CBS' Friday morning retraction of a 60 Minutes report on the Benghazi attack wasn't the first time the media has been burned by bad information on the story. The idea that the Obama administration was at fault or complicit in the death of an ambassador — an idea pushed by half of the government — is a difficult idea to abandon.
That's the thing about Benghazi. It seems like such an amazing story: Ambassador Chris Stevens killed on the anniversary of 9/11; confusion and explosions under cover of night. The idea that somehow the Obama administration made things worse by either hiding its failures or, in more active imaginations, intentionally not acting, is tantalizing. And when Dylan Davies, a State Department contractor, says he was there and can give you the low-down?
This is the trap into which 60 Minutes fell. On October 27, it aired an interview with Davies, who said that a coordinated attack from Al Qaeda was both inevitable and immediately obvious on that day. That he went to the compound, knocked down a terrorist with the butt of his rifle, and snuck into a hospital controlled by Al Qaeda to see Stevens' lifeless body. This story undermined the Obama administration's insistence that the attack was a surprise, and its initial reticence to blame the terrorist group. As we've noted, on October 31, The Washington Post found the report Davies had given his employer, in which he said that he never got to the consulate — there were roadblocks. And then The New York Times reported on Thursday that Davies told the FBI the same thing. That, after days of denial, is what spurred CBS to rescind the story entirely. On Friday morning, 60 Minutes' Lara Logan admitted that Davies had given his employer a different account, saying, "We made a mistake... In this case, we were wrong." There was reason to be skeptical — but it was such a good story.