faces, and CBS News gave them a few weeks of leave to wipe it off.

Johnson writes about an insular, arrogant culture at “60 Minutes,” which is run by Rathergate survivor Jeff Fager.  (Nobody involved in Rathergate should have survived it, so this is a bit of bad karma for CBS.)  Logan apparently gets starry-eyed in the presence of interview subjects with interesting stories to tell, which doesn’t really sound like a good resume point for someone in her position.  It sounds like she jumped aboard the express train of “60 Minutes” hubris – Johnson’s sources grouse that her good looks were her boarding pass – and rode it right into another sensational bad-reporting scandal.

In fact, Johnson speculates that the Benghazi piece might have been directly analogous to the infamous Dan Rather hit on George Bush:

In the same way that Rather’s report was considered a direct strike at George W. Bush, Logan’s exposé could be seen as a spurious attack on Hillary Clinton, the Democrats’ presumptive 2016 nominee, for her failure to heed repeated calls for enhanced security. But it has not sparked a similar outcry on the left, perhaps because many Democrats are uneasy about her candidacy.

Once upon a time, under different management, “60 Minutes” labored mightily (and successfully) to help Hillary execute the “Stand By Your Man” routine that saved candidate Bill Clinton from an infidelity scandal that should have finished him off  – and would have saved the nation from a great deal of heart-ache down the road if it had.  Now they’re out to get Hillary?  That’s a bit difficult to swallow.  And the Benghazi expose wasn’t particularly brutal to Clinton, certainly not in the way that Dan Rather’s ridiculous fake National Guard memos were a political poison dart aimed directly at the heart of George Bush’s campaign against John Kerry.  

Having said that, I suspect the big reasons there hasn’t been much of an outcry on the Left against the Logan piece are (a) residual respect for Logan herself, given the sexual assault she suffered in Tahrir Square while covering the fall of the Mubarak regime; (b) the concerted effort on the Left to declare Benghazi an “old story” and flush it down the memory hole; and (c) their morbid fear that any discussion of Benghazi is going to hurt Hillary Clinton, even if it comes in the context of criticism for a sloppy piece of journalism.

Johnson asks a very good question during her post-mortem: why on Earth didn’t the “60 Minutes” team run their expose past Sharyl Attkisson, perhaps the mainstream media’s most dedicated and accomplished Benghazi reporter, who just happens to work for CBS News?  (Johnson notes that they also have a former FBI man on staff, senior correspondent John Miller, who probably could have touched base with contacts inside the Bureau and debunked the story Davies sold to Lara Logan.)  

It’s simply mind-boggling that Logan and her team didn’t say, “Wow, this Davies guy is amazing, I wonder why we’ve never before heard of him sneaking into the U.S. compound while it was under attack, or slipping like a ninja into an al-Qaeda-controlled hospital?  Let’s ask Sharyl what she thinks about his story!”  Johnson’s report chalks it up to the insular arrogance of the current “60 Minutes” production, which no longer brings in people from across the CBS News constellation to screen its reports.  But holy cow… they could have saved themselves a lot of trouble by emailing this thing to Attkisson before it aired, and asking her to spend an hour of her time watching and critiquing it.

Conspiracy theorists may wonder if the entire “60 Minutes” expose was designed to fail and be discredited, giving the Administration a chance to smear everyone interested in the Benghazi story as an obsessive on a careless mission to draw blood from Team Obama any way they can.  That’s quite a stretch, given the cost to the career reputations of Logan and her producer.  On the other hand, Logan probably won’t be fired over this, the brass at “60 Minutes” clearly thinks the show’s reputation can recover from just about anything, and nobody at the executive level has been held responsible for the Benghazi affair at all.  That’s all eerily reminiscent of how absolutely no one has been held responsible for the attack itself within the Obama Administration.


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