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CBS News' Lara Logan Taking Leave Of Absence Over Discredited '60 Minutes' Benghazi Report

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NEW YORK -- Jeff Fager, chairman of CBS News and executive producer of '"60 Minutes," informed staff Tuesday that Lara Logan and her producer, Max McClellan, would be taking a leave of absence following an internal report on the news magazine's discredited Oct. 27 Benghazi report.

“As Executive Producer, I am responsible for what gets on the air,” Fager wrote in a memo obtained by The Huffington Post. “I pride myself in catching almost everything, but this deception got through and it shouldn’t have.”

On the Oct. 27 broadcast, Logan interviewed Dylan Davies, a security officer who claimed that he witnessed the terrorist attack on the Benghazi compound that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans on Sept. 11, 2012. Davies, who had trained Libyan security guards for the State Department, claimed he scaled a 12-foot wall that night, knocked out a terrorist with his rifle and later saw Stevens dead in the hospital.

But four days later, The Washington Post reported that Davies had told his employer shortly after the attack that he never reached the compound that night, an account that conflicted with the one he had given to “60 Minutes," as well as included in a memoir. The memoir was published by a conservative imprint that is a subsidiary of CBS, a financial relationship that was not disclosed at the time of the broadcast.

“60 Minutes” dodged questions for several days about the conflicting accounts. Fager later told HuffPost that Davies assured him that he was at the compound that night and the account revealed by The Washington Post wasn’t accurate. On Nov. 6, Fager was still standing by the report, telling HuffPost he was “proud” of it.

One day later, The New York Times reported that Davies had also told the FBI he never reached the compound, the second known instance of Davies telling a different story than the one he told on “60 Minutes” and in his book. “60 Minutes” quickly pulled the story and Logan apologized on air the following morning.

McClatchy raised more questions on Nov. 13 about the accuracy of the Benghazi report, beyond the issues with Davies' account, and “60 Minutes” acknowledged that the network was doing an internal review of the broadcast.

Al Ortiz, executive director of standards and practices at CBS News, presented his findings in a memo to employees obtained by The Huffington Post.

He wrote that the Benghazi story “was deficient in several respects” and suggested that “the wider reporting resources of CBS News” could have been employed to obtain information from the State Department and FBI that would have called into question Davies’ account before the report aired.

“It’s possible that reporters and producers with better access to inside FBI sources could have found out that Davies had given varying and conflicting accounts of his story,” Ortiz wrote.

Ortiz wrote that Davies’ statement to “60 Minutes” that he lied to his employer about his whereabouts the night of the attack but was telling the truth on air “should have been a red flag in the editorial vetting process.”

In addition, Ortiz wrote that Logan’s “assertions that Al Qaeda carried out the attack and controlled the hospital were not adequately attributed in her report.”

Ortiz also wrote that Logan’s October 2012 foreign policy speech, in which she spoke of the need for “revenge” for the Benghazi attack, was also problematic. “From a CBS News Standards perspective, there is a conflict in taking a public position on the government’s handling of Benghazi and Al Qaeda, while continuing to report on the story,” Ortiz wrote.

One question that remains unanswered is how “60 Minutes” first reached Davies and what role his writing a book for Threshold Editions -– an imprint of Simon & Schuster, a subsidiary of CBS –- could have played in him appearing on air. There's been speculation that Logan's husband, a former defense contractor, could have been involved in getting him on air as well.

In his memo to staff, Fager wrote that he asked Logan and McClellan, the producer, to take a leave of absence, which they agreed to do.

“When faced with a such an error, we must use it as an opportunity to make our broadcast even stronger,” Fager wrote. “We are making adjustments at 60 Minutes to reduce the chances of it happening again.”

Full memos from Fager and Ortiz, obtained by The Huffington Post are below:

By now most of you have received the report from Al Ortiz about the problems with the 60 Minutes story on Benghazi.

There is a lot to learn from this mistake for the entire organization. We have rebuilt CBS News in a way that has dramatically improved our reporting abilities. Ironically 60 Minutes, which has been a model for those changes, fell short by broadcasting a now discredited account of an important story, and did not take full advantage of the reporting abilities of CBS News that might have prevented it from happening.

As a result, I have asked Lara Logan, who has distinguished herself and has put herself in harm’s way many times in the course of covering stories for us, to take a leave of absence, which she has agreed to do. I have asked the same of producer Max McClellan, who also has a distinguished career at CBS News.

As Executive Producer, I am responsible for what gets on the air. I pride myself in catching almost everything, but this deception got through and it shouldn’t have.

When faced with a such an error, we must use it as an opportunity to make our broadcast even stronger. We are making adjustments at 60 Minutes to reduce the chances of it happening again.

There is a lot of pride at CBS News. Every broadcast is working hard to live up to the high standard set at CBS News for excellence in reporting. This was a regrettable mistake. But there are many fine professionals at 60 Minutes who produce some of the very best of broadcast journalism, covering the important and interesting stories of our times, and they will continue to do so each and every Sunday.

Jeff Fager
Chairman, CBS News
Executive Producer, 60 Minutes

SUMMARY OF FINDINGS

My review found that the Benghazi story aired by 60 Minutes on October 27 was deficient in several respects:

--From the start, Lara Logan and her producing team were looking for a different angle to the story of the Benghazi attack. They believed they found it in the story of Dylan Davies, written under the pseudonym, “Morgan Jones”. It purported to be the first western eyewitness account of the attack. But Logan’s report went to air without 60 Minutes knowing what Davies had told the FBI and the State Department about his own activities and location on the night of the attack.

--The fact that the FBI and the State Department had information that differed from the account Davies gave to 60 Minutes was knowable before the piece aired. But the wider reporting resources of CBS News were not employed in an effort to confirm his account. It’s possible that reporters and producers with better access to inside FBI sources could have found out that Davies had given varying and conflicting accounts of his story.

--Members of the 60 Minutes reporting team conducted interviews with Davies and other individuals in his book, including the doctor who received and treated Ambassador Stevens at the Benghazi hospital. They went to Davies’ employer Blue Mountain, the State Department, the FBI (which had interviewed Davies), and other government agencies to ask about their investigations into the attack. Logan and producer Max McClellan told me they found no reason to doubt Davies’ account and found no holes in his story. But the team did not sufficiently vet Davies’ account of his own actions and whereabouts that night.

--Davies told 60 Minutes that he had lied to his own employer that night about his location, telling Blue Mountain that he was staying at his villa, as his superior ordered him to do, but telling 60 Minutes that he then defied that order and went to the compound. This crucial point – his admission that he had not told his employer the truth about his own actions – should have been a red flag in the editorial vetting process.

--After the story aired, the Washington Post reported the existence of a so-called “incident report” that had been prepared by Davies for Blue Mountain in which he reportedly said he spent most of the night at his villa, and had not gone to the hospital or the mission compound. Reached by phone, Davies told the 60 Minutes team that he had not written the incident report, disavowed any knowledge of it, and insisted that the account he gave 60 Minutes was word for word what he had told the FBI. Based on that information and the strong conviction expressed by the team about their story, Jeff Fager defended the story and the reporting to the press.

--On November 7, the New York Times informed Fager that the FBI’s version of Davies’ story differed from what he had told 60 Minutes. Within hours, CBS News was able to confirm that in the FBI’s account of their interview, Davies was not at the hospital or the mission compound the night of the attack. 60 Minutes announced that a correction would be made, that the broadcast had been misled, and that it was a mistake to include Davies in the story. Later a State Department source also told CBS News that Davies had stayed at his villa that night and had not witnessed the attack.

--Questions have been raised about the recent pictures from the compound which were displayed at the end of the report, including a picture of Ambassador Stevens’ schedule for the day after the attack. Video taken by the producer-cameraman whom the 60 Minutes team sent to the Benghazi compound last month clearly shows that the pictures of the Technical Operations Center were authentic, including the picture of the schedule in the debris.

--Questions have also been raised about the role of Al Qaeda in the attack since Logan declared in the report that Al Qaeda fighters had carried it out. Al Qaeda’s role is the subject of much disagreement and debate. While Logan had multiple sources and good reasons to have confidence in them, her assertions that Al Qaeda carried out the attack and controlled the hospital were not adequately attributed in her report.

--In October of 2012, one month before starting work on the Benghazi story, Logan made a speech in which she took a strong public position arguing that the US Government was misrepresenting the threat from Al Qaeda, and urging actions that the US should take in response to the Benghazi attack. From a CBS News Standards perspective, there is a conflict in taking a public position on the government’s handling of Benghazi and Al Qaeda, while continuing to report on the story.

--The book, written by Davies and a co-author, was published by Threshold Editions, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, part of the CBS Corporation. 60 Minutes erred in not disclosing that connection in the segment.

Al Ortiz
Executive Director of Standards and Practices
CBS News