It was a bad day for television scofflaws as CBS News placed 60 Minutes star Lara Logan and her producer on a forced leave of absence and MSNBC fired the host of the six-week-old Friday night show Up Late with Alec Baldwin.
Can MSNBC’s Martin Bashir be far behind?
Logan and her longtime producer, Max McClellan, were disciplined after CBS conducted an internal review of their Oct. 27 segment concerning last year’s deadly terrorist attack on U.S. diplomats in Benghazi, Libya—a report that relied heavily on the fabricated testimony of a State Department security contractor who was promoting a book about the attack published by an imprint of the CBS subsidiary Simon & Schuster. The book has since been recalled.
The end of Baldwin’s program, after only four installments, comes after MSNBC President Phil Griffin imposed a two-week suspension on the actor for shouting anti-gay slurs at a New York Post photographer who was door-stepping him in front of his Manhattan apartment building.
The incident, captured on video by the gossip web site TMZ.com, provoked outrage from members of gay rights organizations and severe criticism of Baldwin by CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, among others, who accused his Friday night ratings rival of mouthing support of gay causes in public while uttering homophobic slurs in private. “Why does he get a pass?” Cooper demanded on AC360 Later on CNN, which has aired opposite Up Late on MSNBC.
One of the lefty actor's few defenders, ironically, was right-wing provocateur Ann Coulter, who wrote a column calling Baldwin's anger "justifed" and lamenting the "word police" who'd want to kill his show for losing his temper with a paparazzo.
"He's too good for MSNBC," Coulter emailed The Daily Beast after Baldwin's termination. "He should go to Fox News! He'd be great guest-hosting 'Red Eye.'"
“We are jointly confirming that Up Late will not continue on MSNBC,” the cable network and Baldwin’s publicist announced. MSNBC’s spokeswoman added: “This is a mutual parting and we wish Alec all the best.” Baldwin’s termination was first reported by the New York Post’s Richard Johnson.
Reached by the Gothamist web site in Hawaii, where he is filming a Cameron Crowe movie, Baldwin bitterly complained about his gay critics and the New York Post, which in recent days reported that he had been behaving like a diva with colleagues at MSNBC. Taking a shot at Rich Ferraro, of the gay rights organization GLAAD, and blogger Andrew Sullivan, who has branded Baldwin "a homophobic bigot," the actor complained: "You've got the fundamentalist wing of gay advocacy—Rich Ferraro and Andrew Sullivan—they're out there, they've got you. Rich Ferraro, this is probably one of his greatest triumphs. They killed my show. And I have to take some responsibility for that myself."
Baldwin added that most of his relationships at MSNBC were positive. "People who I worked with that I cared about—these people were all very supportive of the show," the actor said. "Now there was somebody on the staff who I did not want to work with. There was somebody on the staff who I thought wasn't a good fit for me. And I wouldn't rule out if that person went to the Post and gave them that story...And then with The Post... there's nothing you can do when you get thrown in this washing machine, nothing. You know? Nothing. All you end up doing is just defending yourself all day long."
It was unclear whether Logan and McClellan’s compulsory hiatus—which CBS was officially calling a “leave” rather than a “suspension”—would be paid or unpaid, or how long it will last. CBS News executives had already pulled the veteran war correspondent from emceeing Tuesday night’s Committee to Project Journalists dinner in New York, substituting CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley instead.
“I have asked Lara Logan, who has distinguished herself and has put herself in harm’s way many times in the course of covering stories for us, to take a leave of absence, which she has agreed to do,” CBS News Chairman Jeff Fager, who is also executive producer of 60 Minutes, wrote in a staff memo. “I have asked the same of producer Max McClellan, who also has a distinguished career at CBS News.”
Fager went on: “As Executive Producer, I am responsible for what gets on the air. I pride myself in catching almost everything, but this deception got through and it shouldn’t have. When faced with a such an error, we must use it as an opportunity to make our broadcast even stronger. We are making adjustments at 60 Minutes to reduce the chances of it happening again.”
Fager’s memo was accompanied by a damning “summary of findings” written by Al Ortiz, CBS News’s executive director of standards and practices. Ortiz concluded that Logan and her producers failed to check security contractor Dylan Davies’s statements to the FBI and the State Department before airing an interview with him, in which he erroneously claimed to have been on the scene of the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the Benghazi diplomatic facility and also to have seen the body of murdered U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens.
“The fact that the FBI and the State Department had information that differed from the account Davies gave to 60 Minutes was knowable before the piece aired,” Ortiz wrote. “But the wider reporting resources of CBS News were not employed in an effort to confirm his account. It’s possible that reporters and producers with better access to inside FBI sources could have found out that Davies had given varying and conflicting accounts of his story.”
Ortiz wrote that when Logan and her colleagues learned that Davies had provided a contradictory account to his employer, and explained that he had lied, it should have “been a red flag in the editorial vetting process.”
Ortiz singled out Logan for special criticism, noting a speech she gave in October 2012, a month before starting work on the Benghazi story, “in which she took a strong public position arguing that the U.S. Government was misrepresenting the threat from Al Qaeda, and urging actions that the U.S. should take in response to the Benghazi attack.” Ortiz added: “From a CBS News Standards perspective, there is a conflict in taking a public position on the government’s handling of Benghazi and Al Qaeda, while continuing to report on the story.”
After first defending her report to a growing number of skeptics, Logan apologized for the story on the air after The Washington Post and New York Times, among other outlets, reported that Davies’s account on 60 Minutes was contradicted by his statements to the FBI and the State Department.
MSNBC’s Bashir, meanwhile, delivered an on-air apology on Monday, Nov. 18, for an ugly commentary in which he suggested that former Alaska governor Sarah Palin be punished for comparing the national debt to slavery by being made to suffer such terrible atrocities of 18th century slavery as having someone defecate and urinate in her mouth.
It remains to be seen if Bashir is headed for the same fate as Baldwin and Logan. Griffin didn’t return a phone call seeking comment.