'60 Minutes' Says It's 'Proud' Of Benghazi Report, Sidesteps Witness' Conflicting Accounts

11/06/2013 03:16 pm ET | Updated Nov 07, 2013
CBS News

NEW YORK –- "60 Minutes" Executive Producer Jeff Fager said via email Wednesday that he’s “proud” of the program's reporting on Benghazi and “confident” the sources appearing on the Oct. 27 broadcast “told accurate versions of what happened that night.”

Fager’s statement to The Huffington Post comes nearly a week after it was revealed that security officer Dylan Davies -- who provided "60 Minutes" with a harrowing eyewitness account of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack that left four Americans dead -- had previously told his employer that he never reached the U.S. compound that night. On Saturday, Davies claimed he lied in September 2012 to his now-former employer, but told the truth on "60 Minutes" and in a memoir published under a pseudonym two days later.

“We spent more than a year reporting our story about the attack on Benghazi, which aired on Oct. 27, speaking with close to 100 sources in the process,” Fager, who also serves as CBS News' chairman, wrote in an email.

“Our effort was to give our viewers a better understanding about an event in which a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed,” Fager wrote. “We are proud of the reporting that went into the story and have confidence that our sources, including those who appeared on '60 Minutes,' told accurate versions of what happened that night.”

But Fager’s statement does not address fundamental questions about why the "60 Minutes" report should be trusted in light of Davies' admission that he previously lied about his whereabouts.

Did "60 Minutes" know Davies had told his employer that he wasn't at the compound during the attack? And if "60 Minutes" was aware of Davies' previous statement, how did the program vet his new account, given that no other witnesses saw him there? Does "60 Minutes" have evidence to be confident that Davies' dramatic second account is accurate?

On the Oct. 27 broadcast, Davies told CBS News correspondent Lara Logan that he arrived at the Benghazi compound while it was under attack from Al Qaeda, scaled a 12-foot wall, knocked out a terrorist with the butt of his rifle, and later saw U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens dead in the hospital.

But The Washington Post reported on Oct. 31 that Davies had told his former employer, British security company Blue Mountain Group, that he never reached the compound on the night of the attack or saw Stevens dead in the hospital. The company’s incident report, written in the first-person voice of Davies, is dated Sept. 14, 2012, according to The Washington Post.

On Nov. 2, Davies explained to The Daily Beast why there were conflicting versions of events. Davies said he lied last year to his superior at the security company because he’d been given orders to stay where he was that night and not attempt to reach the compound.

The "60 Minutes" response to questions about Davies has been surprising when compared to how CBS News addressed questions in 2004 regarding Dan Rather’s now-discredited report on President George. W. Bush’s time in the Texas Air National Guard, Media Matters pointed out in a recent post. In that incident, the network responded by first defending the report, but then apologizing and investigating. Four senior CBS producers were let go, and Dan Rather lost his position as the host of "60 Minutes II," which was cancelled.

The Huffington Post sent a request for comment Friday to “60 Minutes” spokesman Kevin Tedesco about the conflicting versions and followed up with requests on Monday and Tuesday morning. He did not respond.

On Tuesday night, CBS News responded for the first time since Davies admitting lying to his employer, with both Fager and Logan giving interviews to The New York Times.

But in the Times interview, Logan didn't acknowledge the first account Davies gave to Blue Mountain Group, and suggested there never were two accounts. "If you read the book, you would know he never had two stories," Logan said. "He only had one story."

However, it has never been in dispute that Davies' version on "60 Minutes" and the one in his book, The Embassy House, are the same. In the interview, Fager did acknowledge one thing "60 Minutes" should have done differently: He told the Times that the program should have disclosed that Davies' book was published by a CBS subsidiary.

Times reporter Bill Carter also wrote that Logan “attributed the critical response to the report to the intense political warfare that has surrounded the episode.”

It’s true that Benghazi is a charged political issue and that progressive watchdog Media Matters has been aggressively challenging the accuracy of the "60 Minutes" report. But a Fox News correspondent has also prompted questions about Davies' credibility. Fox News' Adam Housley said on air that he’d spoken to Davies, but stopped after the security contractor "asked for money."

Logan’s dismissal of legitimate, journalistic questions as being motivated by politics is noteworthy, especially given that she and producer Max McClellan have proven willing to take questions about the Benghazi reporting -- at least on their own terms.

In a Q&A on the CBS News website published prior to the controversy over Davies' accounts, Logan and McClellan said they spent a year reporting the story, making calls soon after the Sept. 11, 2012, attack. McClellan said they spoke to “dozens and dozens and dozens” of people, and traveled widely.

“That, in a story like this, is critical because there is no one place you can go to get everything you need,” McClellan said. “We literally had to go far and wide for months and months.”

Logan said in the Q&A that the pair was “exhaustive” in reporting the story.

“Journalism is not about making a case, it's about finding the facts,” Logan said in the CBS Q&A. “In this story, you had to work really hard to find the facts and not be seduced by anybody. So, we left about 98 percent of what we learned on the floor -- didn't even report it -- because unless we could substantiate it with primary sources that we truly trusted and whose motivations we trusted, then we didn't even go there.”

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