February 21, 2011
Risky Business: Lara Logan and CBSBy G. Murphy Donovan
Lara Logan walked into a journalist's worst nightmare. Instead of covering a story, she became the story. Such hazards are something of a tradition at CBS; Mike Wallace became the William Westmoreland story and Dan Rather became the George Bush story. Wallace had a nervous breakdown and Rather retired in disgrace. Unlike her predecessors, Ms. Logan's problem wasn't fabricated evidence; she was assigned to, or volunteered for, the wrong story in the wrong neighborhood. And as it turns out; she, 60 Minutes, and CBS were just as reckless as Wallace and Rather.
The stage was set by a spin cycle of politically correct talking points, in effect an Oval Office party line that complicit media were quick to parrot. Demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt were represented as "peaceful and democratic," never mind that neither country had any experience with democracy since the Roman republic. The peace rhetoric pretty much ignored the mayhem, killing, arson, and looting as long as it was done in the name of anti-regime sentiments.
Indeed, hypocrisy became comic opera when pyramid tour guides brought counter-revolutionary camels and horses to the fray in Tahrir Square. Tragically, some of the animals and their keepers were summarily executed on the spot, presumably in the name of democracy.
Nevertheless, in the space of a week, President Obama was pressing for "democratic" reform and Mrs. Clinton was holding the Cairo rioters up as a "model" for some undefined Arab utopia. Presumably, CBS executives, and possibly Ms. Logan herself, bought into this false narrative and wanted to be in Tahrir Square for the victory lap. Al Jazeera was the worst of the "revolutionary" shills, seldom broadcasting any footage that would challenge the anti-Mubarak narrative.
The drumbeat from most reporters, following al Jazeera's lead, was to portray the demonstrators as peaceful, diverse, ecumenical, and enlightened. No anti-American or anti-Israeli sentiments were reported. The stage was set for tragedy when CBS allowed a slight blond American to mingle with a predominantly male, testosterone fueled, anti-Semitic and xenophobic mob in Tahrir Square. Indeed, Christiane Amanpour, Katie Couric, and Anderson Cooper had already experienced near misses. And if Christina Lamb's research on the subject is to be believed, the photogenic Mr. Cooper was as likely to be assaulted as any female reporter.
This is not to shoot the wounded or to suggest that the victim is to be blamed. Lara Logan, war correspondent, would be the last to think of herself as a victim; but, she was exploited nevertheless. She was undone by naiveté and high risk bravado -- and these, CBS producers exploited in full measure.
Ms. Logan is as famous for her drop dead good looks and extramarital escapades as she was for her reporting. Indeed, there are numerous internet web sites dedicated to Lara's secondary assets. Her journalistic colleagues broadcast "hotie" photos and Logan's extra-marital exploits widely -- and with relish. In short, you might say, as they did back in the day, she had a reputation.
Coverage of Lara Logan's personal life, especially by Rolling Stone and Huffington Post reporters, was nothing short of salacious and predatory. Logan's wedding was touted in one headline as a "shotgun" affair. An internet post by Matt Taibbi was entitled "Lara Logan, You Suck!" The girly men at Jann Wenner's Chicago salon were incensed because Logan had dared to defend General Stanley McChrystal. Taibbi salted his attack on Lara with infantile bigotry; characterizing American soldiers in Afghanistan as "drunken assholes" and "insubordinate douche bags."
CBS's chief foreign affairs correspondent was savaged often and maliciously by colleagues, including Katie Couric, long before the Tahrir Square incident.
Surely, all of this is well enough for CBS ratings, but to send such a high profile, risky icon into a conservative, religiously intolerant, and misogynistic Arab hothouse approaches some unfathomed level of cultural ignorance and stupidity. Adultery can be a capital offense in dar al Islam.
Adulterers, especially females with celebrated indiscretions, are seen as prostitutes or worse in the world of Islam. No Arab male would fear prosecution for assaulting such an American infidel, even one with press credentials. CBS executives had to know this; which probably explains network attempts to hide the Logan's trauma from Egyptian authorities and the American public. A cowardly media mainstream is unlikely to seek justice for one of their own, especially a woman. Treasured illusions about Muslim civility are too important to put at risk.
Lara Logan's image was not the only risk factor. The near universal refusal of the professional left, the academy, and several American administrations to recognize or confront the golems of Islamic and Egyptian culture are part of the back story too. Many religious or cultural practices enable the abuse of women in Egypt and other Arab communities. These include, but are not limited to: vindictive fatwas, child marriage, honor killings, genital mutilation, amputations, stoning, purdah (burkas and hijabs), polygamy, consanguinity, slavery, and death penalties for adultery. Christina Lamb's Afghan protégé characterized women under Islamic law as "insects in the dust."
The silence of American feminists on institutionalized Arab misogyny is deafening. High profile American women like Madeline Albright (now at PEW Global Attitudes), Hilary Clinton, and now Michelle Obama, ladies who could make a difference, have yet to act against the systematic abuse of women among one fourth of the world's population. Tongue tied feminists are co-conspirators with the "animals" of Tahrir Square.
World Health Organization (WHO) studies reveal that over 90% of Egyptian women have been abused by circumcision. Apologists regularly defend genital mutilations in Egypt as "cultural" practices, as if that matters to young girls butchered to suppress their sexual pleasure. PEW and other polling agencies, that survey Egyptian and Arab attitudes, also document wide-spread support for terror, religious law, anti-Semitism, and political Islamism. How do these facts not influence the judgment of the Oval Office, the State Department, and the corporate offices of American news networks?
Sexually repressed cultures like those of the Arab League are unlikely to see a difference between liberated working girls and targets of opportunity. If just one of those 200 "peaceful," democratized, internet savvy Arab males knew of Ms. Logan's history; in their culture, she's fair game. Islamic law does not distinguish between adulterers and whores. Can one even "rape" a woman who flaunts marital indiscretion in this culture? If Rachael Maddow (of Air America fame) ever covered a Muslim riot for MSNBC, her life might be forfeit under at least two Sharia statutes. The truth about the worst in Islam is ever a bitter pill.
And there's a profound difference between courage and recklessness. CBS and 60 Minutes knew of Lara's personal baggage and sent her into a howling mob of angry Arab males anyway. And Ms. Logan, having been warned at least once by the Egyptian officials, chose to put herself at risk again, among those she may have imprudently thought to be on "the right side of history." She and CBS were tragically wrong about the risks of an irredentist Egyptian revolt and nearly fatally wrong about the personal perils of xenophobic, misogynist cultures.
CBS probably can't be charged with antything, but someone should sue the suits for reckless endangerment. The American public should demand to know also how and why the men in the CBS support crew did not fight to protect Lara Logan from a gang assault. That story is one you may never see in Rolling Stone or on 60 Minutes.
Post-mortem commentary on the Logan affair is as shallow as earlier collegial attacks on her character. Most, like that in the Chicago Sun Times fall under the "s--t happens" school of journalism: "Women are victims because they are women." Richard Roeper cites obscure and questionable (Egyptian) statistics about trivial harassment of women in buses and on Cairo streets: Such analysis is pure bandwagon. CBS and NPR are worse still, still desperately trying to hang the Logan assault on Mubarak.
Lara Logan wasn't assaulted because she was a vulnerable, attractive woman caught in a city of fanny pinchers. She was attacked for the same reasons that Daniel Pearl was beheaded. She was a journalist (aka spy), an American, and thought to be a Jew. For too many in the Islamist and Arab world, such credentials are presumptive evidence that merits vigilante justice.
The most distressing fallout of the Lara Logan saga lies ahead. The Obama/Clinton team is unlikely to change the party line about the Arab League; full speed ahead with revolution, consequences be damned. And American journalists, especially women, are unlikely to stop their suicidal rooting for Islamic monoculture. In all of this, politicians and pundits will fail to see the hazards of haste and cultural denial -- where the enemy of our enemies will never be our friends.