CBS News' Lara Logan talks about Egypt assault and inspiring news industry to face rape issues
When I first heard CBS News correspondent Lara Logan was coming to Tampa for a speech this week, I hoped she would be willing to talk with me beforehand about the aftermath of speaking up about her brutal assault in Egypt and whether it has helped change the news industry.
After CBS issued a statement in February confirming their chief foreign affairs correspondent was the victim of a "brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating" by a mob of up to 300 men while covering the fall of Hosni Mubarak's regime, it seemed one of the news industry's toughest subjects had been brought into the open.
Because journalists -- female and male -- are sexually assaulted while covering news more often than is widely known, often because the victims have a tough time coming forward and telling their stories. (Read the Committee to Protect Journalists report on this following Logan's assault, called The Silencing Crime.)
What I found, when Logan got on the telephone to talk with me, was someone who was characteristically blunt and forthright about what she'd been through, worried mostly about looking like she was exploiting an awful event. "I’ll get somewhere for a talk and they’ll say, you know, we’ve told people that they should not bring up Egypt and I … it’s important to me that people understand that I’m not afraid to talk about what they did to me," she said. "I just don’t want to look like, you know, every time you turn around, there she is again, talking about it, especially when it doesn’t define me but, more important than that, I’m not gonna profit or benefit out of it, you know?"
In an age where no experience is too awful to be made into a primetime TV special, Logan has struck a balance between speaking out to help shed light on a tough issue for journalism and avoiding more exploitive outlets. "There was a genuine reason to talk about what happened. There’s some genuinely important things that have come out of it that I can make a contribution to, and I care about those things and so, you know, when I’m doing something for the Committee to Protect Journalists or when I’m doing something for, you know, Women in Media, then I talk about it. When I’m doing something for the International Institute of Safety for Journalists, then I talk about it, you know? And I don’t need to go...on every talk show and magazine and newspaper and whatever that wants to hear the gory details."
Even though Logan had to cancel this week's speech at the University of South Florida to chase a story for 60 Minutes -- she hopes to reschedule the talk -- we still published the preview story I wrote in Sunday's Perspective section, because the issues she talks about there are important, and she hasn't spoken to many newspaper outlets on these subjects.
Here's a few extra quotes from our too-short talk, punctuated by Logan's direct manner and matter-of-fact attitude:
Some people are saying you helped to shed new light on the problem of sexual assaults against working journalists; does it feel that way to you?
"For me, that’s the only good thing that came out of what happened. And that’s … it’s a great thing. You know, I really am … I’m really proud of that because I didn’t expect it. I had no idea that that would be the reaction. I really honestly thought that I would be vilified by many and that I would get some support like, you know, that some people would criticize me and would question me, would want to know how was I behaving or what was I wearing and did I … you know, was it my own fault? I really expected that because, I mean, c’mon, you know. Look at what’s happened to me in the past. I mean, I’m not ... you know, I’m not deaf, dumb and blind.
"I’d be giving a talk about the Indian war or something and a woman or a man will come up to me in the crowd and will say, you know ...when I heard that you were talking, I had to come and talk to you because I was gang-raped five years ago, I was gang-raped 20 years ago, I had this happen to me. And it’s not just women. It’s men, too. So, I mean, what a great thing. I had no idea. I mean, I just did what I knew was the right thing to do. My moral compass is very clear."
What can the world of journalism learn from what happened to you?
"First and foremost, I hope that companies will follow (CBS News chairman) Jeff Fager’s lead, you know, because he stood up and said publicly, 'Lara Logan was violently sexually assaulted.' He didn’t say 'she was attacked.'...He didn’t hide it. The most important thing for me – and I’m sitting in the hospital and Jeff calls me and says, this is the statement, you know. Let me read it to you. And it was such a relief for me because if CBS hadn’t owned this, it would have been my burden alone, and also it would have been something hidden and shameful. And you already feel so ashamed when you’re so violated, you know? It’s so humiliating. It’s impossible not to feel worthless, just not … I mean, after what they do to you… I can’t even explain it. Like intellectually and rationally, I know that it doesn’t affect my self worth. I’m still the same person. This is a reflection of who they are and not of me. You know, you can tell yourself all these things that as a smart, educated person, you know to be true. And so this happens to me and I’m thinking, like, my God, I know I shouldn’t be feeling this way but I do."
"That was the first, most critical thing and for CBS to put out that statement, it meant it was open, it was out in the open, we as a company, myself as an individual, didn’t have anything to hide. Most critically we did not have anything to hide. And, you know, people have questioned that statement although I said I stand by every single God-damn word of it...Every company out there needs to do that. If you send your people out, you have to stand by them. And also, it wasn’t just me making it okay. I mean, you know what I mean? It’s like, yes, I was prepared to talk about it which made it okay for other people to talk about it. But CBS was prepared to have me talk about it and to be honest about it. And so other people saw that they had protection, right?"
How do you go on to the next story after talking about something so painful on national TV? (Logan spoke on the attack for a 60 Minutes story in May)
Do you know the funny part was that literally I didn’t even get to watch that whole Scott Pelley piece because my children were going … you know, my babies are 1 and 2 and they were both like, Mommy’s on TV and then this one’s crying and that one’s crying. So I thought, okay, let me get them to bed and I’ll watch afterwards. When I was putting my daughter down and my husband knocked on the door and said, you have to call the office. They think they got Osama bin Laden. And that was it. I mean, are you kidding me? I haven’t even managed to get out of my pajamas. I’m still wearing Saturday night’s makeup and the next thing I know, I’m rushing to the office because they got him. And that’s not a story I’m gonna miss.
"Obviously the one thing I haven’t done is go back to the Middle East. I mean, I just … I think I’m not ready to handle things going wrong. I could handle it if things are just normal but if they go wrong at all, I would probably fall apart. I don’t think I have the same strength."
Do you think at some point you will?
"No. I won’t go back to Egypt. I don’t see that ever happening but maybe I’ll go back to somewhere else....It’s important to me that people don’t think that there’s kind of like a knee-jerk reaction, like oh, I’m never going back to the Middle East. ‘Cause if you’re not strong and on top of your game, there’s potential to compromise the people at your side and, you know, I can’t do that to them."
What do you think about the most recent issues to impact the region? Like, say, the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq?
"I think it should be faster. I’m hoping we can get out of Iraq faster, and I think the most shameless thing to me is to have people coming out and saying that this is a failure of the administration, a failure of leadership and it’s gonna jeopardize the fragile gains made in Iraq. What fragile gains? Are these people crazy? Are they crazy? What are you talking about? (Prime minister Nouri al-Malaki) is just, you know … an Iranian proxy and most of the people in his government fall in line with that, and it’s time for … you know, if you’ve got … if an issue is so unpopular that no Iraqi politician can even raise the idea of asking U.S. troops to stay in the years and months leading up to this, c’mon … there’s nothing to negotiate. Get the hell out of there."