LARA LOGAN

BY KAREN PETREE

Name: Lara Logan
Born: 1971
Nationality: South Africa
Country or countries where the journalist has worked: United States and South Africa

Until last November, Lara Logan had worked all over the world and won many awards for her reporting from war zones.

Logan started working for a local newspaper while in high school in South Africa. She reported in the townships and on apartheid. Logan went to Afghanistan in 2001 to cover the invasion, and was embedded with Afghan forces when they took Kabul. Her coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan earned her a lot of attention, and she was eventually hired by CBS as chief foreign affairs correspondent and became part of the 60 Minutes team. Her work includes “Iraqi Orphanage Nightmare,” “A Relentless Enemy” and an interview with the Taliban. Her reports from Iraq and Afghanistan have been fair, but she has on numerous occasions appeared sympathetic to the U.S. military.

In October 2013, Logan and producer Max McClellan aired a 60 Minutes story on the attack on the American Special Mission building in Benghazi, which killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans on September 11, 2012. Benghazi was already very politicized, with Republicans eager to point blame to Hillary Clinton’s State Department and the Obama administration. Logan’s report, reportedly a year in the making, focused on a private security contractor named Morgan Jones, a pseudonym for Dylan Davies, who claimed that he went to the American compound against the orders of his boss, fought his way through, killing several attackers, and saw the body of Ambassador Stevens in the morgue.

In the story, Logan asserted that Al Qaeda was responsible for the attack. It was exactly the kind of story Republicans wanted to hear. According to the Huffington Post, the day after the story aired, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham announced that he would block all of Obama’s nominees until every survivor of the Benghazi attack had testified at Congressional hearings.

But the 60 Minutes piece was quickly discredited. Davies’ story was inconsistent with an incident report published in The Washington Post in which he had given a different account of his actions that night. Logan later said that Davies was upfront about the fact that he had lied about his actions to his boss, and Davies assured her that the version he had given 60 Minutes was the same one he’d given the FBI. Shortly after the piece aired, however, the FBI report, which Logan supposedly could have checked prior to running the story, proved inconsistent with the version Davies had given Logan. Davies was not even in the American compound that night, and he did not fight off an Al-Qaeda member like he’d claimed. A week after the piece aired, Logan issued a correction at the end of that week’s 60 Minutesbroadcast:

“We realized we had been misled, and it was a mistake to include him in our report, and for that we are very sorry. The most important thing to everybody at 60 Minutesis the truth, and the truth is, we made a mistake.”

But the segment’s credibility continued unraveling. On Nov. 8, Logan appeared on CBS This Morning to issue an apology.

Logan and McClellan were asked to take a leave of absence from their jobs at 60 Minutes, and although they are still listed as members of the team on the show’s website, Logan is no longer called chief foreign affairs correspondent. CBS continues to suggest that she will be back on the show, but has not set a definite time.

This scandal revolves around three main ethical issues. First of all, Logan was outright lied to, and although she had access to the FBI report, she didn’t check Davies’ story, making her seem gullible and unprofessional. Logan told CBS This Morning that she did everything she thought she needed to: verified Davies was who he claimed to be and that he worked for the security company. She said that she had vetted him by checking security reports, Congressional reports and photos. It also came out that she had consulted with Senator Graham on the story.

In the piece, Logan said that Al-Qaeda was involved in the Benghazi attack. It’s unclear where she got that information, but Logan has never shied from emphasizing the threat posed by that terrorist organization. While delivering the keynote speech at the Better Government Association luncheon in 2012, she blamed Al-Qaeda directly for the attacks and accused the Obama administration of misleading the American people about the threat that Al-Qaeda still poses.

“When I look at what happened in Libya, there’s a big song and dance about whether this was a terrorist attack or a protest, and you just want to scream, ‘for God’s sake, are you kidding me?’ … and you’re sending in the FBI to investigate? I hope to God for your sake you’re sending in your best clandestine warriors who are going to exact revenge and let the world know that the United States will not be attacked on its own soil, that its ambassadors will not be murdered, and the United States will not stand by and do nothing about it.”

Senator Graham had reportedly told her the linking the Benghazi attack to Al-Qaeda was a “fair thing to say.” It appears that Davies’ falsified story fit the narrative Logan wanted to tell.

The Benghazi segment also withheld the fact that Davies had a book deal with Simon & Schuster, a CBS company. McClellan reportedly had access to an advanced copy of the book four months before the segment aired.

In May, Joe Hagan penned a blatantly sexist article in New York magazine criticizing Logan’s entire journalism career, personal life, and appearance. Hagan’s report claimed that the Benghazi segment was based entirely on the contents of Davies’ book, and that Logan did not contact the FBI or State Department specifically regarding Davies, as she said she had done. However, even if Hagan’s report is correct in assigning Logan more blame than she has thus far received, its spitefulness detracts from the ethical investigation that the journalism community, as well as the public, deserves.

It is unquestionable that Lara Logan’s Benghazi report damaged her reputation and that of 60 Minutes, but it would be a disservice to call Logan a goat. Still, it would be even more naïve to call her, or anyone else for that matter, a hero. Logan is a human being who made a colossal error. Whether this mistake was the culmination of a pattern of deteriorating objectivity is unclear. As the face of the story, Logan is left to shoulder the responsibility. As the reporter, it was primarily Logan’s responsibility to vet her sources and check her facts. But the responsibility for the mistake goes beyond Logan. The piece was not exposed to any outside scrutiny or review before it aired. Hagan reported that the senior vice president of standards and practices at CBS had stepped down months before and never been replaced. While most of the focus of this mistake is directed at Logan, it should also inspire conversations about the importance of outside scrutiny (i.e. public editors), the relationship between news organizations and the corporations that own them and how journalists report on other journalists.

Links:

“A Relentless Enemy,” 60 Minutes, aired Sept. 24, 2010

“Talking to the Taliban: Face to Face with the Enemy,” 60 Minutes, aired Sept. 28, 2012

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