Lara Logan and 60 Minutes
Last November I did a couple of posts on the CBS, 60 Minutes story on Benghazi, The CBS Benghazi Story and The CBS Benghazi Story, Part II. As I pointed out at the time the story was based almost entirely on a book by Dylan Davies, an independent contractor in Libya, that was being published by CBS subsidiary Simon & Schuster’s conservative book imprint, Threshold Editions. It took fact checkers less than three days to determine the book was a pack of lies, a work of fiction. As I said at the time:
Lara Logan and 60 Minutes had been working on this story for a year but they didn’t vet Davies story? It took fact checkers 3 days to debunk it. But even more disturbing is the incestuous relationship of CBS and Simon and Schuster. Dylan Davies book was released a few days after the 60 Minutes story (It has now been recalled). So was this intended to be a news story or an infomercial for a book? Or perhaps Lara Logan was doing everything she could topush her agenda. Neither option is pretty and doesn’t speak well for CBS or journalism.
Lara Logan was put on indefinite leave as a result. At New York Magazine Joe Hagan wonders Is Lara Logan too toxic to return to 60 Minutes? This is a very long article that documents Lara Logan’s rise and fall but it also documents the management changes at CBS and 60 Minutes that led to this. It paints a picture of an ambitious and gutsy woman who wanted a career in TV journalism more than anything. The fact that she was a former swim suit model didn’t hurt.
Logan and 60 Minutes had been searching for a new angle on the Benghazi story for the better part of a year, and finally one seemed to arrive. The break in the story came from a hulking, goateed former military contractor who called himself “Morgan Jones.” Jones, whose real name is Dylan Davies, told Logan an emotional tale of witnessing the attack firsthand—climbing an embassy wall in order to engage the combatants, then stepping into the breach as Washington dithered. Relentlessly hyped in the days leading up to the broadcast, the story fit broadly into the narrative the right had been trying for months to build of a White House and State Department oblivious to the dangers of Al Qaeda, feckless in their treatment of their soldiers and diplomats, then covering up their incompetence. It was soon revealed to be made up almost of whole cloth. Davies, who worked for a security firm called Blue Mountain, had invented the story to sell a book. For 60 Minutes and Logan, it was a stunning error, of a sort that can quickly corrode the brand of a show like 60 Minutes. And the scandal was an oddly precise echo of “Rathergate,” when Dan Rather, at the Wednesday edition of 60 Minutes in 2004, used memos of dubious provenance in a report on George W. Bush’s Texas Air National Guard service.
In the aftermath of the Benghazi report, the problems with its sourcing were glaring, the kind that should have raised red flags. Logan’s interview subject happened to be selling a book on a politically conservative imprint owned by CBS News’s own parent company.
After defending the report for more than a week, Logan was forced to apologize and later take an indefinite leave of absence while CBS conducted an internal inquiry. Her colleagues, including veteran CBS correspondents Steve Kroft and Bob Simon, were apoplectic about the damage to 60 Minutes’ reputation. Morley Safer, the only founding member of the cast left on the 45-year-old program, went into the office of CBS News chairman and 60 Minutes executive producer Jeff Fager’s office last fall and demanded that he fire Logan.
But much of the fault lies not with Logan but with CBS.
Inside 60 Minutes, Logan’s flawed report is seen as the strongest evidence that the most celebrated news program in American TV history has lost its moorings under Fager, tarnished by the kind of partisanship the network has been at pains to avoid since Rather’s downfall.
In fact, one way of looking at Lara Logan’s rise at CBS is as an antidote to the network’s perceived bias. As a journalist, Logan is a product of the Bush years, her career defined by America’s Middle East wars and the military personnel and military contractors who were her sources and friends. For 60 Minutes, she delivered the kind of muscular reports that inoculated CBS against charges of a leftist agenda following the Rather incident, especially valuable in the patriotic climate after 9/11. She was part of the military culture, taking some of the same risks, imbibing its worldview. She also happened to have a telegenic sexual charisma, a highly useful attribute for a woman who wants to succeed in TV journalism. After Fager became chairman of the news division in 2011, he made Logan a permanent member of 60 Minutes, partly on the merit of her profiles of Navy seals and war generals, and partly out of corporate deference to Moonves’s enthusiasm for her.
As Logan rose, however, Fager was left to manage the risk inherent in Moonves’s asset. Logan had a zealousness that could cross the line into recklessness, a confidence that could come off as arrogance. A common view among current and former colleagues (keeping in mind that not-for-attribution backbiting and Schadenfreude are a stock-in-trade of TV news) is that Logan’s star power blinded her superiors to her flaws. “She got everything she wanted, always, even when she was wrong, and that’s been going on since the beginning,” says a former CBS News producer who worked with her.
So will Lara Logan return to CBS news? My guess is no, it will be impossible to ever see her as an objective journalist again. That doesn’t mean her career is over however, I’m sure FOX news would love to have her feeding red meat to their viewers and where not being objective is a feature not a flaw.