NEW YORK -- On Oct. 28, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) announced that he planned to block all of President Barack Obama's appointees until every survivor of the Sept. 11, 2012, Benghazi attack testified before Congress, a vow that came the morning after a bombshell CBS “60 Minutes” report based on the account of a new eyewitness.
What wasn’t known at the time was that Graham had consulted with CBS correspondent Lara Logan on the now-discredited Benghazi report that led to her being sidelined from the network for over six months. The Oct. 27 report started unraveling four days after airing, following revelations that security contractor Dylan Davies, the "60 Minutes" eyewitness, had given conflicting stories about his whereabouts during the attack.
But the "60 Minutes" report was flawed in other ways, including Logan making unsourced assertions that Al Qaeda was behind the attack that killed four Americans and controlled a local hospital. It's still not clear where Logan got this information, but according to Graham, he informed her that it was a "fair thing to say" in his opinion, and that he thought there was a “build-up of Al Qaeda types” in Benghazi. When the report began falling apart, Logan also called Graham to help determine what account Davies had previously given to the FBI -- a fact she never checked when originally reporting the story.
Logan's interaction with Graham, before and after the broadcast, is one of the new details about the infamous Benghazi report found in a New York magazine feature published Sunday night. Contributing editor Joe Hagan traced Logan’s rapid ascent at CBS, aided by telegenic looks and fearlessness -- or, to some colleagues, recklessness -- in war zones. Logan’s deference to top commanders and increasingly strident opinions had already set off alarm bells within the network that she could not aggressively, and skeptically, cover military, New York reports. “It’s not an accident that Lara Logan f*cked up,” an unnamed CBS News told the magazine. “It was inevitable. Everybody saw this coming.”
New York reports that Logan's work on Benghazi only elevated concerns that she was out of control. Morley Safer, a veteran of the show for 45 years, demanded that "60 Minutes" Executive Producer Jeff Fager fire Logan, according to New York. CBS has reportedly forced Logan to cancel recent speaking appearances, and while Fager has said that Logan will come back this year, Hagan writes that her “return appears less and less certain.”
The Benghazi debacle was the biggest black eye for the long-running newsmagazine since “Rathergate,” in which former network star Dan Rather aired unsubstantiated documents related to George W. Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard. As The Huffington Post reported in November, "60 Minutes" initially dodged serious questions about Logan's report, and Fager defended it a day before the story collapsed. On Nov. 11, Logan apologized on air for the report. A couple weeks later, after an internal review, she and her producer, Max McClellan, went on leave from the network.
So how did such a flawed report end up on air? Logan had long been looking for a new Benghazi angle, according to Hagan, and McClellan was offered an exclusive look at Davies' memoir, scheduled to be published on Oct. 29 by a conservative imprint of CBS subsidiary Simon & Schuster. Davies, the unreliable eyewitness, became central to a report that "60 Minutes" was billing as a year-long investigation. Hagan writes:
Fager delegated the details of vetting the piece to [producer Bill] Owens, whom he’d groomed to be his successor at 60 Minutes but whom some CBS colleagues felt was stretched thin by his duties. Because of the short deadline, and because it was a book by a sister company, 60 Minutes’ usual fact-checking procedures were not followed. No calls were made to the State Department or the FBI specifically to vet Davies’s claims.
Logan’s own credulity, it seems, was the central pillar of the report. When asked why she found Davies’s account believable, Logan said that Davies was one of the “best guys you’ll ever meet” and a few minutes with him would convince anyone of his candor, according to a person familiar with her comments. And Davies’s tale of heroic special-forces operators being let down by politicians and bureaucrats thousands of miles from the front made sense in the world in which Logan had been living for the better part of a decade. And while that narrative cast might have raised eyebrows at the old CBS News, the politics in the post-Rather era were more complicated — McClellan leans more conservative than has been traditional at the show.
Here, then, was a convergence, the proverbial perfect storm: Fager had given Logan outsize power; Owens, Fager’s acolyte, didn’t ask the boss’s star the tough questions; and McClellan, a true-blue Logan loyalist, didn’t have the desire or the authority to bring Logan to heel. On top of that, the senior vice-president of standards and practices, Linda Mason, whose job it was to bring outside scrutiny to any segment, had departed in early 2013, and Fager never replaced her. Logan was free to operate as she chose.
Read the full New York magazine report here.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misspelled Lindsey Graham's first name.