by Walter Brasch
Lara Logan, CBS News chief foreign affairs correspondent, was beaten and sexually assaulted, Feb. 11, while on assignment in Cairo to report on the revolution that concluded that day with Hosni Mubarak resigning as president.
Logan, according to an official CBS announcement, was attacked by a group of about 200 Egyptians and “suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers.” The mob, probably pro-Mubarak supporters, but never identified by CBS-had separated Logan from her camera crew.
About a week earlier, Mubarak’s army detained, handcuffed, blindfolded, interrogated, and then released Logan and some of her crew after several hours. The government ordered her expelled from the country, probably for her on-air comments about the government intimidating and harassing foreign journalists. Logan returned to Cairo shortly before Mubarak resigned. She returned to the United States the day after the assault, and spent the next four days recovering in a hospital.
The Mubarak administration at the beginning of the protests had expelled the al-Jazeera news network, and began a random campaign against all journalists, the result of the government believing that the media inflamed the call for revolution and the overthrow of Mubarak. There were about 140 cases of assault and harassment of journalists during the 18-day protest, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Ahmad Mohamad Mahmoud, an Egyptian journalist, was killed by sniper fire, probably by pro-Mubarak supporters. Among American reporters physically assaulted were CNN’s Anderson Cooper and photojournalist Dana Smillie, who was seriously wounded by what appeared to be a dozen BB-size pellets. Journalists displayed “admirable levels of courage as they-initially as individuals and small groups, and eventually in droves-made statements and took actions that exposed them to immense personal and professional risk,” according to the CPJ.
There can be no justification for the rogue gangs of thugs who attacked Logan, dozens of journalists, and hundreds of citizens. But, from the story of reporter and citizen courage against a 30-year dictatorship, no matter how benevolent it may have appeared, there emerged another story, one not as dramatic, nor as compelling, nor as important. But it is a story, nevertheless.
Because of deadlines and a sense of having to get the story at any cost, news organizations sometimes become in-your-face inquisitors. Privacy isn’t usually something the more aggressive news organizations give to those they want on air, or in print. It’s still common to see microphones stuck inches from faces of people who have suffered tragedies
But when it comes to one of their own, news organizations seem to have a different set of standards. The brutal attack upon Logan occurred Feb. 11, but it was four days until CBS released any statement. After a brief review of the facts, CBS refused to make further comment, or to respond to reporter inquiries. “Logan and her family respectfully request privacy at this time,” the network said. A four day delay to give a basic statement is inexcusable by CBS; a statement that it did not give more information about the attack in order to protect the correspondent’ s privacy is hypocritical, and trumpets a double standard that the news media are somehow exempt from the reporting practices it demands of news sources.
There is another factor in this mini-story. Judith Matloff, a journalism professor at Columbia University, told the L.A. Times, “Generally, female correspondents do not come out and talk about it [sexual assaults] because they worry that they won’t get sent on assignments again.”
Paternalism in the news profession often has editors and news directors, most of whom are male, “protecting” their female reporters and correspondents. Journalists and news crews who go into dangerous situations, including riots, demonstrations, and war must be trained to deal with violence-and must be given every assistance by their organizations when they have been harassed or attacked. But, for news executives to discriminate on who to send because of the “fear” that women may be subjected to sexual assault, and for women not to report it to their bosses, is to acknowledge that they, and probably society, haven’t come far in eliminating sexism within the profession.
There is a further reality. The news media often don’t identify adults who have been raped or sexually assaulted, a belief that somehow these crimes are more personal and more traumatic than any other kind of assault. However, sexual assaults and rapes are always brutal and vicious crimes of power and control. For the news media to continue to adhere to some puritanical belief that they are protecting womanhood by not reporting names and details continues the myth that rape is purely a sexual intrusion, and not the brutal attack it truly is.
Walter Brasch has been a journalist about 40 years. During that time, he has covered everything from city council meetings and music festivals to demonstrations and riots. Dr. Brasch is the author of 15 books, most focusing upon history and contemporary social issues.