November 9, 2013 6:29 am -

60-minutes-benghaziThis falls way short of a retraction, but it’s a good start – and a startlingly frank admission from a top CBS exec:

As it prepared to broadcast a rare on-air correction Sunday for a now-discredited “60 Minutes” report, CBS News acknowledged on Friday that it had suffered a damaging blow to its credibility. Its top executive called the segment “as big a mistake as there has been” in the 45-year-old history of the celebrated news program.

The executive, Jeff Fager, conceded that CBS appeared to have been duped by the primary source for the report, a security official who told a national television audience a harrowing tale of the attack last year at the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. On Thursday night it was disclosed that the official, Dylan Davies, had provided a completely different account in interviews with the F.B.I., in which he said he never made it to the mission that night.

After that revelation, CBS decided to take multiple actions Friday. It removed the report from the CBS News website, and the correspondent for the segment, Lara Logan, appeared on the CBS morning news show to apologize personally for the mistakes in the report. And the company’s publishing division, Simon & Schuster, said it was suspending publication of a book by Mr. Davies, in which he tells the same narrative he recounted on “60 Minutes.”

“It’s a black eye and it’s painful,” Mr. Fager said in a phone interview. He declined to say whether there would be negative consequences for any of the journalists involved. …

Mr. Fager said CBS had been duped by a convincing liar. “There are people in the world who try to deceive others,” he said. “We believe we have a really good system to guard against that. This guy got through that.”

But the program seemed to make a crucial error in going ahead with its report before it knew for certain what was in the F.B.I. interviews. Mr. Fager said CBS had made extensive efforts to determine what Mr. Davies told the F.B.I. He said the network had sources who led the program to believe that the report was “in sync” with the account Mr. Davies gave to “60 Minutes.”

Informed Thursday night by The Times that the F.B.I. version diverged from what Mr. Davies said on “60 Minutes,” CBS News quickly checked its own F.B.I. sources, Mr. Fager said, and learned that what Mr. Davies had told the F.B.I. “differed from what he told us.”

Mr. Fager said that led to a difficult night with “a tremendous amount of soul-searching.” He said, “We were sick. We knew we were misled and for us that is a mistake and we shouldn’t have put him on the air.”

He called Ms. Logan and said she would have to appear on “CBS This Morning” to admit the error and apologize. “It is one of the most difficult things for a reporter to do and she did it extremely well, with the recognition that this is about the organization, not about her,” Mr. Fager said.

As CBS was backtracking on its report, Threshold Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, said in a statement that it was recommending that booksellers remove Mr. Davies’s book from their shelves. “The Embassy House” was published Oct. 29, and more than 38,000 copies are in print.

Ms. Logan did not reply to requests for an interview Friday.

D.B. Hirsch
D.B. Hirsch is a political activist, news junkie, and retired ad copy writer and spin doctor. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.