MEDIA
11/13/2013 08:59 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

'60 Minutes' Faces Questions Over Corporate Ties To Disgraced Benghazi Book

CBS News

Days after it apologized for its faulty reporting on the Benghazi attacks, the criticism of "60 Minutes" has not relented -- and some of it has focused on a glaring, and still unanswered, part of the controversy: what role corporate synergy played in the process that led to the show's disastrous retraction on Sunday.

CBS News, like all the other TV news outlets, is part of a giant corporate conglomerate. By this point, it's a given that one of the unspoken roles of a TV news division is to help promote its corporate partners. That's why you see movie stars from Universal films on NBC News shows all the time, or why "Good Morning America" devoted a recent segment to the fashion from ABC's "Scandal."

CBS News is no stranger to this, and nor is "60 Minutes." A sizable portion of the segments from the venerable newsmagazine derive from interviews with people who also have books being published by Simon & Schuster, another part of the CBS corporate family.

That was the case with Dylan Davies, the British security contractor whose apparently relaxed attitude to the truth has caused so much trouble for "60 Minutes." Beyond its reporting problems, "60" also failed to disclose in its original broadcast that Davies had a book being published by Threshold, a conservative imprint of Simon & Schuster. That book has since been recalled.

That fact raised immediate questions about the timeline of the reporting -- questions which CBS has so far not answered. Did "60 Minutes" find Davies on its own, or did his book add an irresistible synergistic flavor to the show's Benghazi report? Did it face any internal pressure to help push for Davies' story to get on air?

Speaking on MSNBC last week, New York Times correspondent Bill Carter speculated that "60 Minutes" leapt to embrace the book because it needed a "new angle" for its Benghazi story.

Following correspondent Lara Logan's apology on Sunday, the conversation about corporate synergy continued.

The Washington Post spoke to Terence Smith, a former media correspondent for PBS, who raised the pertinent question, saying that CBS needed "to do a thorough reconstruction of their reporting...and assure us that this was not done to help sell books for Simon & Schuster."

Media Matters noted on Tuesday that Logan's apology on "60 Minutes" did not include a mea culpa for her failure to disclose the show's corporate ties to Davies' book.

On Wednesday, Jeff Simon, the book editor for the Buffalo News, devoted much of a column to the connection. He said that, less than 24 hours after the "60 Minutes" report first aired, he got a copy of the Davies book in the mail -- a nice bit of corporate timing that Simon said "gave me pause."

He added:

American news consumers need to recognize better how many of the reports they see are instigated by the needs of marketing and publicity or are affected greatly by them - for books, discs, movies, whatever. To change the basic rules, or even want to, in 2013 would be insane. But it also seems to me that those who are in the 24/7 truth business should be far more upfront - even insistent - on making sure readers and viewers know the provenance of things presented as news. Transparency, they call it.

"PBS Newshour" also had a lengthy conversation about the scandal on its Tuesday broadcast, which touched in part on the corporate question.

"You don't know what pressures are inside a company when one side of the company is publishing the book," Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute, said. "You have got to be extra vigilant under those circumstances, so you don't put yourself in this kind of situation."

The Poynter Institute's Kelly McBride added that the fact that a book was coming out should have made CBS even more careful in its reporting.

"Obviously, the report was timed to come out with the publication of the book," she said. "And so you know that this source has a motivation to make the story as sensational as possible. He wants to sell books. I would think that that alone would inspire you, as a producer or reporter, to make sure that any discrepancies were resolved."