Another “60 Minutes” Crisis of Credibility
On September 10, 2004, CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather dedicated five minutes of the telecast to address the brewing controversy around a 60 Minutes II report he had aired two days earlier. Featuring disputed documents from a former commander in the Texas Air National Guard, the 60 Minutes II report detailed the lingering questions about President Bush’s service in a coveted state-side Guard unit during the height of the Vietnam War and how, despite his no-show service, Bush was awarded an honorable discharge.
Within hours of the report, conservative bloggers raised doubts about the documents’ validity. The next day, mainstream outlets began airing their own doubts. With the network’s credibility on the line, less than 48 hours after the initial report, Rather and CBS responded with a detailed defense of their reporting on its evening newscast, even though the Guard report aired on a different program, 60 Minutes II.
CBS’s frantic corporate response to the Guard controversy (which included blatant kowtowing to its partisan critics; see more below) stands in stark contrast to the network’s utterly passive, non-response to the widening controversy surrounding the heavily-hyped 60 Minutes report that aired on October 27 about the terrorist attacks on the U.S. compound in Benghazi in 2012.
That report has been plagued by problems, including obvious conflicts of interest and the more recent revelation that its star witness told contradictory tales about the terror attack and what he did as it unfolded that night.
The difference in the two crisis responses is striking in part because the underlying Guard story that CBS told about Bush failing to serve his duty has been proven to be true: In the spring of 1972, with 770 days left of required duty, then-Lt. Bush unilaterally decided that he was done fulfilling his military obligation and walked away from the Guard. That means CBS could have omitted the disputed documents from its Guard report and still told an accurate story about Bush’s non-service.
But CBS’s dubious Benghazi report revolved around already debunked allegations about why no U.S. military forces from outside Libya were sent to save the Americans at the besieged Benghazi compound. In other words, CBS’s witness controversy is attached to an-already inaccurate Benghazi report, which makes the recent 60 Minutes’ transgression more serious than the one that triggered the Guard frenzy.
On October 27, 60 Minutes featured a supposed “eyewitness” of the September 2012 attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities; one who claimed that during the attack he heroically scaled a wall of the U.S. compound, knocked out a terrorist with his rifle butt, and later traveled across town to the Benghazi hospital to see Ambassador Chris Stevens’ dead body.
The story Dylan Davies told CBS though, was wildly different than the far more subdued account he gave his superiors, according to an incident report that was obtained by The Washington Post. According to the Post, Davies had previously filed a report with his security contractor employer saying that he “could not get anywhere near” the compound the night of the attack.
Davies now claims he lied to his employer because he didn’t want his boss to know he’d disobeyed strict orders that night to stay away from the Benghazi compound. While acknowledging that deceit, Davies claims he was telling the truth on 60 Minutes.