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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5 months ago
Posted by Phil O'Connor

Carol
I read your Lara Logan piece immediately upon receipt.
I can see your point, except –
1) Everything suggests that the views Logan expressed in the BGA speech have largely proven out. Al Qaeda and their allies such as the Taliban remain a serious threat to the region and to the West.
2) Her knowledge of these matters comes from on-the-ground, often quite courageous reporting. She was in Baghdad the same time I was, though I have never met her. Logan was a real war correspondent and she has been downrange in very dangerous areas of Afghanistan.
3) The climate for media reporting error on the Benghazi events has largely been created by the inability of the administration to present anything resembling a coherent story (going so far as to promote a transparently wrong internet movie trailer riot explanation) and more recently to aggressively refuse to provide Congress with information.
4) Perhaps the underlying truth about Benghazi is pregnant with important national security issues that limit what can be said or explained. Fair enough, but a reasonably full briefing of the senior congressional leadership that has highest clearance could have resolved much of the problem and things never would have gotten this far.
More important than a speech Logan gave to the BGA is the rather supine posture of much of the press about Benghazi when it became clear that the administration was being more than not forthcoming. Logan may just be an outlier in believing that aggressive reporting is in order.
Phil

5 months ago
Posted by truthinreporting

My God, Benghazi is nothing but the freakin lunatic right doing anything and everything they can to undermine this President, even to the extent of unabashed treason. The right wing nuts should be held accountable for their traitorous acts, but they got away with outing Valarie Plame so they believe they have license for treason.

Lara Logan new very early in the story that it was bogus, then she lied in her apology and is now trying to cover-up the whole mess. Now she can go where she really belongs at Fox News, where she'll be welcomed as a rock star and can make-up whatever she wants about Benghazi.

5 months ago
Posted by Antisocialist

Agreed Phil,

I think Carol Felsenthal is just jealous of Lara Logan. I can sense it in her tone. Lara is beautiful while Carol looks like she's been beaten with an ugly stick

5 months ago
Posted by ChicagoTrep30

It looks like there is a typo in the subtitle for this article....instead of "let to" I think you meant "led to"... I love Chicago Magazine and I want to make it that much better.

Thanks!

5 months ago
Posted by WestCoastin44

Good article. Logans political agenda is obvious and she has no place in respectable journalism. Logan needs to stick with sports or something.
Hey "Antisocialist" retard, thats very precious that you think Logan is beautiful and that you've fantasized about her enough to get emotional about it and defend her in such a manner but its socialist idiots like you that are driving the country into the ground.

5 months ago
Posted by WestCoastin44

Phil O'conner
1) Taliban is not a significant threat and people like you believe the propaganda and support Obama spending way too much money on wars and defense. You're the type who is so scared of the Taliban that you want to wait longer at airports and you want the NSA put a camera in your bathroom so they can protect you.
2) Logan was surrounded by hundreds of soldiers in the war zones. Prostitutes are courageous and strippers are beautiful but that does not mean they would make good reporters and be mature enough to not let their emotions influence the report. Her husband makes a living because of the Talibans existence and maybe he doesn't want to close up shop.
3) The fact that people think this has anything to do with politics is because a bunch of republicans tried to use it to make democrats look bad because Clinton and Rice initially said something wrong for whatever trivial reason. If the FBI and CIA wanted to make information public than they would do so.
4) I think the truth about Benghazi is pretty simple and its not a big mystery. The Taliban nor any other group have claimed responsibility in which they normally do and the feds are probably tracking the militants and don't want to compromise that.

An outlier for more aggressive reporting? She worked on the story for a year and it was shot down in two days by actual journalists. A year for that bs is anything but aggressive reporting.

5 months ago
Posted by Endymion

The technical term for the type of thinking that led to her mistake is "confirmation bias". Focusing on information that confirms your beliefs. A very common error that good journalists learn to avoid.

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