Though CBS has said the segment was a year in the making, the book, which Logan and McClellan had obtained in late spring 2013, would become the majority of the broadcast. Which is why it was unusual that the weekend the report aired, four months after getting the book, the 60 Minutes staff treated it like a breaking-news story being assembled in haste, working after hours to get it ready.
Fager delegated the details of vetting the piece to Owens, whom he’d groomed to be his successor at 60 Minutes but whom some CBS colleagues felt was stretched thin by his duties. Because of the short deadline, and because it was a book by a sister company, 60 Minutes’ usual fact-checking procedures were not followed. No calls were made to the State Department or the FBI specifically to vet Davies’s claims.
Logan’s own credulity, it seems, was the central pillar of the report. When asked why she found Davies’s account believable, Logan said that Davies was one of the “best guys you’ll ever meet” and a few minutes with him would convince anyone of his candor, according to a person familiar with her comments. And Davies’s tale of heroic special-forces operators being let down by politicians and bureaucrats thousands of miles from the front made sense in the world in which Logan had been living for the better part of a decade. And while that narrative cast might have raised eyebrows at the old CBS News, the politics in the post-Rather era were more complicated—McClellan leans more conservative than has been traditional at the show.
Here, then, was a convergence, the proverbial perfect storm: Fager had given Logan outsize power; Owens, Fager’s acolyte, didn’t ask the boss’s star the tough questions; and McClellan, a true-blue Logan loyalist, didn’t have the desire or the authority to bring Logan to heel. On top of that, the senior vice-president of standards and practices, Linda Mason, whose job it was to bring outside scrutiny to any segment, had departed in early 2013, and Fager never replaced her. Logan was free to operate as she chose.
Benghazi had been thoroughly politicized from the beginning. But rather than steering clear of the political battle, Logan headed right toward it, consulting with Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a strong critic of the administration’s handling of the incident whom she’d met once in Afghanistan. “I really didn’t know her until she started doing this piece on Benghazi,” he told me.
The two met two or three times to talk about the Libya attack, with Graham telling Logan that from his point of view, it was “a fair thing to say” that there was a “build-up of Al Qaeda types” in the area—a major talking point for the right in arguments that the Obama White House tried covering up alleged terrorist links.
Graham declared Logan’s report the “death blow” to the Obama administration’s narrative about Benghazi. But doubts about Davies surfaced quickly. The night of the broadcast, October 27, former State Department officials under Hillary Clinton were watching the program with antennae up and exchanged emails. “I think he’s lying his head off about where he was and what he did,” wrote one former official about the man calling himself Morgan Jones. “I mean, 14 months later we’re hearing about this guy for the first time?” The episode set up the inevitable political face-off. The Washington Post soon revealed that Davies had told his own firm, Blue Mountain, a different story.
In the previous months, Logan had been distracted, dealing with an alarming health issue: a diagnosis of breast cancer. She told Esquire magazine, “I think that scarred me worse than what happened in Egypt.”
And the Saturday night after the broadcast, Logan made a reference to her Benghazi report while in Buffalo receiving the Gilda Radner Courage Award. “People are saying to me, ‘You have to prioritize your health,’ ” she said to the attendees, “and I’m like, ‘I have to prioritize my health, but if I fuck this up, I don’t have a career, you know?’ ”
The next week, Logan defended criticism of her report, telling Bill Carter of the New York Times she regretted that 60 Minutes didn’t acknowledge that Davies was selling a book on a right-wing imprint by CBS’s parent company. But, she said, “we killed ourselves not to allow politics into this report.” Two days later, the Times revealed that Davies’s statements to the FBI contradicted what he had told 60 Minutes.
At one point, Logan called Graham and asked for help. “She called afterward and basically said, ‘What did he tell the FBI?’ ” he recalls. “I’ve never seen the FBI interview, but I talked to the No. 2, who is now gone, and he said that he’s looked at the interviews and the guy never mentioned this.”