NEW YORK – CBS News admitted Friday it was wrong to trust a “60 Minutes” source who claimed to be at the scene of a 2012 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, and the publisher of the source’s book on the incident has halted its publication.
“There are so many people out there who have the potential to deceive a news organization,” said Jeffrey Fager, CBS News chairman and “60 Minutes” executive producer, in an interview with The Associated Press on Friday. “We do our best and I think we do very well at spotting them. This time, I really feel like one got through and it’s extremely disappointing.”
The correspondent responsible for the Oct. 27 story, Lara Logan, said the newsmagazine would correct its story on Sunday. She had interviewed former security contractor Dylan Davies, who claimed he took part in fighting at the mission. His story had been quickly doubted, and his credibility crumbled with a New York Times report late Thursday that revealed the FBI said the story Davies told them didn’t match what he told CBS.
“That’s when we realized that we no longer had confidence in our source, and that we were wrong to put him on the air, and we apologize to our viewers,” Logan said on “CBS: This Morning” on Friday.
With it now unclear where Davies had been, publisher Simon & Schuster said Friday it was withdrawing his book, “The Embassy House: The Explosive Eyewitness Account of the Libyan Embassy Siege by the Soldier Who Was There.” It was published on the conservative Threshold Editions imprint two days after the “60 Minutes” story.
Davies had written the book under the pseudonym Morgan Jones, which is how “60 Minutes” identified him in Logan’s story about Benghazi.
But the Washington Post last week uncovered the identity of “Morgan Jones” and wrote that Davies had provided a written report to the British security firm for whom he worked that he had spent most of the night at the Benghazi home where he was staying and his attempts to get to the mission were blocked.
CBS said it had known all along that Davies had told his bosses at the Blue Mountain security firm a different story, and that Davies had claimed the contradictory report had not been written by him. CBS said Davies said he told the true story — the one he recounted on “60 Minutes” — to the FBI. But the Times reported late Thursday that the story the FBI was told by Davies instead matched the written report to Blue Mountain.
Logan said CBS has tried and failed to reach Davies again. A spokesman for Davies’ publisher told The Associated Press that their author is not talking.
CBS has also admitted it was wrong not to have disclosed to “60 Minutes” viewers that Simon & Schuster, like CBS News, is owned by the CBS Corp.
For CBS, the question will remain why it had put so much stock in what Davies was saying when he was already admitted that he had told his employer an incorrect story. But the network said Davies had had motivation to lie to Blue Mountain, because the company told him not to leave his home that night and he disobeyed his bosses to go to the scene.
Logan said CBS used U.S. government reports and congressional testimony to verify his story, “and everything checked out.” Davies had also showed them photographs he had taken at the U.S. compound the morning after the Sept. 11, 2012 attack.
“The most important thing to every person at ‘60 Minutes’ is the truth, and today the truth is that we made a mistake,” Logan said.
Congressional Republicans have insisted that the Obama administration misled Americans about the Benghazi attack, playing down a terrorist assault in the heat of the presidential campaign. Five GOP-led House committees have investigated, demanding documents and witnesses from the administration while complaining that the Obama team has been stonewalling.
A day after the CBS report, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he would block President Barack Obama’s nominees for Federal Reserve chairman and Homeland Security chief until the administration allowed survivors of the assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission to talk to members of Congress.
Graham’s office had no immediate comment on Friday when contacted by the AP, but he was due to discuss Benghazi on Sunday political talk shows.
The liberal media watchdog Media Matters for America, which had attacked Logan’s story almost as soon as it was aired, called for an independent panel to investigate CBS News’ reporting on the story. Media Matters said that would be consistent with the panel appointed by CBS that had concluded that a 2004 story on “60 Minutes II” about President George W. Bush’s military service could not be substantiated — which led to Dan Rather’s departure from the network after several decades.
CBS has not shown any inclination to appoint an independent panel in this case.