"60 Minutes" should not have thrown out its report on Benghazi with the bath water.
Reporters and producers at the venerable CBS newsmagazine made mistakes in putting together a story about last year's attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Libya -- and the story has been retracted.
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But they also got a few things right, highlighting important information that raises serious questions about whether the attack -- which resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens -- could have been predicted and prevented. These questions undermine the Obama administration's narrative in the days following the attack that this was a spontaneous outburst sparked by outrage over an anti-Muslim video.
The biggest mistake was that the "60 Minutes" journalists did not perform their due diligence and properly vet one of their sources for the Oct. 27 story -- a former British soldier and security contractor who was in Benghazi on the day of the attack. They should have made sure that the account the source was giving them matched the one he had given the FBI. It didn't.
The security contractor -- who used the pseudonym "Morgan Jones" and who was later identified as Dylan Davies -- told correspondent Lara Logan that, after he heard gunfire coming from the compound, he raced to the scene, scaled a wall and fought off one of the attackers. Yet he had told the FBI that he couldn't get anywhere near the compound because the roads were barricaded.
Also, it would have been a good idea to disclose that a book written by the contractor -- which has now been pulled from the shelves -- had been published by Threshold Editions, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, which is owned by CBS. This could explain both how the contractor initially found his way to "60 Minutes" as well as the rush to get him on the air. Was it simply to sell books?
Finally, according to media accounts, the journalists who work on the newsmagazine operate in their own bubble within CBS News. They usually don't get help from colleagues at the network because they don't ask for it. That could have been a problem in this case, since CBS News' team of investigative reporters could have verified the source's personal account.
That's not the worst of it. This is: Under pressure from the liberal group Media Matters, and from defenders of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- who still has many questions to answer about Benghazi -- the network brass was so eager to atone for the errors that they overcompensated. CBS retracted the entire story, when only part of it had been challenged.
Despite the claims by Clinton defenders that Davies' interview was the linchpin of the story, this was not the case. I've watched the segment several times, and the issue of whether Davies' infiltrated the compound and overpowered a militant like an action hero isn't the important part.
There are two other people who were interviewed for the story who have not been discredited or challenged.
Retired Lt. Col. Andy Wood told Logan that he met with Stevens every day and warned the ambassador three months before the attack that an assault on the compound in Benghazi was very likely. Wood said that al-Qaida had threatened to attack the Red Cross, the British consulate and U.S. government installations in Libya, and that the group had already made good on the first two. And so, he said, he considered them to be in the final stages of a planned attack. We were next on the list.
Gregory Hicks, the deputy chief of the U.S. mission in Libya, told Logan that he asked for additional security three times in the months leading up to the attack and he got no response. Hicks, who was in Tripoli during the attack, said he called Washington to ask when military reinforcements would arrive. He said he was told there were no plans to send any. It was his unfortunate responsibility to inform the folks at the CIA annex down the road from the compound that they were on their own and not to expect help.
"60 Minutes" bungled this story by trying to sensationalize it. They needn't have bothered. The truth is usually compelling enough -- and it usually comes out in the end.
Ruben Navarrette's email address is email@example.com.
© 2013, The Washington Post Writers Group