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“Waiting For The Media’s Benghazi Mea Culpa”: The Press Sponsored The GOP Charade For Years

Talk about a wild pendulum swing.

After relentlessly attacking and mocking presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for much of 2015, often depicting her as a hapless and phony pol, the Beltway press wrecking ball dramatically reversed direction last week when pundits and reporters announced the Democratic frontrunner had performed valiantly in front the Benghazi Select Committee.

I’ve been watching Clinton press coverage, on and off, for close to two decades, and I honestly cannot remember a time when the Beltway press corps — so often suspicious and openly critical of Hillary Clinton — was so united in its praise for her and so contemptuous of her partisan pursuers:

Benghazi Has Become A Political Trap From Which Republicans Cannot Escape [Vox]

The Benghazi Hearings Sham [Slate]

The Benghazi Hearing Farce [Time]

Hillary Had A Lovely Benghazi Day [Daily Beast]

Benghazi Bust [Washington Examiner]

The GOP’s Unfortunate Benghazi Hearing [Washington Post]

Benghazi Committee Gives Hillary Clinton Presidential Platform [ABC News]

Trey Gowdy Just Elected Hillary Clinton President [Rolling Stone]

On and on and on it went, as the rave reviews for Clinton poured in and the Republican catcalls mounted. (Committee chairman Trey Gowdy must be seeing those headlines in his sleep by now.)

I’m in heated agreement with virtually all of the analysis that found fault with the Benghazi witch hunt. (“What, exactly, is the point of this committee?”) Indeed, much of the biting commentary echoes Benghazi points Media Matters has been making for three years. But my question now is this: What took the press so long, and when will the press pause and reflect on the central role it played in producing the GOP witch hunt?

I don’t want to punish good behavior by criticizing the press for now accurately portraying the Benghazi pursuit as a fraud. (That’s why I recently urged the media to break up with the Benghazi committee.) But it might be nice amidst the avalanche of Benghazi Is Bogus pronouncements if folks in the press took time to admit the media’s part in the unfortunate charade.

To hear many pundits and observers describe the Benghazi collapse, Republicans — and Republicans only — are to blame, and they’re the ones who overplayed the pseudoscandal and tried to hype it as a blockbuster.

Much of the press is presenting a view from above: Here’s what Republicans did and here’s why it failed. Missing from the analysis is, ‘Here’s how the press helped facilitate the Republican failure for many, many years.’ The media want to pretend they haven’t been players in this drama.

Sorry, that’s not quite right. For years, Republicans often found willing partners in the Beltway press who were also eager and willing to overplay Benghazi and play it as a blockbuster scandal. The press cannot, and should not, simply whitewash the very important role it played, even though that muddles the media’s preferred storyline of How Republicans Botched Benghazi.

I realize that immediately examining the media’s role in this story might not be a priority for editors and producers. But I also realize what’s likely to happen is this window of opportunity for self-reflection will soon close and the press will once again fail to hold itself accountable for its often reckless behavior in marketing a bogus Republican-fueled “scandal.”

Here’s a concrete example: Lara Logan and her completely flawed Benghazi report that aired on 60 Minutes in 2013. Preparing the unsound report, Logan reportedly met behind the scenes with one of the GOP’s most vociferous Benghazi crusaders, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) According to a report in New York magazine, Graham helped shape the CBS Benghazi story. When the 60 Minutes segment aired, he immediately cheered it on, calling it a “death blow” to the White House and announced he’d block every White House appointee until he got more answers about Benghazi.

Then when huge holes began to appear in the story, as one of Logan sources was revealed as a fraud, “Logan called Graham and asked for help,” New York reported. (Note to reporters: When your sources have to make stuff up about Benghazi, it’s a pretty good indication the ‘scandal’ is lacking.)

It’s true that Logan’s example was an extreme one. But the press is kidding itself if it’s going to pretend Republicans didn’t recruit lots and lots of journalists to help tell the GOP’s preferred Benghazi ‘scandal’ story over the last three years.

Thankfully, some prominent journalists have recently shone a spotlighting on the press’ Benghazi failings. “The real losers here are the reporters and centrist pundits who let themselves be played, month after month, by Trey Gowdy and company,” wrote The New York Times’Paul Krugman.

Today, there’s broad media consensus that the Benghazi Select Committee is wasteful and unnecessary. But that was utterly predictable last year when the eighth investigation was formed. At the time, many in the press brushed aside Democratic objections. (Try to imagine the media response if Democrats had demanded eight separate 9/11 commissions under President George W. Bush.)

Why the nonchalance? Because the press, I’m guessing, liked the idea of a standing Congressional committee to chase Clinton, to possibly wreak havoc on her campaign, and to leak gotcha stories to eager reporters.

By raising so few doubts about the absurdity of creating yet another Benghazi inquisition last year, the press helped fuel the charade that unfolded last week. It’s time to own up to the unpleasant truth.

 

By: Eric Boelert, Senior Fellow, Media Matters for America, October 26, 2015

October 28, 2015 Posted by | Hillary Clinton, House Select Committee on Benghazi, Journalism | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Bordering On Checkbook Journalism”: If CBS Wants Its Reputation Back, A Better Explanation Is In Order

The comic figure of the braggart soldier first appears in Plautus’s play Miles Gloriosus in roughly 200 BC, although the Roman dramatist acknowledged a now-lost Greek model. So it’s surprising that somebody who’s spent as much time in war zones as 60 Minutes’ Lara Logan failed to recognize the type: a swaggering, self-anointed hero describing military feats nobody witnessed but him.

Bars near military bases around the world harbor fakers like Dylan Davies, aka “Morgan Jones,” as 60 Minutes called him, although they do have to be careful who they lie to. It’s mainly a tactic for fooling gullible women. I used to know a fellow whose girlfriend forgave his drunken blackouts because of his terrible experiences in Vietnam—a war that ended when he was nine.

That said, Lara Logan’s apparent naiveté is far from the most objectionable thing about CBS’s ill-fated attempt to pander to the far right’s odd obsession with the Benghazi tragedy. See, 60 Minutes’ October 27 episode supposedly falsifying the Obama administration’s version of what happened that terrible night in Libya wasn’t so much TV journalism as an infomercial for a book in which CBS had a financial stake—a manifest conflict of interest 60 Minutes neglected to mention until MediaMatters.org called its hand.

Exactly how generous an advance Simon & Schuster’s “Threshold Editions” bestowed upon Davies for his heroic tale about singlehandedly fighting his way into the besieged U.S. compound where Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three fellow Americans were killed by a terrorist mob hasn’t been revealed. Presumably enough, however, to give the one-time British mercenary ample reason to concoct a narrative pleasing to its readers’ expectations.

Having previously published books by such innovators in the art of storytelling as Glenn Beck, Mark Levin and Jerome Corsi, Threshold editors would appear to be less than rigorous about fact-checking. So excuse me for saying so, but that makes Davies virtually a paid source, and 60 Minutes a practitioner of checkbook journalism that could ruin its well-deserved reputation.

Nothing about the way CBS handled the ensuing controversy gave confidence. After boasting that its report raising “lingering questions” about Benghazi was the result of a year’s reporting and over 100 interviews, the network stonewalled as obvious flaws in its reporting began to appear.

Within three days of the 60 Minutes broadcast, the Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung learned that Davies had submitted a written incident report to Blue Mountain, his British-owned employers—a version in which nothing he told Lara Logan he’d seen and done at the U.S. compound that night could possibly be true, because he’d never actually gone there.

“Immediately,” wrote Jay Rosen at Pressthink.org, “the CBS report is in deep trouble. And anyone with a clear mind can see that. Except the people at CBS. When your key source tells two different stories, something is seriously amiss.”

Instead, a CBS spokesman announced, “We stand firmly by the story we broadcast last Sunday.”

Translation: “We’re 60 Minutes, and you’re not.”

Two days later, Davies gave The Daily Beast an interview claiming he’d neither written nor seen the incident report with his name on it, although he admitted lying to his bosses because “he did not want his supervisor to know he had disobeyed his orders to stay at his villa” that night.

So CBS’s source now says he’s told two different stories. Did Logan and her producers know that? If so, shouldn’t 60 Minutes have explained to begin with? If not, exactly what did a year’s reporting consist of?

Well, you can see where this is going. In a classic con-man’s bluff, Davies also told The Daily Beast that he’d told State Department and FBI investigators exactly what he’d told 60 Minutes.

Meanwhile, mum remained the word at CBS. They stood by their story. Period. Mystifyingly, Logan assured the New York Times that “If you read the book, you would know he never had two stories. He only had one story.”

So the incident report is a forgery? Wow, that would be news.

Who wrote it, Michelle Obama?

Then on November 7, the hammer dropped: The New York Times produced the FBI report: “Dylan Davies, a security officer hired to help protect the United States Special Mission in Benghazi, Libya, gave the FBI an account of the night that terrorists attacked the mission on Sept. 11, 2012 that contradicts a version of events he provided in a recently published book and in an interview with the CBS News program 60 Minutes.

So last Sunday, they sent Logan out to apologize: “The most important thing to every person at 60 Minutes is the truth,” she said, “and the truth is we made a mistake.”

Sorry, but that simply won’t do. Lara Logan’s a formidable figure and 60 Minutes has long defined TV journalism. But if CBS wants its reputation back, a better explanation is in order.

 

By: Gene Lyons, Featured Post, The National Memo, November 13, 2013

November 14, 2013 Posted by | Benghazi, Journalism, Media | , , , , | Leave a comment

“No Outside Commission Here”: Lara Logan Won’t Lose Her Job Because CBS Doesn’t Fear Liberals The Way It Fears Conservatives

In case you haven’t heard, CBS News is in a bit (but only a bit) of hot water over a story 60 Minutes recently aired about the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi. It centered on a breathless account from a security contractor, who just happened to have written a book about it being published by a conservative imprint of a publishing house owned by CBS (that’s synergy, baby). He told of the harrowing events of that night, including his own heroism and the spinelessness of the big shots who sit in their cushy offices while men of action like him do what must be done and get hung out to dry. The only problem was, he appears to be a liar who fabricated much of what 60 Minutes relayed in the story, which was reported by Lara Logan.

After insisting for weeks that everything in its story checked out, CBS finally conceded that the contractor, one Dylan Davies, was lying to them and through them to their audience. On Sunday night, Logan delivered an extraordinarily half-assed on-air apology, full of passive verbs and obfuscations plainly intended to minimize the whole thing; most critically, it gave no indication that CBS is going to make any effort to figure out why it happened. So who’s going to be punished for this enormous screw-up? I’ll tell you who: Nobody.

We’ll get to why in a moment. This incident has been compared to the one that occurred back in 2004, when Dan Rather aired a report on 60 Minutes II relying on documents purporting to show the steps taken by George W. Bush and his family to get him into the “Champagne Unit” of the Texas Air Guard so that he wouldn’t have to go to Vietnam, and documenting what he did and didn’t do once he got in. The documents proved to be forgeries (essentially an effort to frame a guilty man, but that’s a topic for another day), and the fallout was severe. 60 Minutes II was canceled, four producers were fired, and Rather himself, despite a storied decades-long career at CBS, was pushed out as well; he gave his last broadcast as anchor of the CBS Evening News in the spring of 2005 (here’s the whole story).

A lot of people thought it happened because Dan Rather was a liberal who was out to get Bush. There’s no doubt where Lara Logan stood on Benghazi; here’s a speech she gave in 2012, making clear her belief that investigations are for pussies and what the U.S. needed to do was start killing some people posthaste: “The last time we were attacked like this was the USS Cole, which was a prelude to the 1998 embassy bombings, which was a prelude to 9/11,” she said. “And you’re sending in FBI to investigate? I hope to God that you’re sending in your best clandestine warriors who are going to exact revenge and let the world know that the United States will not be attacked on its own soil, that its ambassadors will not be murdered, and the United States will not stand by and do nothing about it.” With the talk of “exact[ing] revenge,” Logan sounded less like a journalist who values the perception of fairness and objectivity and more like a right-wing radio host. But that doesn’t necessarily mean she was incapable of subsequently producing careful, accurate reporting on the topic. The problem is, she didn’t.

But Logan won’t get pushed out like Rather did. The first reason is that Rather was heading toward the end of his career; folks at CBS were already looking past him. Logan, on the other hand, is young, beautiful (this is television we’re talking about, after all), and perceived as a rising star. But much more important is that there was an organized campaign to get Rather, and there isn’t an organized campaign to get Logan, at least not one that CBS fears.

It’s true that Media Matters has been criticizing this story from the beginning, though it hasn’t actually called for Logan or anyone else to get fired (full disclosure: I worked at Media Matters from 2005 to 2009). But it’s basically alone. There aren’t Democratic senators holding hearings, there aren’t a hundred left-wing radio hosts drumming up outrage, and there’s little visible pressure coming from the White House to encourage heads to roll. In the case of the National Guard report, the conservative movement put on a top-to-bottom, full-court press to make sure Dan Rather was punished. They had hated him for years, and when they got their chance they did everything in their power to crush him.

The plain fact of it is that news organizations like CBS are afraid of the right, but they aren’t afraid of the left. Big media outlets like CBS are terrified of right-wing pressure campaigns, precisely because most journalists are, in fact, liberals. That doesn’t mean the news has a liberal bias (there are lots of biases in the news, and reporters injecting their ideological beliefs about policy into their stories is about the 20th most consequential), but it does mean that they’re overly sensitive about being called liberal. The way they usually handle that fear is to bend over backward to be contemptuous of Democrats and to take every opportunity they can to prove that they aren’t what conservatives say they are.

If Logan got fired for this—or if anybody got fired for this—well that would only be taken by the right as evidence that those liberals at CBS will do Barack Obama’s bidding. And that’s the last thing they want to be seen as doing. After the National Guard story, CBS went so far as to hire an outside commission to investigate; it produced a 224-page report on the matter, and all those people got fired, including the news division’s biggest star. Is it going to do anything similar with the Benghazi story debacle? I wouldn’t bet on it. More likely CBS is just going to say, we made some mistakes but it’s all in the past now, and we have full confidence in Lara Logan’s journalistic integrity and professionalism. Move along, nothing to see here.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, November 12, 2013

November 13, 2013 Posted by | Benghazi, Journalism, Media | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“60 Minutes, 90 Seconds”: CBS News, Lindsey Graham And The Exploitation Of Fools Gold

The 90-second “apology” aired on 60 Minutes last night for the shabby reporting and conflicts of interest associated with Lara Logan’s Benghazi! report two weeks ago was, quite literally, the least CBS and its beleaguered reporter could do. Here’s the story , via the New York Times‘ Stelter and Carter:

Ms. Logan said that Dylan Davies, one of the main sources for a two-week-old piece about the attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, had misled the program’s staff when he gave an account of rushing to the compound the night the attack took place. “It was a mistake to include him in our report. For that, we are very sorry,” Ms. Logan said.

The apology lasted only 90 seconds and revealed nothing new about why CBS had trusted Mr. Davies, who appeared on the program under the pseudonym Morgan Jones. Off-camera, CBS executives were left to wonder how viewers would react to the exceptionally rare correction.

HuffPost’s Jack Mirkinson summarized the reaction of media critics as notably unimpressed:

Predictably, her Sunday mea culpa offered little insight into why Davies was chosen as the key source for the report, and why “60 Minutes” had so fervently defended him, even amid mounting evidence of his unreliability. Also unmentioned was what role, if any, corporate ties played in placing Davies at the heart of the piece. A conservative imprint of Simon and Schuster, which is also owned by CBS, had published a book about Benghazi by Davies. That book has since been recalled.

The lack of investigative zeal exhibited by this showcase of investigative journalism–before, during and after the episode aired–is interesting. You almost wonder if the folk at CBS aren’t smirking behind their hands that they’ve finally managed to get the ancient “liberal bias” monkey off their backs in one fell swoop.

Unfortunately, a messed-up report that raises more questions than it answers provides still more cannon-fodder for congressional Republicans, particularly Sen. Lindsey Graham, who seems about ten minutes away from threatening a fresh government shutdown if he doesn’t get everyone’s attention when he regales South Carolina conservatives with his latest “investigations” of Benghazi!

As WaPo’s Emily Heil notes:

The South Carolina Republican’s umbrage was apparently inspired by a segment he’d caught on “60 Minutes” featuring a man claiming to be an eyewitness to the violence. But on Friday, CBS reporter Lara Logan retracted the story, explaining that she and her team had been duped by a source in whom they no longer “had confidence.”

Graham isn’t walking back on the pledge to hold up President Obama’s nominees, though. Like a bell that can’t be un-rung, he said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” nothing’s changed.

Of course not. Graham’s exploitation of the fool’s gold of Benghazi! will never end until he was won renomination in 2014 or is finally dragged out the Senate kicking and screaming. But Logan and 60 Minutes have, I am sure, earned his undying gratitude for making the subject topical again.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, November 11, 2013

November 12, 2013 Posted by | Benghazi, Journalism, Media | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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