Since the difference between “misleading” and “lying” is a big topic today, let us not mince words about Dylan Davies, alias “Morgan Jones,” who was a source for the big “60 Minutes” report on Benghazi a few weeks ago. It seems fairly certain that he lied about his personal actions on the night of the attack, and while this testimony was not the key element of the report, it certainly did add quite a bit of drama. The Jones account has also been cited as evidence that timely and effective assistance could have been rendered to the Americans who were under attack, although that would be a mighty big stretch even if the account in question were true, since it was only a lone individual, who was in Benghazi on the night of the assault, describing his exploits. CBS has not handled this well, from beginning to end. It’s curious that they didn’t vet Davies more thoroughly.
The parts of the “Morgan Jones” tale that now seem a bit too tall are his accounts of personally entering the compound during the attack (taking out a terrorist with the butt of his rifle!) and sneaking into the hospital to personally view the corpse of his friend, Ambassador Christopher Stevens. These embellishments are evidently at odds with his report to the security company that employed him, as well as the FBI, and according to a report at the Atlantic Wire, CBS News should have known better than to run with it:
Days later, the Washington Post obtained a copy of Davies’s incident report to his employer Blue Mountain, a British security contractor hired by the State Department for the compound. In it, he wrote, “we could not get anywhere near . . . as roadblocks had been set up,” indicating that Davies may have misled CBS over his proximity to the attacks. As for his viewing of Stevens’s body? The Post writes: “He learned of Stevens’s death, Davies wrote, when a Libyan colleague who had been at the hospital came to the villa to show him a cellphone picture of the ambassador’s blackened corpse.” Faced with this contradiction, Davies said he lied to his employer.
Until Thursday evening, CBS stood by its source. In an email to the Huffington Post on Wednesday, the show’s Executive Producer Jeff Fager said he was “proud” of the report, adding that he was sure the piece “told accurate versions of what happened that night.” But now, thanks to the New York Times, there are three versions of Davies’s story about that night. Two of them match closely: the one he gave the FBI, and the one he gave his employer: he did not go to the compound, he did not personally view Stevens’s body. The third, the much more dramatic story in his memoir and to CBS, stands alone. This was finally enough for CBS to stop digging in with Davies and take a closer look at their relationship with the key source.
It’s vaguely possible that Davies is telling the truth now, and concealed his actions from both his employer and the FBI, but it’s rather difficult to see a logical reason why he’d do that. (Fear that he’d get in trouble for his actions? Reluctance to be drawn further into the FBI investigation?) He surely would have known there would be consequences for lying to these authorities. I have to imagine the FBI would be severely displeased to learn they had been given a false story during their investigation, only to learn the truth from Sunday night television.
On the other hand, he has a fairly obvious motivation for embellishing his story into a heroic narrative now: he’s got a book to sell, and media attention to draw. The Atlantic Wire notes that Davies’ publisher plans to “review the book and take appropriate action with regard to its publication status,” which sounds ominous. Somehow I don’t think they’ll just quietly ask Barnes & Noble to slide it over to the “fiction” section.
“60 Minutes” correspondent Lara Logan is getting a lot of credit for going on the air this morning and formally apologizing for the error, as well as promising that a correction will be issued during the next installment of “60 Minutes.” During her Friday morning appearance, Logan contritely stated, “Nobody likes to admit that they made a mistake, but if you do, you have to stand up and take responsibility and you have to say you were wrong, and in this case we were wrong.”
But this comes after days of CBS standing by the story – right up until Thursday night, as the Atlantic Wire notes. Logan said she was aware that Davies’ report to his employer was dramatically different from what he told CBS News, but they essentially took his word for it when he claimed his new story matched up with the testimony he gave the FBI.
However, the New York Times on Thursday reported that two unnamed “senior government officials” who had been “briefed on the government investigation” claim Davies’ testimony to the FBI actually matches up with the Blue Mountain incident report (which Davies claims he did not write), and says he never got into the consulate or hospital, contrary to what he told “60 Minutes” and wrote in his book. Would it be rude to ask who these government officials are, verify their account of the FBI report is accurate, and ask why they spoke to the New York Times but not CBS News? Alternatively, why didn’t CBS use every possible government source to verify the sensational account Davies gave them?
The lingering question, which I have yet to see addressed in any story about this controversy, is whether the more substantial information Davies provided during the “60 Minutes” piece has also been called into question. He was in charge of training the local security personnel, and he said some very damning things about the militia forces relied upon by the State Department to provide an armed response to attack. He claimed to have issued stern (and prescient) warnings about the quality of those forces. That seems more relevant to the core assertions of the “60 Minutes” report than his individual actions on the night of the attack.
No doubt conspiracy theories about this bizarre media faceplant will begin flowing. CBS set themselves up to be discredited on purpose! The Administration is leaning on them to discredit their own report! (Or, less conspiratorially, anonymous officials gave incorrect information to the New York Times in a successful effort to intimidate CBS into backing away from their reporting.) It seems more like the fault lies with some sloppy decisions at “60 Minutes” – at the very least, they should have made it clear there were serious doubts about Davies’ story, or avoided using that sensational account altogether. But I suppose “don’t use that sensational account!” will rarely be words easily spoken in a newsroom. Given that Logan says Davies suddenly isn’t returning her calls, it doesn’t seem like any elaborate theories are needed to explain this.