Monday, May 05, 2014

Allow me to ask an uncomfortable question about Lara Logan

(Note: I've added a few things to this story since its original publication.)

For reasons which will soon be obvious, I've put off writing about Lara Logan. She is, as most of you know, a TV journalist (born in South Africa) now on leave of absence from 60 Minutes. I guess there's no better time to discuss her than right now, because New York magazine has published a long look at her controversial career. (Print version here.)

Much of the article concerns a fake Benghazi investigative report she filed on 60 Minutes -- a piece which made the Obama administration look very bad. Her source for that report was a "military contractor" named Morgan Jones, whose real named turned out to be Dylan Davies.
Relentlessly hyped in the days leading up to the broadcast, the story fit broadly into the narrative the right had been trying for months to build of a White House and State Department oblivious to the dangers of Al Qaeda, feckless in their treatment of their soldiers and diplomats, then covering up their incompetence. It was soon revealed to be made up almost of whole cloth. Davies, who worked for a security firm called Blue Mountain, had invented the story to sell a book.
A lot of her reporting has had a pronounced rightward bias. Although I normally couldn't care less about a journalist's romantic life, in this case we must note the following...
By late 2007, Logan had another boyfriend in the wings: Joe Burkett, a government contractor in Baghdad who, Gawker uncovered, had worked for a firm called the Lincoln Group. Burkett was a former Texas Army National Guard member whose company did public relations for the military, courting reporters and trying to inject positive war stories into the media.
Burkett was rather more than that. The Lincoln Group has been described as a "private intelligence outfit." Moreover...
A source intimately familiar with Burkett’s family told Newsweek that he regularly suggested he was some sort of super-spook.
Side note: Naturally, I'm wondering if this Joe Burkett of the Texas Air National Guard is related in any way to Bill Burkett of the Texas Air National Guard. As you may recall, Bill was the guy who fed those controversial documents about George W. Bush to Dan Rather, resulting in a scandal that led to Rather leaving CBS News. Getting rid of Rather helped pave the way for Logan's rise. It'd be fascinating if the two Burketts were related, but I've found no evidence to that effect. Although there is a resemblance...

Back to our main story. 

Lara married Joe. Far be it from me to suggest that there is something unseemly about a prominent journalist marrying a "super-spook" who was paid to manipulate public opinion.

I can, however, say that Lara's rise within CBS was aided by 60 Minutes producer Jeff Fager.
Her stories fit a trend at Fager’s 60 Minutes: more and more segments with a patriotic theme, not only by Logan but also by Scott Pelley, who did his own square-jawed delivery while glorifying military heroism.
As you probably know, Lara Logan's most famous story was the one in which she became the story. She claimed that she was raped in Tahrir Square while covering the First Egyptian uprising that took down Hosni Mubarak.

Now you know why I hesitated to write about Logan. Rape is just about the touchiest subject imaginable -- especially when a male writer calls into question the veracity of a woman who has made a claim of rape.

Nevertheless, we must note that there are three contradictory accounts of this story:

1. The initial reports. Some extremely disturbing and detailed tales spread worldwide with amazing rapidity:
Reportedly some of physical and sexual assault activity was caught on camera phones as well. One video purportedly involved some boy fondling the breasts of the reporter. However, another purported video that was described by a controversial YouTube video claims that a bearded man ripped the top off the reporter and began slapping her face and breasts. He then pinned her to the ground, and by this time she stopped resisting, apparently accepting the fact that she was overpowered. The bearded man then removed her pants and masturbated in front of her before raping her. He also reportedly clawed at her breasts with his hands. The YouTube video claims that at least six men raped her vaginally, and a number of men also raped her anally as well. She was reportedly masturbated on and urinated on by some men as well according to the YouTube video claims which was supposed to be pieced together from information and videos posted on Arab Websites and other sources.
The assault was said to have lasted three hours. Originally, it was reported that Logan had one nipple bitten off.

In this telling, the attacks stopped only when a group of women and some Egyptian soldiers intervened. Also see here for the account offered by Pam Geller -- whose credibility is, of course, unimpeachable.

2. The version told by Lara Logan. This is best summed up by Wikipedia:
She said the incident involved 200–300 men and lasted around 25 minutes. She had been reporting the celebrations for an hour without incident when her camera battery failed. One of the Egyptian CBS crew suggested they leave, telling her later he heard the crowd make inappropriate sexual comments about her. She felt hands touching her, and can be heard shouting "stop", just as the camera died. One of the crowd shouted that she was an Israeli, a Jew, a claim that CBS said, though false, was a "match to gasoline". She went on to say that they tore off her clothes and, in her words, raped her with their hands, while taking photographs with their cellphones. They began pulling her body in different directions, pulling her hair so hard she said it seemed they were trying to tear off chunks of her scalp. Believing she was dying, she was dragged along the square to where the crowd was stopped by a fence, alongside which a group of women were camping. One woman wearing a chador put her arms around Logan, and the others closed ranks around her, while some men who were with the women threw water at the crowd. A group of soldiers appeared, beat back the crowd with batons, and one of them threw Logan over his shoulder. She was flown back to the U.S. the next day, where she spent four days in the hospital.
This is indeed a disturbing, sad and infuriating story. (When she told it on 60 Minutes, she was interviewed by Scott Pelley.)

Note, however, that "Story 2" does not include the more extreme details of the initial accounts. No missing nipple, no masturbation, no sprays of urine, no anal rape -- in fact, no rape of any kind, if your definition of "rape" requires actual genital penetration. (Granted, "rape" is a word which people sometimes use to describe situations that do not fit the usual definition. We speak, for example, of the Rape of Nanking.)

Although many accounts refer to cell phone pictures, the only images I've been able to find are here. Only one (1) photo clearly shows Logan being jostled -- and "jostled" really is the strongest term one may fairly use. Nevertheless, the proprietor of that blog says: "Here are the cell phone pictures of the horrible assault of the christian reporter, Lara Logan..."

If you search Google images, you'll find a painting of the assault, plus a couple of obvious Photoshop fakes.

3. The story told by an eyewitness. Here's where things get tricky. The best account we have from an outside party can be found here. The writer is a respected Mexican journalist named Témoris Grecko, author of several books (in Spanish). His website is here. From his bio page:
He has covered conflicts in places like Libya, Egypt, Iran, Syria, Palestine, Congo and The Phillippines, crossed deserts in Central Asia, India and Africa, done road trips by Australia’s Red Centre and USA’s South West, drank with Tuareg riders in Timbuktu, interviewed domestic slaves in Lebanon, ran as a headless chicken under Gaddafi’s bombs in Ras Lanuf, travelled with Central American migrants through Mexico, danced with an escola de samba at the Carnaval do Rio, tracked gorillas near the Virunga volcanoes, breathed sulphur gases by the steaming lava at Ert Ale’s crater, chatted with victims of rape in Congo, been kidnapped by militiamen in Syria (and avoided another abduction in Mindanao), argued with Al Qaeda preachers in the Sahara...
It goes on and on like that. His work seems to be very pro-feminist; he has concentrated on the role of women in the recent revolutions in the Middle East. I hope he will forgive me for quoting him at length.

Here's what he has to say about Lara Logan:
I witnessed part of the mob attack against CBS’s Lara Logan at Cairo’s Tahrir square on the evening of Friday, February 11th. I was struck when I read CBS’s February 15th communiqué describing the attack as a “brutal and sustained sexual attack”, and attributing her rescue to “a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers.” This account does not fit with what I, and others, witnessed.
I was buying tea from a vendor in Tahrir with two friends, Amr Fekry, a 26 year old Egyptian call center agent, and Andi Walden, a San Francisco political science student. Then we heard the noise and saw the mob coming. A blonde woman, neatly dressed with a white coat, was being dragged and pushed. It didn’t seem to me she was panicking, but rather trying to control the situation. They passed us in an moment. They were yelling “agent!, agent!”

I tried to run to intervene, but some Egyptians I didn’t know prevented me from doing it. There was nothing I could do and, as a foreign journalist, I’d surely end up being accused of being an agent too, and attacked. Fekry did go there and dissapeared into the crowd, 50 or 100 people strong.

Later I spoke with two young male activists who helped the person I later learned was Lara Logan (I didn’t know her before, I don’t usually follow US networks). They were Omar El Shennawy, a 21 year old teacher of English, and Abdulrahman Elsayed, a 25 year old teacher of physical education. They said they had formed a human chain with other young men to protect Logan, and then delivered her to the Egyptian Museum military post.

When I read CBS’s story and it’s interpretation by other media outlets, I felt troubled. It seemed misleading. “It didn’t make sense to me”, said Benjamin Starr, from Boston who arrived as a tourist on January 24th, and stayed to witness the uprising. He also saw the mob pass by with Lara Logan. “I want to give her the benefit of the doubt, maybe something happened in another part of the square, but from what I saw, she was being taken by men to the soldiers, and her clothes were not torn off. There were no women, I didn’t see a single woman in the crowd around her.”

Similarly, in hearing the CBS’s communiqué, Amr Fekry wrote on my Facebook wall: “It’s a little bit ridiculous what we hear that she was raped in Tahrir!! We were there! You remember she was about two meters away from us when we were buying tea! Maybe someone harassed her, but she ran and people protected her from being hit! I tried to go and help her but many people pushed me hard to go away as they thought I was trying to hit her. The only thing that some people only thought she was an Israeli spy!”
I went to ask Abdulrahman Elsayed, and he related a similar account. “I was in front of her, one metre away. This was after I saw her running with a man beside her. They stopped, maybe because someone blocked their way. We formed a human chain to protect her. Only young people, 10 or 15, all men. We surrounded her. People behind us were pushing and trying to grab her, someone might have touched her. I saw her top was uneven. There was a women and children’s tent (Tahrir sq. had become a campsite) and we tried to take her there, but we couldn’t because of the pressure. Someone had a taser and he held it high, making electric noises and threatening the attackers. He told them to move away. So we could go to the Museum’s military post and deliver her to the soldiers. Then we stood there blocking the people who tried to follow her. We brought her two doctors, first a young male, then an older female. The doctor and Lara were the only women around.”
So, who is to be believed -- Grecko or Logan?

I know that some on the right will immediately dismiss Grecko's account because he has committed the unpardonable sins of not being white and not being an Amurrkin

I also know that some feminists will dismiss Grecko's account because he has committed the unpardonable sin of penis-ownership.

But...

There are those among us who have reason to suspect that some women, like some men, do tell lies. Sometimes they tell embellished accounts of actual events. Sometimes they lose track of what actually occurred.

And only a racist or a blinkered nationalist would dismiss Grecko's reportage simply because he is not a white American. To be frank, I'd say that Grecko's background makes him more credible, given the terrible state of current American journalism.

I'm curious as to how the original anal-rape-with-missing-nipple stories originated. These lurid and horrifying details immediately spread all over the Islam-bashing right-wing sites.

We do know that Lara is married to a "super-spook" who specializes in manipulating public opinion.

And we know that Lara later tried to get a fake story onto the CBS airwaves -- a story that played right into the Republican party's predetermined Benghazi narrative.

And we must never forget the instructive examples of Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman.

I do not know what actually occurred in Tahrir Square. Come to your own conclusion. Which account is likeliest to be true: Version one, version two, or version three? Whatever your verdict, I suspect that there will again come a time when Lara Logan becomes the story she hopes to report.
Comments:
Joseph, your iconoclasm suggests to me that you might be interested in the story of William Rodriguez. He burst onto the scene in 2004 with his tale of explosions in the basement of the World Trade Center (WTC) before the planes hit.

Mr. Rodriguez sued GW Bush and a couple of hundred other defendants in federal court. The text of the complaint was noteworthy for its very rambling and illiterate nature and for two claims in the opening: 1) that Mr. Rodriguez had "lost his livelihood" as a janitor cleaning the emergency stairways of the WTC, because when the WTC fell down he could no longer clean its stairs and 2) Mr. Rodriguez had "singlehandedly rescued fifteen (15) persons" at the WTC. Mr. Rodriguez refused to identify the persons he rescued, and none of them came forward on their own to express their gratitude.

The doubtful nature of Mr. Rodriguez's evidence did not stop the 9/11 Truthers from lionizing him, and he actually got two hours on C-Span in 2007 during which he claimed that he had saved hundreds of office workers by unlocking the emergency exit doors and "letting people out". Of course this was nonsense--the fire exits were only locked from the outside, not the inside--but the truthers didn't want to see that.

Mr. Rodriguez traveled the world on this story collecting donations from his admirers. He was squired around the UK by the "former" MI5 agent Annie Machon, who was surely bright enough to recognize that his story was impossible.

The truth is, survival rates on the floors where Willie opened doors were no higher than on any of the other floors under the impact zone. Willie's most recent media coverage was in Der Spiegel, where the article concluded that his story was like a magic trick where you pass off a $1 bill as a $20 bill--but then Willie just might be crazy enough to believe his own nonsense.




 
Well, she's already proven she can't be trusted, so that calls her story of the incident into question. No doubt the original lurid details were fabricated by right wing media and agents provocateurs to show how evil those darn Muslims are (even her story doesn't include anything remotely like that). That said, I believe the Mexican journalist......something happened, it probably wasn't pleasant for her, but it wasn't sexual assault....let alone rape. Judging from her background, we'll probably never get the truth. Not from her, anyway.
 
Anon, not touching that. In fact, the only reason I let this comment go through was to reiterate, yet again, that I'm not touching that topic.

There are SO MANY OTHER SITES on this huge, huge web. Why do so many people want THIS one small blog to talk about 9/11? Why can't you listen to my pleas to have that discussion elsewhere?

In the past, I've compared the situation to being harassed by Jehovah's Witnesses. I feel as though every JW in the city is camped outside my home, just waiting to get a foot in my doorway. And yet they leave alone all of the neighboring houses. Their focus is on me.

Why? Why why why why WHY?


 
"why,why, why..."

Because you talked to them at one time or continued to.

Ben
 
Since the Benghazi fallout over Logan's 60 Minutes debacle, everything Logan has done or claimed is questionable. She's lost all credibility. Reaching out to Lindsey Graham as her unimpeachable source on the organized terrorist connection/coverup should have been a clue. CBS/60 Minutes management shares the guilt in promoting Logan as a heavy-weight and then not doing the outside checking on an explosive and fraudulent story.

The New York Magazine article is pretty damning of both Logan and CBS. Sorry to say that this is where our 'coveted news organization' has landed: in the trash bin. Once CBS decided it wanted a 'popular' spin in the newsroom their fate was sealed.

As for the rape charge in Egypt? Logan is the only one who knows what really happened. If she lied then there's something seriously wrong with the woman. But the grotesque details that circulated after the incident and the claims of witnesses on the ground are a couple million miles apart. Sadly, if the assault happened the way Logan said, even that will be questioned because of her willingness to run with a bogus and unsubstantiated slant elsewhere.

It's the way these things work. Once you're caught in a web of lies and exaggeration, everything is second guessed. Even the most personal violation.

Peggysue
 
Joseph,
I had never read that account from Témoris Grecko before. It certainly is troubling in light of Logan’s past irresponsible reporting from Iraq and her shameful Benghazi story on 60 minutes. Now you’ve piqued my interest.

BostonBoomer
 
BostonBoomer: I know on Skydancing you asked why any woman should have to discuss being assaulted, even if she wasn't raped. I would disagree. Let me put it to you this way:

We are talking about a very tense time...literally, a revolutionary period. Also a period of great angst here in the U.S. The right-wing sites and the anti-Islamic sites were peddling vile and disgusting tales designed to make Arab men (or Egyptian men, or Islamic men) seem like uncontrollable animals.

Why didn't Lara Logan set the record straight earlier? Wouldn't YOU have done so? Even if the real events were highly uncomfortable to talk about, wouldn't you feel compelled to tell the world: "No, they did not remove my nipple. No, they did not rape me for three hours."

Plus, the Grecko account indicates that she was jostled at worst, and a phalanx of men quickly protected her. If he's right -- well, come on. Look, I'm sorry, but what Grecko talks about simply is not that traumatic.

I just don't think that we can point to Logan's "trauma" as the reason why she allowed so many clearly false stories to circulate so widely. Perhaps that makes me sound like a hardass. Sorry. I don't mean to be cruel, but when an entire religion/nationality/race is being smeared -- well, that's important. One has a responsibility to get the truth on the record ASAP.
 
"being dragged and pushed."

"...what Grecko talks about simply is not that traumatic."

I beg to disagree. Being dragged certainly could be traumatic to many women. Most men have not had the experience of being viewed as a subject for physical violence based merely on body shape.

OTOH, trauma is not an excuse for untruthfulness.

I don't follow Logan and don't even have a television. But as a woman, my reaction to hearing that a female reporter was raped in a crowd in the Middle East was not to think of race/nation/religion -- rather, I was reminded of the ugly reality that such an episode could happen anywhere with enough vicious men.

--NW Luna
 
Luna, you make good points, and as I said above, it was probably a very unpleasant experience for her at the very least. However, she is the only one responsible for creating doubts about the her story, let alone the exaggerations that were spread around. As Joseph points out, allowing the inflaming of already extreme hatred of middle easterner/Muslim/Egyptian men is not acceptable. Especially when she herself told a very different story after the exaggerations were all over the media. If getting the truth out isn't important to her, particularly on such an important matter, then she shouldn't be a journalist at all, regardless of what she experienced. It doesn't help that the incident plays right into the fevered beliefs of far right warmongers that want to kill Islamics for daring to oppose the American empires wishes.
 
Gus, I was responding to Joseph's comment of "simply not that traumatic." And I'm not sure if you read my entire comment which included "OTOH, trauma is not an excuse for untruthfulness."

My reaction to the story was to see it as an issue of male-to-female violence. I did not see it as a Middle Eastern/Islamic-to-American or Caucasian violence issue. Sounds like that viewpoint is not immediately understandable to you, but that's how it is for many women.
--NW Luna





 
Luna, actually I would say that trauma IS an excuse for untruthfulness if the trauma is truly serious. I mean, we may even lie to ourselves about truly horrific events. The human mind operates that way.

On the other hand, a reporter has a special obligation to the truth. And that obligation is amplified when ideologues are using a fake version of your story to make a point.
 
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