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Bill Press: CBS playing politics

It’s been 14 months since the attack on our diplom atic mission in Libya cost the lives of four Americans, but Benghazi claimed yet another victim this week: the credibility of CBS News, and especially of “60 Minutes.”

Since its creation by Don Hewitt in 1968, “60 Minutes” has been the gold standard of TV news. By far the most respected news program on television, it’s enjoyed 45 years of excellent, almost blemish-free reporting — until Oct. 27, that is, when CBS decided to play politics with Benghazi and got burned.

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You expect Republican politicians to make a political football out of Benghazi. And, indeed, they’ve done so from the start. The very night of the attack, before the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens had even been reported, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney accused President Obama of choosing to “sympathize with those who waged the attacks” rather than condemn them. Since then, Republicans in Congress have kept up a drumbeat of criticism over the issue, relentlessly trying to blame the attack and loss of four American lives on, in order, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the president.

Again, you expect that shallow, cynical treatment of a serious national security issue from politicians. You don’t expect it from a respected news organization, which makes what “60 Minutes” did so shocking. On its Oct. 27 broadcast, reporter Lara Logan interviewed security official Dylan Davies, who claimed he had raced to the scene, climbed a wall, struck a terrorist in the head with a rifle and seen Stevens dead in the hospital. Logan presented and later defended his version of events as true. 

The only problem, of course, is that Davies had earlier told the FBI, under oath, that he was nowhere near the scene: the same story he had told his employer. In other words, after admittedly working on the story for more than a year, Logan and the producers of “60 Minutes” knew Davies had already lied once about his actions on the night of Sept. 11, 2012, — yet they still put him on the air as telling the truth. After the fact, Logan admitted her mistake and apologized on Nov. 9.

Today’s Benghazi problem for CBS mirrors its other big screw-up, in 2004, when Dan Rather used forged documents in a negative story about former President George W. Bush’s National Guard service. There’s one big difference: Dan Rather lost his job, and Lara Logan still has hers. But if CBS was guilty of “liberal bias” back then, as conservatives loudly claimed at the time, it’s just as clearly guilty of “conservative bias” today. That’s what happens when journalists cross the line and play the political blame game. They destroy a reputation for excellence gained over 45 years.

Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who used the “60 Minutes” report to justify placing a hold on all Obama nominees, is refusing to release his hold, even though CBS has admitted its mistake. But, of course, you can never expect a senator with a tough primary battle to let the facts get in the way of his grandstanding. 

 

Press is host of “The Bill Press Show” on Free Speech TV and author of The Obama Hate Machine.

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