The Price Lara Logan Paid in Egypt
The fearless CBS reporter Lara Logan was assaulted in Cairo just a week after being arrested by Egyptian police. Howard Kurtz looks at why she couldn't stay away from the story.
Lara Logan kept going back to war, even after coming under enemy fire, even after the Humvee she was riding in was struck by an antitank missile and the soldier next to her lost his leg.
Her CBS colleagues marveled at her compulsion to keep defying danger. Some openly worried that one day she would get herself killed.
But when she became a mother of two toddlers, there was, for the first time, a sense of hesitation. "There's an adrenaline rush in being in war zones, and there's no doubt Lara thrived on it," says CBS News Chairman Jeff Fager. But after giving birth, he says, "she was starting to get a little squeamish about it."
When she returned to Afghanistan eight months after her first baby was born, Logan told me: "I think about that child growing up without a mother and that's definitely the hardest thing I've ever done." But she said she feels a "responsibility" to tell the stories of those who are sent off to fight for their country.
Logan's closest brush with death came not on the battlefields of Afghanistan or Iraq but amid the celebrations in Cairo on the day that Hosni Mubarak was forced from office. "The streets were joyous and it didn't seem likely there was danger that night," says Carole Cooper, Logan's agent, who tried to talk her out of making the trip. "She had security with her."
Friends say Logan remained in good spirits, even in the hospital. “When she started to sound belligerent again,” a CBS staffer says, “that’s when I knew she was OK.”
It didn't matter. Surrounded by a frenzied mob in Tahrir Square, she was separated from her crew, severely beaten and sexually assaulted. Logan was saved by a group of Egyptian women and nearly two dozen soldiers who pulled her to safety. She promptly flew home and was hospitalized for days.
"Lara is utterly fearless," says veteran newsman Bob Schieffer. "She just has guts and courage under fire." He called her ordeal "just awful." CBS and Logan decided to make the sexual assault public last week after learning an Australian journalist was on to the story.
It has been a tough decade for Western war correspondents, some of whom have been killed in America's wars—including two CBS crew members who died from an Iraqi bomb that shattered reporter Kimberly Dozier's leg. When the Egyptian revolution turned ugly, pro-Mubarak thugs attacked such reporters as CNN's Anderson Cooper and Fox News' Greg Palkot. But whatever magnetic pull draws such journalists to the front lines, women have a special vulnerability.
Author Judith Matloff says she knows of a dozen journalists who have been sexually assaulted—and that many, determined to compete with the boys, refuse to tell their bosses. "The shame runs so deep—and the fear of being pulled off an assignment, especially in a time of shrinking budgets, is so strong—that no one wants intimate violations to resound in a newsroom," Matloff wrote in Columbia Journalism Review [PDF].
Logan knew full well that Egypt, in the throes of revolt, was an unsafe place. A week earlier, soldiers arrested the 39-year-old reporter and her crew as they tried to shoot footage on the streets of Alexandria, handcuffing and blindfolding them as they were hauled off to jail. During the ordeal, in which they were accused of being Israeli spies, Logan became violently ill.
She returned to Washington after being released. But when Fager, who also runs 60 Minutes, needed an interview with Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who helped organize the Cairo protests, "she raised her hand," Cooper says.
It was Fager who hired the South African native in 2001, when she was a lowly radio stringer for CBS News. She had managed to ride into Kabul with the Northern Alliance rebels who toppled the Taliban, and CBS News had no one else in the country.
It was a slow climb up the media ladder. A one-time nanny in France, Logan talked her way onto a South African newspaper at a time when no one could write about the imprisoned Nelson Mandela without facing criminal prosecution. The experience left her with a deep sense that some stories were starkly divided between right and wrong. Logan knocked around as a freelance TV reporter until wrangling a Tajik visa to get into Afghanistan—by hiring the nephew of the man who ran the Tajikistan airline—as the war began soon after the 9/11 attacks.
With her striking looks, lilting Johannesburg accent, and bulldog style, it was little wonder that Logan found television stardom. And she was more than a little cocky. "I aspire to be as legendary on 60 Minutes as Mike Wallace," she once boasted.
But her fame and beauty also made her tabloid fodder. As Logan's world travels led to an estrangement from her husband, she had an affair with government contractor Joseph Burkett in Baghdad—and in 2008 the New York Post ran a lurid front-page story when she got pregnant. The couple is now married.
In war zones, Logan's good fortune never seemed to desert her. The 2006 missile attack on her Marine vehicle in Iraq tore out the skin inside her mouth and bruised her face. (She did not tell her mother, who died months later, of her injuries.) Last fall, her hands bled and her legs were bruised when her unit in Afghanistan came under sustained assault from machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. She ran for cover, thinking of her kids. "Always there's a moment when you think, oh, my God, I just don't want to die," she says.
Logan has a knack for winning over unit commanders and soldiers. "Part of her appeal is that she's got an incredibly sweet side," Fager says. But Logan's tight relationship with the military has also stirred controversy. After Gen. Stanley McChrystal lost his job as the Afghan war commander over his intemperate comments to a Rolling Stone reporter, Logan said the remarks could not have been on the record and should never have been published because there is "an element of trust" when reporters are embedded with the military. Critics assailed her as a protector of the Pentagon, but she has also accused the military of lying about U.S. progress in Afghanistan.
The Egyptian assault was harrowing, but friends say Logan remained in good spirits, even in the hospital. "When she started to sound belligerent again," a CBS staffer says, "that's when I knew she was OK."
Howard Kurtz is The Daily Beast's Washington bureau chief. He also hosts CNN's weekly media program Reliable Sources on Sundays at 11 a.m. ET. The longtime media reporter and columnist for The Washington Post, Kurtz is the author of five books.