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Dunsmore: Benghazi Apology

60 Minutes is the most successful prime time news magazine in the history of television. In its 45 years, it has taken on many controversial subjects – from the tobacco industry to the US commander in Vietnam. It has occasionally been sued successfully - and sometimes reached settlements out of court that have included apologies for unwitting mistakes. So correspondent Lara Logan’s apology last Sunday for the content of her recent report on last year’s terrorist attack in Benghazi, in which the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed, was not unprecedented. But it was highly unusual.

Logan’s report on what happened in Benghazi on the night of September 11, 2012, was touted by CBS as the result of nearly a year of investigation. However, what I saw when it was broadcast, was based largely on one interview - with a man who used different names who worked at the Benghazi mission as a civilian security contractor. He described in great detail the scope of the attack; how he had personally fought off an Al Qaeda attacker, and ultimately had gone to the hospital where he saw to his horror the dead body of Ambassador Christopher Stevens. His account also supported the notion that officials back in Washington had declined to do anything to come to the aid of those lightly armed Americans under heavy siege.

This storyline fits perfectly with allegations made by fierce Republican critics of the Obama administration who ever since the attack occurred have been trying to elevate the Benghazi incident into a major political scandal. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham seized upon it as further justification for continuing to block Obama nominees for key government positions.

But it turns out that CBS’s eye witness told the FBI a very different story. Basically he told them was that he was nowhere near any of the action on the night and early morning in question. You can lie to a network, but lying to the FBI is a federal crime.

Thus, Ms. Logan was forced to confess, “It was a mistake to put him in our report. For that we are very sorry.”

Yet as the liberal Talking Points Memo, commented, “He wasn’t IN the report. He WAS the report.”

Still, while CBS Chairman Jeff Fager has called this, “as big a mistake” as 60 Minutes has made in its history, he plans no further investigations.

That is not what CBS News did when the right wing went ballistic over Dan Rather’s 60 Minutes II report on President George W. Bush’s unaccounted absences from the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War. After an internal CBS investigation, several staffers including a vice president were fired and Rather was effectively forced out.

As the New York Times wrote in its story of this latest flap, “Overall, cries of ‘conservative bias’ are not nearly as resonant as cries of ‘liberal bias’ were in 2004.”

In my experience that’s because conservatives are proud of their bias - liberals, not so much.

Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.
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