Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Overblown Coverage of Lara Logan's Alleged Sexual Assault

America has a new patron saint of atrocities against women. She's Lara Logan, the CBS reporter allegedly attacked in Cairo last Friday in the jubilation following the resignation of former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak.

President Obama personally called Logan yesterday to see how she was doing.

Headlines screamed that it's an unsafe world for women reporters, and for women generally. Among many, many, many others: "Logan Attack Highlights Women's Plight"; "Should the media pull women journalists out of war zones?"; "Sex attacks are shameful secret job hazard faced by female war reporters"; "Lara Logan Assault More Impactful Than [OJ] Simpson, [Frankie] Muniz Attack Scandals"; and "Egyptian women's issues highlighted by Logan case."

Ms. Logan isn't just a reporter any more. She is a symbol of the oppression of an entire gender. She is Lorena Bobbitt, Jessica Lynch, and Crystal Gail Mangum, with a camera crew.

And it's all another big step back for women. The over-the-top coverage says that women, by virtue of their gender, should be immune from the risks men are expected to face without whining.  It's the same mentality that tells our college-aged daughters they must "Take Back the Night," even though it's always been theirs. Our sons have always been at far greater risk of physical assault, and everyone knows it, it's just politically correct to pretend otherwise. 

We really know nothing about what happened to Ms. Logan, except for what CBS told us in a released statement:

"On Friday, Feb. 11, the day Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, CBS chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan was covering the jubilation in Tahrir Square for a '60 Minutes' story when she and her team and their security were surrounded by a dangerous element amidst the celebration. It was a mob of more than 200 people whipped into frenzy.  In the crush of the mob, she was separated from her crew. She was surrounded and suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers."

Thank goodness for that group of women!  (Oh, um, and for the 20 soldiers, too.)  No other witnesses have come forward, and even the nature of the alleged attack has not been made public.

Yet, somehow, we know the attack was "brutal." Read what a Washington Post reporter wrote, just don't let your head explode: "Her sexual assault was clearly a brutal event, although the exact nature of it remains unclear." 

How something can be "clearly" brutal when we don't even know what happened tells us more about the Washington Post than we might care to know.

In another report, a journalist described the attack against Logan as "brutal," and also noted that Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was "brutally beheaded" in 2002.

Excuse me, but to use the same word to describe the vague, unsubstantiated alleged sexual assault against Ms. Logan as is used to describe one of the most gruesome, inhumane public executions on record is a barometer of how overblown the Logan incident has become.

The fact is, attacks on reporters -- mostly male but some female, too -- are not unusual. When they occur, trumpets rarely blare and headlines don't scream.

Anderson Cooper was attacked in Egypt while he was reporting on the turmoil in Tahrir Square. Cooper's cameras kept rolling during the melee. A female member of his crew was protected against the crush of humanity.

A BBC journalist and his cameraman were deliberately attacked -- cut, bruised, nose bloodied -- and his cameraman beaten in Yemen by government supporters while they were reporting on violent protests spilling over from the Mubarak chaos.

ABC News reporter Miguel Marquez was attacked while reporting from Pearl Square in Manama, Bahrain. Marquez was covering a security crackdown on anti-government protesters who had gathered in the square.

The fact of the matter is that journalists from Egypt, Great Britain, the United States, India, Australia, Greece and other countries have been jumped, beaten, detained and interrogated while reporting on the uprising against Mubarak. Even Al-Jazeera's Cairo office was stormed by thugs who burned the facility. "In a one-day span, attacks on reporters included 30 detentions, 26 assaults and eight instances of equipment seized, and plainclothes and uniformed agents reportedly entered at least two hotels where international journalists were staying to confiscate media equipment . . . ."

Nevertheless, some will say, female reporters are subject to worse atrocities than their male counterparts by virtue of their gender.

Go tell that to Daniel Pearl's widow.  It's simply not so.

Longtime war correspondent and author Anna Badkhen, who has covered wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Chechnya and Kashmir for a number of media outlets including The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, FRONTLINE, and Salon, said this:

"I categorically do not believe that women war correspondents are more vulnerable than war correspondents who are men."  She continued: "Female and male correspondents have been killed, maimed, wounded in conflict zones. Female and male correspondents have been raped. . . . . Male colleagues I know have been subjected to torture that involved their sexual organs. The nature of torture, the origin of torture, is to degrade, to render the tortured helpless. . . . . As a rule, war does not discriminate."

Susan Milligan, a political reporter who has covered war in Iraq and the Balkans, said this about war: "It's a risk for everyone. I was at greater risk for being raped, probably. But [compared to her male colleagues] I was at lower risk of being killed."

Did you get that?  Women reporters are at lower risk of being killed, according to a woman who should know, yet, a headline screams: "Logan Attack Highlights Women's Plight."

Leila Fadel, the Cairo bureau chief for The Washington Post, explained that the alleged sexual assault against Logan "appears to be an isolated incident." A woman's rights activist in Egypt suggested the alleged attack might have been rooted in xenophobia.

None of that matters. Ms. Logan has been firmly implanted on the pedestal, and it's my guess that any attempt to dislodge her will be decried as "misogyny!" After all, any assertion that women don't have it as bad as the cackling hens who write features articles for our major dailies claim they do must be rooted in "misogyny!" -- a word so terribly misused that it has lost its true meaning. 

For the sake of women reporters, and for the sake of fairness, it's time to come down off that pedestal, Lara, and speak out against war atrocities that ALL war correspondents face.