CBS News correspondent Lara Logan of '60 Minutes' has taken a leave of absence after a source for a '60 Minutes' story on the Benghazi attack was discredited. (Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images)
CBS News correspondent Lara Logan, under fire for using a discredited source for a “60 Minutes” story on the Benghazi attack, has agreed to take a leave of absence, according to an internal memo obtained by USA Today.
The segment’s producer, Max McClellan, also was placed on leave.
“There is a lot to learn from this mistake for the entire organization,” Jeff Fager, chairman of CBS News and executive producer of “60 Minutes,” said in an email to CBS employees Tuesday. “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.”
Fager didn’t address how long Logan or McClellan would be away from their jobs or whether they would be paid.
“The “60 Minutes” journalistic review is concluded, and we are implementing ongoing changes based on its results,” said CBS News spokeswoman Sonya McNair.
In October, Logan reported a harrowing eyewitness account of the deadly attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. Dylan Davies, a security guard for working for a British contractor hired by the State Department to handle security, told Logan that he violated his employer’s orders to stay away from the compound and fought off a militant at the facility. He also claimed to have seen the body of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens at a local hospital. Stevens was one of four Americans who died in the attack.
Davies’ claims were widely discredited after it was revealed that he had told his employer and the FBI that he had, in fact, been nowhere near the scene.
The review, conducted by Al Ortiz, CBS News’ executive director of standards and practices, concluded that the error could have been prevented if Logan and McClellan had used “wider reporting resources of CBS News” to confirm his account.
“It’s possible that reporters and producers with better access to inside FBI sources could have found out that Davies had given varying and conflicting accounts of his story,” Ortiz wrote in another internal memo obtained by USA Today.
Earlier this month, Logan, a high-profile foreign correspondent, apologized publicly on CBS This Morning. “Today the truth is we made a mistake and that’s very disappointing for any journalist,” she said. “It’s very disappointing for me.”
Logan had been scheduled to host the Committee to Protect Journalists’ press freedom awards dinner in New York on Tuesday evening. But she didn’t attend the event, according to a source familiar with the situation.
As Logan approached the controversial Benghazi story that already had been widely reported, she and her producing team were looking for a different angle to freshen the storytelling.
In the end, Davies’ false tale — which would have been that of the first Western eyewitness account — may have been too tempting for Logan and the team to ignore despite multiple interviews with other individuals involved.
The “60 Minutes” reporting team interviewed the doctor who treated Stevens at the Benghazi hospital and also approached Davies’ employer, the State Department, the FBI and other government agencies to ask about their investigations into the attack.
During the reporting process, the team discovered that Davies had “lied” to his own employer about staying at his villa during the attack. This discovery “should have been a red flag in the editorial vetting process,” Ortiz wrote.
Logan’s report rekindled GOP criticism of President Obama and the former secretary of State Hillary Clinton in connection with the raid, with senators vowing to block all of the president’s nominees until he made certain witnesses available to Congress. Logan’s report was also assailed for her unequivocal and unattributed assertion that al-Qaida had solely carried out the attack. She ignored another group that is widely suspected.
In his memo, Ortiz wrote that Logan “had multiple sources and good reasons to have confidence in them,” but her declaration that al-Qaida was was directly involved and controlled the hospital “were not adequately attributed.”
Ortiz also said Logan breached the company’s editorial standards when she gave a speech in 2012, arguing that the U.S. government was misrepresenting the threat from al-Qaida and pushed “actions that the U.S. should take in response to the Benghazi attack.”
CBS News began verifying the ill-fated segment following other news reports that questioned Davies’ claims. Four days after the “60 Minutes” segment aired, The Washington Post published a story revealing the existence of a memo Davies wrote to his employer. In it, he wrote that he spent most of the night of the attack at his Benghazi beach-side villa.
The Post story triggered “60 Minutes” to call Davies, but he continued to stand by what he had said on the air. “Based on that information and the strong conviction expressed by the team about their story, Jeff Fager defended the story and the reporting to the press,” Ortiz wrote.
CBS News was finally driven to issue a correction after The New York Times informed Fager that Davies’ account doesn’t match what he told the FBI. CBS News conducted its own investigation and confirmed the error “within hours,” Ortiz wrote.
CBS News also erred in not disclosing that a book written by Davies — chronicling what he purportedly saw during the attack — was published by Threshold Editions, which is part of a CBS Corp. subsidiary, Simon & Schuster.
“We are making adjustments at 60Minutes to reduce the chances of it happening again,” Fager wrote of the episode. “Every broadcast is working hard to live up to the high standard set at CBS News for excellence in reporting. This was a regrettable mistake.”