For the majority of us who care about stuff -- whether it's politics, or the direction of the country...or the media that write about those things -- there is nothing more frustrating than the lack of recourse for a legitimate grievance. In the political realm, there are elections -- yes, it's ridiculously hard to vote out incumbents, but there's always hope -- and we've also seen protest movements (the Tea Party on the right, Occupy Wall Street on the left) to fill some of the gaps.
But when the major mainstream media betrays the public trust, the options are more limited. Some news outlets have ombudsmen to represent the audience and some of them -- like The New York Times' Margaret Sullivan -- are very, very good at it. But what happens when a news outlet makes a major mistake, and refuses to respond responsibly? What recourse is left?
The recent bogus report -- not just a mistake, but an entirely bogus report -- by CBS' "60 Minutes" on the 2012 Benghazi attack is one of the more egregious cases of a major news outlet misleading the American people that I've seen in more than 30 years in journalism. The report by correspondent Lara Logan was based upon a supposed year-long investigation. Its centerpiece was a dramatic interview with a security contractor who it turns out was not even there -- a fact that the Washington Post and other outlets were able to confirm not in a year, but in a day or two. The result was a brief 90-second apology by Logan that a) sounded insincere, even smarmy, in my opinion, and b) didn't explain how such a shoddy piece ever made it onto national television.
I have the same questions that many others have asked. What was the reporting process that caused Logan and "60 Minutes" to believe the contractor Dylan Davies for a year, when his story was disproved, including by CBS' own journalists and FBI sources, almost immediately? How much was the judgment of "60 Minutes" blinded by the fact that its sister publishing company was publishing Davies' book? Did Logan's fiery belief that the U.S. needed to exact revenge for Bengahzi cloud her own news judgment? (Because while I have no problem with journalists having a strong opinion -- you may have noticed this -- it is a problem when someone's views cause them to go to false or misleading places.)
CBS has shown in the past it knows how to do the right thing -- because it did exactly that in 2004, when it based a report on then-President Bush's National Guard record upon phony memos. That time, the network allowed an extensive independent investigation and the responsible parties were fired or suffered career consequences. Nine years later, viewers should expect nothing less with this Benghazi hoax that's been perpetrated on the public. Instead, the network's dismissive and half-assed response has been an insult to all of us. So now what?
The "B"-word is not a word I would use lightly. I rarely get excited about boycotts because -- while I consider them a responsible, free-speech response to a significant wrong -- they are so often ineffective. In recent years, however, I've watched boycotts organized by liberal groups against clear hate speech by Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh to have surprising impact and staying power, and diminish the radio hosts' toxic effect on our political discourse. I know that "'60 Minutes" and especially CBS have a lot of accumulated good will, stemming back to Vietnam and Watergate, but those days were a long, long ago. In 2013, their bogus reporting has damaged the public debate on foreign policy, and their failure to investigate their mistakes is an intolerable breach of journalistic ethics.
I'm a journalist, not an activist, and I speak only for myself. I will not watch "60 Minutes," nor buy any product that advertises on the show, until a thorough independent investigation is launched. I may be alone on this (in which case it would be the most ineffective boycott in history!) but I hope that either a) others who are activists pick up the torch or b) CBS quickly reverses course, does the right thing and renders this all moot. There is one quality above all others that defines good journalism, and that is utter fearlessness when it comes to going after the truth.
What is CBS so afraid of?