Thursday, March 10, 2011

OP/ED: Lara Logan is a very lucky woman

  • CBS News Correspondent Lara Logan in Tahrir Square moments before she was attacked on Feb. 11, 2011.
    • CBS News Correspondent Lara Logan in Tahrir Square moments before she was attacked on Feb. 11, 2011. (CBS)
I do not know Lara Logan, and I must admit that, prior to her becoming the story out of Egypt's current upheavals, rather than reporting other news stories, I had never heard of her. Be that as it may, I watched as the 24/7 mainstream media variously declared that CBS's 'chief foreign correspondent' was 'brutally attacked,' 'sexually assaulted,' and/or 'raped.'

Since none of us were there in that alley with Lara Logan, we cannot know the extent of the attack, but that has not stopped the cacophony from various pundits and academics - 'experts' all - expounding on the story. I have tried to avoid writing about it myself. However, I am choosing to add my 2 cents' worth to the media noise today because, unlike 90% of those with uninformed opinions they are all to willing to share, I DO have authority to speak on this subject.

No matter what anyone calls what happened to Logan, I have absolutely no doubt that she thought she was going to die that day in Egypt. I guarantee it. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

Lara Logan lived, and that IS a blessing, although I have no way of knowing if Logan herself has come to that conclusion yet. According to stories in the immediate aftermath of that night in an Egyptian alley way, apparently Logan was rescued by a crowd of Egyptian women - 'sisters,' if you will. Logan is a very lucky woman. For many survivors, there is NO rescue from either an isolated rape/sexual assault by an unknown stranger(s), or from an ongoing, daily intimidation of sexual abuse by a relative or close friend.

Logan is a very lucky woman for other reasons. Unlike the Egyptian women who rescued her, Logan was able to take a private jet and leave the country where this happened. I guarantee that within that crowd of female saviours, more than a few of them are/have been victims of ongoing sexual assaults, brutal attacks, within their own communities. It is well documented in many places, of the daily barrage of assault, intimidation, that women in Egypt, Iran, and other middle eastern countries contend with, just because they are female. For these women there is no escape. With very little research, one can find horrific stories of women's gender being used against them. Many, many reports have been written over the years of rape being used as a weapon of war around the world. It goes on as I write this, as you read this, and yet still more studies are called for, more reports written, more finger-wagging and vocal condemnation (maybe,) before any actions are taken to stop the systemic abuse of half of the world's population, based merely on their gender.

Don't believe me? Take a look:

Egyptian Women Silently Endure Sexual Harassment, Movie Reveals

Egyptian singer and actress Boshra

Egyptian singer and actress Boshra in "678." The movie depicts women suffering from sexual harassment during everyday life in Egypt.

Source: Mohamed Diab via Bloomberg

The poster for the film "678"

The poster for the film "678" shows the three female stars Nahed, Boshra and Nelly Karim. The movie depicts women suffering from sexual harassment during everyday life in Egypt.

Source: Mohamed Diab via Bloomberg

A man on a crammed public bus presses his pelvis against the body of a veiled woman. Another grabs her bottom as she walks on the street in broad daylight.

Compared to the deadly clashes that have erupted in Egypt’s streets and the change of government, these episodes may seem secondary. Yet they have been commonplace for decades. Director Mohamed Diab has chosen to include them in a movie that portrays three women enduring sexual harassment, with the social pressure and silence that go with it.

“What we want to say through this movie is that you should speak out and hold your head up high,” Diab said in an interview in Cairo. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of, so do say that you have been sexually harassed.”

Titled “678” -- the Cairo bus line that one of the female protagonists rides every day -- the film is showing in theaters at a time when attention is elsewhere. An increasing number of women joined protests in recent weeks.

“I was convinced that it should be a man who talks about this subject,” said the director. “Women’s organizations in the Arab world do not have credibility, and are believed to be biased.”


“One of the best reactions I encountered was at the movie theater,” said Diab. “When the film screening ended, men made space for women to let them pass -- whether out of fear or respect -- instead of going out in a stampede.”(Read more here) [Yes, emphasis mine]

From the reports I was unable to avoid, Logan was set upon by an unruly mob, a stampede if you will. Whilst I would be the very last to say that she brought what happened upon herself - as we all heard some commentators do - I have to ask: What the hell was she, and her colleagues, thinking? From the pictures and reports played around the world, it appears that Logan found herself in the middle of the tense, aggressive, excited crowd in Tahrir Square. Logan is apparently 'chief foreign correspondent' which suggests to me that she was no naive rookie reporter who had only previously reported on her local City Hall meetings. Yes, I truly do understand the adrenaline rush of being present as history is being made, deadlines to produce something newsworthy, the thrill of an exclusive scoop, and yes, she was just doing her job. However, even naive students of human behaviour - who have maybe read a couple of Psych 101 textbooks - KNOW that a whole different, usually uncontrollable, dynamic comes into play, when the mob rules.

Lara Logan was very lucky that doing her job did not cost her her life, as it has for other journalists globally, both women and men. Susan Katz Keating wrote an insightful column on reporting as a dangerous business, when Logan's story hit the airwaves:

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Reporting Real News: It Can Be a Killer

Reporting from the war zone
There's been a fair amount of chatter amongst journalists the past couple weeks, discussing the dangers of hot zone reporting. Rightly so. It's been a tough run lately for the Fourth Estate. Several prominent journalists have been attacked, some brutally, while attempting to report the news.

The public discourse has taken on a breathless undertone: We Live Such Thrilling Lives! Not quite the level of a corner-bar TINS session, but awash in bravado. Journalists now are eagerly interviewing other journos about their experiences. The latest is not for Editor & Publisher nor Mediabistro, but for... the spiffy men's style mag, GQ.

To paraphrase the tone of GQ's "How I Survived an Attack in Cairo:"

- Greg, what was it like when the mob set upon you with machetes?
- Terrible, Taimur. I feared being hacked to pieces.

Throws off a fair amount of swashbuckle, no?

Privately, though, I'm hearing fear and shock. I understand. The fear, at least. This is scary stuff. But I question the degree of shock. When did anyone get the notion that journalists could roam unharmed in a hot zone? Here within the U.S., we have a widespread social compact exempting reporters, especially t.v. crews, from harm. Drug dealers, gun runners, and mobsters are among the "scary set" who have told their stories to American journalists, and have kept a hands-off policy so that the scribes might to live to tell the tale. But America is not the world. And we know that...

Susan (a journalist/blogger, and yes a friend of mine) has much more, and it is a must read here. As Susan says, 'America is not the world,' and it boggles my mind that Logan's network, or any other for that matter, would not be aware of the dangers out there for ANY journalist.

There has been much written about journalists who do admirable, important work around the world, even as they might be in fear for their personal safety, and their lives in danger.

Terry Gould, a Canadian investigative journalist, wrote a book about five journalists, none American, who paid dearly for their own pursuit of truth.

I read this book a few months back, and it should be mandatory reading in every journalism school, and every network newsroom. Perhaps then the US msm, specifically, will put more forethought into what safety precautions need to be put in place before journalists 'parachute' in to danger zones.

Truth of the matter is that as western journalists, we may be forgiven for holding on to the myth perpetuated by the American 'media star' phenomenon. Anybody who watches the evening news, knows well who the 'superstars' of the major networks are. Coiffed and primped, they add to the 'news as entertainment' syndrome which, from where I sit, is what US news broadcasts have become. Paid exorbitant salaries, and feted as celebrities, rather than tradesmen/women of their craft of journalism, it seems obvious that these same reporters would feel invincible when they fly into war-zones, danger zones. For female journalists this can be an especially dangerous mindset. For an overview of this, got to the BBC here.

Last year two Canadian reporters (both females) learned, in the most violent of ways, that the rest of the world has no respect for their nationality OR their genders, as they both embedded - at different times - with Canadian troops in Afghanistan. One, Melissa Fung, a CBC reporter, was kidnapped by the Taleban and kept captive for weeks. I have heard interviews with her, given after she returned home and as she had become the story.

Mellissa Fung discusses her abduction in Afghanistan

Broadcast Date: Nov. 13, 2008

It has become all too common a moment, and one that war correspondents have come to fear: you're suddenly surrounded by heavily armed masked men, shouting orders in a language you don't understand. You're bundled into a car and sped off to captivity and possible death. CBC-TV reporter Mellissa Fung joined the small but growing number of reporters kidnapped in war-torn Afghanistan when she was abducted in October 2008. After 28 days of captivity, sometimes in chains, Fung was freed. (Go here for her story and video interview she did as the basis of a documentary.)

Go here or here for background on that. Like Logan, Fung was lucky. She lived. Another Canadian female reporter, Michelle Lang, was not so lucky.

5 Canadians killed in Afghanistan

Roadside bomb hits armoured vehicle

Last Updated: Wednesday, December 30, 2009 | 11:17 PM ET

Reporter Michelle Lang of the Calgary Herald was among five Canadians killed by a bomb in Afghanistan on Wednesday.

Reporter Michelle Lang of the Calgary Herald was among five Canadians killed by a bomb in Afghanistan on Wednesday.
(Photo from Facebook)

[...] "The journalist was travelling with them to tell the story of what Canada's soldiers are doing in Afghanistan," [BG Menard] said.


"While not regularly the subject of news, those journalists who risk their lives reporting alongside the men and women of the Canadian Forces in one of the most dangerous regions in the world should not be forgotten," said spokesman Dimitri Soudas.

The journalist was identified as Michelle Lang of the Calgary Herald. Lang, 34, grew up in Vancouver and was a respected health reporter for the Herald, winning a National Newspaper Award in 2008 for best beat reporting. She had also worked in Regina, Moose Jaw and Prince George....(More here)

I read in a few places Lang described as a 'sweetheart,' and an award winning journalist, for stories she wrote within Canada.

The truth of the matter is, that once a western journalist steps off their home shores to cover dangerous places globally, it no longer matters how sweet they are, or what awards they may have earned at home. The people, and events, they have gone to cover don't care. Wrapped up in their own history-making cataclysms, the locals don't see the 'superstar.' Especially in countries where women are treated as second class citizens, it should be understandable to even the most detached news organisations that sending ANY journalist on assignment overseas is potentially sending them into harm's way.

What happened to Lara Logan was awful, but I see it as an opportunity both for her, and her colleagues, and bosses. Unlike some of the other women around the world who toil daily to tell the important stories, (and you can meet 10 other international female journalists here) people like Logan are lucky to have the full weight of the resources of a major American news network behind them.

I heard an academic recently (yes, a woman) discussing what training should be in place pre-assignment for all journalists, and surely, this is commonsense. Just as a firefighter doesn't go in to battle a fire without training, tools, and knowledge to ensure their safety as they do their jobs, so too should journalists be given training, tools and knowledge that ensures their safety. They should be given some kind of education on the cultural mores of the areas they are entering. In Logan's example, perhaps being aware, ahead of time, of how women are treated in Egypt would have made her - and her colleagues - more cautious about being engulfed within that predominantly male crowd. I do know that within my own journalism training, we focused solely on how to write. Period. What happened to Lara Logan should be a wake-up call to all journalists and their bosses. Yes, I know even major news groups are suffering financial losses, but unless they are prepared to send their journalists off to the most dangerous spots on earth armed with the proper tools (security guards, maybe?) they should keep their journalists at home.

I am not suggesting for one minute - again, as others have - that Logan's clothing sent the wrong message to the men around her. No 'if she hadn't been dressed provocatively it wouldn't have happened' from me. In my own dark alley many years ago, a maximum of an inch of my face was all that showed. But yes, the disgusting myth of 'well, what did she expect?' was very much in evidence from some, back in those days, just as it is still whispered today in some incidents. Puleeze! Tell that to the women worldwide who are swathed in all encompassing burqas, yet still fall prey to continual sexual abuse and worse. Repeat after me: Sexual assault or rape has NOTHING to do with sexuality. In any country, on any dark alley, it does have everything to do with intimidation, control and power.

Logan was truly lucky, both as a journalist and as a woman. For some, it would be all too easy to advocate that we just keep all women journalists away from dangerous foreign assignments, and figure that solves the safety issue for them. A fallacy, of course. I promise you, that at the same time she was under attack in Egypt, across Logan's own country there were maybe hundreds of women also being attacked, sexually assaulted, locked in their own private hells.

What Logan experienced is an every day reality for many women and girls, even in America, a so-called civilised society. Don't believe me? Read the stats. Horrifying, and even more so that this crime against women/girls is still rarely talked about openly, or in 'polite' society. Still in this 21st century, in America, some ignoramuses blame the woman. An easy way, I suppose, of abrogating our global responsibility to raise our boys AND girls in the values of respect and responsibility for themselves and for others, in every culture around the globe.

Does the fact that we know that what happened to Logan happens to millions around the world every day, make her attack any less brutal, unacceptable? Of course not!

But again: Logan was lucky. She lived. Make no mistake: her life, her world, and how she views that world, IS forever changed. I guarantee it. But I do believe that she can choose to embrace the positive from such a horrific event. It may take her a while to come to this, but there truly is much positive that can come out of that singular event for Logan. I am not for one minute suggesting that she shrink from her chosen profession as a foreign correspondent. Nevah! What I am suggesting is that, rather than have that one event define who she now is, and perhaps retreat to reporting on Women and Gardening, or some such other safe topic, she take the wisdom she gained from her time in Egypt and apply it in a positive way, to her professional and personal life. No, I won't break into Helen Reddy's song "I am Woman, Hear me Roar," (*phew*) but I know firsthand that the new knowledge Logan now has, can make her a far wiser journalist. Truly.

In what is now a totally new terrain for Logan, there will be many who will always see her as a victim. I will not, and it is my hope that she will reject that label/role absolutely. She will only be treated as a victim if she allows others to foist it upon her, or if she chooses to cloak herself in the victim mentality.

She is not a victim, despite how she felt that night in Egypt. She is a survivor, with a whole new perspective on the world around her. What she does with her new insights is - and must be - her choice. Even with the most supportive help/counselling, and with the love of family and friends surrounding her, I can assure Lara Logan, that night in Egypt will always remain a pivotal moment for her. It will always be a part of her; there will be no escaping that truth.

Lara Logan is in the privileged position of being able to choose what she does with what happened to her in Egypt. It is my sincere hope that she chooses to reclaim her life as her own to control, and not allow that mob - or anyone else - to forever define her as a 'victim.'

I wish for her only great happiness in her new reality. Lara Logan is so very lucky. She lived. And so did I. To me, that is the hugest victory - and yes, gift - to come out of such an event.

1 comment:

chief torpedoman said...

Good story. CDR Salamaner wrote a good post on this

I agree with him that CBS News bears a lot of responsibility for this happening.

"In an environment where Western reporters are attacked, you threw an under-protected, un-covered, female, blond American. She was brutally beaten and sexually assaulted. No one at CBS or in the audience should be shocked. No one who has socialized with men in that part of the world will be shocked. I’m not."

I am glad to see a woman Journalist post on this.