Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Lara Logan’s Mistake on ‘60 Minutes’ Is Not a Big Surprise

A speech from October 2012 shows the kind of thinking that led to Logan’s error.

Lara Logan apologizing for an erroneous report on '60 Minutes.' Photo: Courtesy CBS News / 60 Minutes

From Politico last week:

“60 Minutes” correspondent Lara Logan issued an on-air apology Sunday night for the now-discredited Oct. 27 report in which Dylan Davies, a security contractor, claimed to have been a witness to the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

“We realized we had been misled and it was a mistake to include him in our report. For that, we are very sorry,” Logan told viewers at the end of the broadcast. “The most important thing to every person at ‘60 Minutes’ is the truth, and the truth is: we made a mistake." 

This news reminded me of a time in October 2012, when I attended the BGA’s annual fundraising lunch and watched keynoter Lara Logan speak passionately about the ongoing menace of the Taliban in Afghanistan. 

She told an audience of more than a thousand that she cared deeply about “national security” and that politics should never “dictate” that policy. It was clear that she did not support the President’s popular promise of troops out of Afghanistan in 2014. She said that the American public was “being lied to.” She blasted “American leaders” for telling the public that “there are only 50 al-Qaeda left in Afghanistan and the impression we’re given is that they’re one drone strike away from obliteration. And that’s just simply not true.” She also questioned America’s relations with Pakistan: “Enemy fighters from the Afghan battlefield have enjoyed freedom and sanctuary on Pakistani soil since the beginning of the war … American soldiers continue to die because of the support Pakistan gives to America’s enemies.”

She came to the conclusion that officialdom recognized that there was no reason to talk to her “right now,” she said,  “because if we talk about al-Qaeda in Afghanistan doesn’t that undermine the argument for leaving… You’re saying things that no one in the administration wants to hear…. There’s the narrative coming out of Washington in the last few years, much of it driven by Pakistani lobbying money and by Taliban apologists. One of my favorite things to read about today is how the Taliban is so unlike the Taliban of 2001.  They’re the more moderate, gentler, kinder Taliban. They just can’t wait to see women in the workplace… don’t really want to take us back 3000 years.”

She argued that “our way of life is under attack…. If you think that’s war mongering,  you’re not listening to what the people who are fighting say about this fight. In your arrogance you think you write the script, but you don’t.”  She decried Americans “rushing for the exits as fast as we can.”

Seated with my colleagues from Chicago magazine in the table-packed ballroom of the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers, I sensed discomfort. Who knew Logan was such a hawk? And what was she doing speaking to the progressive types who support the BGA—a room full of doves? 

While there were many potential applause lines, there was no applause until the end of an unusually long speech (20 minutes-plus). Yet Logan, who spoke without notes and obviously from the heart, is compelling, and very few snuck to the exits, as usually happens at these fundraising lunches.

South African born and reared, the mother of two toddlers, Logan, 42, looks like a casting director’s vision of the beautiful, blonde, swashbuckling foreign correspondent. All that was missing that day was the trench coat over her body-hugging dress.

Logan, however, is the genuine article. She doesn’t pontificate from Washington or some comfortable bureau in Europe. She is on the ground. And I’d bet that most people in that room, knew that Logan had, the year before, been brutally attacked in Tahrir Square, her clothes ripped off, her body violated by a mob of men, her hair pulled from her head in clumps. She came close to dying and has said that she stopped resisting her attackers because she thought of her sons and knew she’d never see them again if she fought back. 

She never mentioned Egypt in that speech.

When Logan’s October 27 Benghazi report on “60 Minutes” blew up, I could see, remembering her that day, just a few weeks after the events in Benghazi, how Logan could have fallen into the trap of believing an apparent con man—Dylan Davies, a British security contractor, who, it seems, falsely claimed to be an eyewitness as he had scaled the consulate wall and butted a Taliban fighter in the face with his rifle. He also claimed to have seen the torched body of our late ambassador. Logan wanted to believe Davies because he fit her good guys/bad guys narrative.

As Logan spoke, that day in 2012, she said some things that are striking in the wake of the “60 Minutes” Benghazi debacle; articles of faith that, had she adhered to a year later, might have prevented her recent mistake. In doing an episode, she said, “There is a distinction between investigating something to find out what the real situation is and trying to prove something that you believe is true. Those are two very different things and the second one is a very dangerous thing. And it’s the enemy of great journalism.” 

And then she mentioned Benghazi. “When I look at what’s happening in Libya, big song and dance about whether this was a terrorist attack or a protest, you just want to scream, “For God’s sake are you kidding me? The last time we were attacked like this was the USS Cole which was the prelude to the 1998 embassy bombings which was the prelude to 9/11… I hope to God that you’re sending in your best clandestine warriors who are going to exact revenge and going to let the world know that the US will not be attacked on its own soil: that its ambassadors will not be murdered, and that the US will not stand by and do nothing about it.”

Sounds more like an advocate than the journalist that Lara Logan claimed to be. There was, that October afternoon in 2012, more than a little of the true believer about her.

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