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Middle East Issues





60 Minutes Corrects Benghazi, Not on Israel


The double standard is undeniable. When CBS's flagship news magazine, 60 Minutes, made a number of egregious errors (all of which cut against Israel) in an April 22, 2012 segment about Christians in the Holy Land, the network refused to correct. 

The failure to correct the errors was universally ignored by media watchdog groups such as the Poynter Institute and the Columbia Journalism Review.

Eighteen months later, when 60 Minutes broadcast a flawed report about the attack on U.S. consulate in Benghazi, it issued a correction and apologized.

Media critics who previously ignored the controversy about 60 Minutes' errors regarding Israel and its treatment of Palestinian Christians weighed in and in some instances called on the news organization to conduct an investigation into how it got the Benghazi story wrong.

The conclusion is inescapable. CBS News and its chairman Jeff Fager ignore the principles of journalism when reporters make mistakes regarding Israel, but pay close attention these principles when dealing with other topics that do not relate to the Jewish homeland. Media critics behave the same way.

With its actions, CBS News and media critics are sending a very clear message: Some people get fairer treatment from the network than others.

Background

On April 22, 2012, 60 Minutes aired an error-laden segment about Christians in the Holy Land. During the segment, correspondent Bob Simon falsely reported (among other things) that the security barrier completely surrounds Bethlehem. It also depicted the Palestinian Christian population as declining when in fact, it has increased in absolute numbers. (The problems with the segment are outlined here.)

The episode prompted a substantial number of complaints from CAMERA supporters, members of Christians United For Israel and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

Despite these complaints – which totaled in the thousands – 60 Minutes made no correction, prompting CAMERA to raise the issue at a CBS shareholder meeting where corporate officials defended the flawed segment. In response to CBS intransigence, CAMERA published an ad in the Wall Street Journal that highlighted the problems with the segment.

CBS News did more than ignore the controversy. It went on the offensive and defended its bad reporting in April 2013 when CBS News Chairman and 60 Minutes Executive Producer Jeff Fager gave a presentation to his fellow congregants St. Mark's Episcopal Church.

During this presentation, Fager stated that CAMERA's ad in the Wall Street Journal was wrong and even reiterated the false statement that Bethlehem is completely surrounded “by a wall.” He made this false statement in front of at least 200 people in the audience.

In response, CAMERA activist Dexter Van Zile raised his hand during the question and answer period of the presentation and told Fager that he would give $5,000 to a charity of Fager's choice if he could prove that the security barrier completely surrounds Bethlehem.

To this day, Fager has not responded to the $5,000 challenge and 60 Minutes has not issued a correction. (For more information about this controversy go here and here.)

One of the most outrageous aspects of 60 Minutes' refusal to correct is the manner in which Jeff Fager has bragged about his networks commitment to getting it right and correcting its mistakes when it does not.

In 2012, Fager told students at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University in 2012 the following: “When you do make a mistake, boy oh boy, own up to it. Go out of your way to own up to it because we all make mistakes.” CAMERA has highlighted these and other statements here and here.

Fager has not practiced what he preached, at least when it comes to coverage relating to the Jewish state.

Hint of a Problem in September

CBS officials may not have realized it at the time, but Fager and 60 Minutes' refusal to correct the glaring errors in its April 2012 story would come back to haunt the network.

Once CBS News or 60 Minutes did the inevitable and made a mistake and then corrected it, one obvious question would be asked: Why did the network correct one error and not the other?

The first hint of the quandary came in September 2013 when CBS news falsely identified a former employee at the Pentagon as the perpetrator of a horrific shooting in Washington, D.C. CBS News retracted the story very soon after the original false report, possibly out of fear of having to pay a settlement to the person who was falsely named as the shooter.

Whatever the motive was behind the correction, the quick retraction about the Pentagon shooter, combined with the failure to correct a story that defamed Israel, indicates that there is a double standard at work in how CBS enforces its corrections policy which reads in part as follows:

Our reputation for accuracy in reporting depends upon our efforts to get the story right, or, if you get it wrong to broadcast a correction. Significant errors of fact must be corrected clearly and promptly in the broadcast or on the web page of the program in which the error was made…

CBS adhered to this policy with the Pentagon shooter story, but not with its April 2012 story on Christians in the Holy Land. Why?

Chickens Come Home to Roost

The existence of a double standard at CBS News and its flagship show 60 Minutes was confirmed in the aftermath of an Oct. 27, 2012 segment about the American response to an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi on September 11, 2011. The segment, reported by Lara Logan, was based in large part on the testimony of a former contractor working for the U.S. State Department.

A number of newspapers started digging into the story and eventually, discovered that the contractor had given contradictory testimony to both the FBI. Eventually, it was generally accepted that the contractor was not on the scene of the fighting on Sept. 11, 2011.

In the face of criticism, (including complaints from Media Matters for America), Jeff Fager defended the story and its accuracy, but on Nov. 9, 2013 – two weeks after the initial story first aired – reporter Lara Logan gave an on-air correction and apology in which she stated 60 Minutes was misled by its source. "It was a mistake to include him in our report. For that we are very sorry. The most important thing to every person at 60 Minutes is the truth and the truth is we made a mistake," she said.

Logan's apology generated a firestorm of coverage (and complaint) from media critics from the Poynter Institute, the Columbia Journalism Review, the New York Times and others. The general assessment was that 60 Minutes did not answer important questions about how it got the Benghazi story wrong.

But these critics universally ignored an important aspect of the story that also deserves coverage: Why is it that Lara Logan was forced to do an on-air correction and apology regarding the Benghazi report and Bob Simon, who uttered falsehoods about Israel was not?

By what calculus can 60 Minutes justify its decision to correct in one instance and not in another? Why the double standard?


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