CBS puts Lara Logan and producer on leave for Benghazi, but what does that mean?

And the internal report mainly confirms what external critics had already found

  • News correspondent Lara Logan of "60 Minutes Sports" speaks onstage during the Showtime portion of the 2013 Winter TCA Tour at Langham Hotel on January 12, 2013 in Pasadena, California.
News correspondent Lara Logan of "60 Minutes Sports"… (Frederick M. Brown / Getty…)
November 26, 2013|By David Zurawik | The Baltimore Sun

CBS News put correspondent Lara Logan and producer Max McClellan on leave Tuesday in the wake of an internal investigation that was critical of their flawed report on the attack on an American compound in Benghazi, Libya.

The Sept. 11, 2012 attack left four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, dead.

The forced leaves of absence coupled with the internal investigation acknowledging serious errors and conflicts in reporting the "60 Minutes" piece give the appearance of CBS News taking substantive action.

At least, that's the way some are reading it.

Media Matters, the liberal watchdog group that has dogged CBS News constantly since the report aired on Oct. 27 praised the network's action.

And, indeed, what the network did Tuesday is exemplary compared to the stonewalling and then lame apologies from CBS News the last few weeks.

But that's not saying so much, is it?

Let's wait and see how long the leaves of absence actually turn out to be. I am surprised the length wasn't announced Tuesday.

And why leaves of absence instead of suspensions? Am I wrong in thinking a suspension is tougher? And if all the failings and conflicts described in the internal report are true, don't you think suspensions were warranted?

One of the most damning findings is that Logan was in "conflict" with network policy for public remarks on Benghazi that she made in 2012.

Here's that passage from the report by Al Ortiz, who is in charge of standards at CBS News:

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.

Why is it a conflict? Because it could lead to the belief that Logan went into this report with a bias. That's a very serious matter. And why didn't anyone at CBS News and "60 Minutes" know about her views when she started reporting the story?

And why the soft language from CBS News chairman Jeff Fager saying he "asked" Logan and McClellan to take leaves? In the wake of what they did, don't you think they could be forced to do it? And don't you think everyone knows they essentially were?

CBS News needs to quit playing these kinds of games. The errors committed here were too serious for PR-speak

And the hard-nosed stance taken by CBS News until the Washington Post and others did the reporting and vetting for the network that Fager's own troops should have done needs to be explained as well. Why did it take the work of others to show CBS News its errors long after the network could have found them out for itself?

Yes, the report sounds tough. But Ortiz found almost nothing that others had not already reported and forced CBS News to acknowledge.

Fager said he ultimately takes the blame, and you can see that below.

Near the start of this debacle, I said Fager was kidding himself if he thought CBS News could stonewall and the trouble would pass.

I again say he is kidding himself if he thinks he can bring Logan and McClellan back after a leave and all will be well again with the credibility of the most important show on the CBS schedule.

Here's Fager's memo:

     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.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.