Last week, 60 Minutes reporter Lara Logan made an unusual appearance on the CBS Early Show, not to trumpet an upcoming interview, but to apologize for a past one. Logan was engaging in a journalist’s worst case scenario: publicly admitting to having been duped by a source.
In a 60 Minutes segment last month, Logan interviewed a man called Morgan Jones, a security official at the American embassy in Benghazi. Jones said he witnessed the 2012 terrorist attack that cost the lives of four Americans, including ambassador Christopher Stevens. Jones wrote his story in a book called The Embassy House: The Explosive Eyewitness Account of the Libyan Embassy Siege by the Soldier Who Was There. The book was published Simon and Schuster, which is owned by CBS, the network that broadcasts 60 Minutes. Logan’s segment called into question the amount of aid the Obama administration sent to the embassy in Libya. Republicans quickly latched onto the report and used it as leverage to demand answers.
Then reports began to surface that Jones, whose real name is Dylan Davies, gave a very different account of the night of the embassy attack to his employer, Blue Mountain Security. CBS continued to defend the segment, but after two US officials said the report Davies gave the FBI concluded that Davies was not at the embassy during the attack, Logan and CBS were forced to recant. Considering its political ramifications, the gaffe was rightly called by one CBS executive “as big a mistake as there has been” in the 45-year history of 60 Minutes.
THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Lara Logan and CBS.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Trust no one. At first glance, Logan’s “get” seemed like the scoop of the year. Yet the account of a single eyewitness should have raised a few eyebrows. While CBS insisted that their sources pointed toward veracity, they later had to recant. When making a statement that could, say, damage a presidential administration, iron-clad facts – not impassioned testimony from a book published by your parent company – must be the rule. Otherwise, your public apology may be your last televised segment.