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.
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