the suzi parker files

Politics, Pop Culture and Ponderings

Lara Logan Assault: For Female Reporters, the Added Peril of Turbulent Places

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Lara Logan appeared fearless and intrepid when she reported from war zones — exactly what you want in a foreign correspondent.

The reporter “suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating” while covering the celebration in Tahrir Square on Feb. 11, according to CBS News, Logan’s employer. Egyptian women and soldiers rescued her from a hostile mob that had separated her from her film crew, and she is now in an American hospital recovering.

Logan’s assault is a reminder that reporting is a dangerous business. According to Reporters Without Borders, five reporters have already been killed in 2011, and 152 are imprisoned. Since 1992, 850 reporters have been killed around the world.

But for women journalists, sexual assault and harassment add a dark undercurrent to the perils of the news business.

A 2007 article in the Columbia Journalism Review exploring the threats to female foreign correspondents singles out Egypt: “The Committee to Protect Journalists, for example, cites rape threats against female reporters in Egypt who were seen as government critics.”

The CJR article states, “Female reporters are targets in lawless places where guns are common and punishment rare.” They face more sexual harassment and rape than their male counterparts. They are subjected to unwanted advances and “lewd come-ons . . . especially in places where Western women are viewed as promiscuous.”

Such risk is nothing new to Logan. A South African native, she entered Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001, by begging a Russian Embassy clerk in London to give her an expedited visa for travel there. She followed up that stint with one as an embedded journalist in Iraq.

Earlier this month, Logan and her crew were detained overnight by the Egyptian army and interrogated. She told Esquire’s “The Politics Blog” that during the ordeal her captors blindfolded her and kept her upright. She vomited frequently. They finally gave her intravenous fluids and released her and her crew.

Logan’s desire to venture into danger zones mirrors the brave actions of female war reporters who came before her. During World War II, many female correspondents had to write under male pseudonyms. They were banned from press briefings and had to submit stories after their male counterparts.

Dickey Chapelle was a World War II photojournalist, posted with the Marines during the Battle of Iwo Jima. She cultivated a signature look of fatigues, an Australian bush hat, dramatic Harlequin glasses and pearl earrings, but loved the grittiness of war. In 1956, the petite photographer covered the Hungarian Revolution, where she was captured and jailed for seven weeks.

In her forties, Chapelle covered the Vietnam War. In 1965, she was the first American female war correspondent killed in action. Famed war photographer Henri Huet photographed Chapelle receiving last rites. She was given a full Marine burial with six Marine honor guards.

Not much has changed in the way of training for such work. In the early days of war reporting, women wrote their own rules for covering conflict — and for surviving. Surprisingly, even in the 21st century, many women travel to war zones with little training. The BBC is the only major news organization that offers special safety instruction for female journalists that is taught by women, according to CJR.

But training or precautions noted in the Handbook for Journalists may not have prepared Logan for the situation she faced on Friday. A mob of 200 abruptly surrounded her crew, from which she quickly became separated. Such tragedies are common during chaotic events.

In the hours after news broke of Logan’s assault, many of her colleagues sent well wishes and prayers. The Committee to Protect Journalists chairman, Paul Steiger, said in a statement, “We have seen Lara’s compassion at work while helping journalists who have faced brutal aggression while doing their jobs. She is a brilliant, courageous, and committed reporter.” (Logan is a CPJ board member.)

But stupidity also flew on the Internet regarding the attack on Logan. Freelance journalist Nir Rosen, who has also covered the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, called her a “war monger” via Twitter and said she would become a martyr. He then attempted an apology but added, “I’m rolling my eyes at all the attention she will get.” He later issued a more sincere apology. (All for naught, as it turns out. On Wednesday he resigned his position as a teaching fellow at New York University. An official at the school called his comments “insensitive and completely unacceptable.”)

Good old-fashioned sexism and jealousy still rule, and it’s especially true in the still mostly man’s world of war reporting.

Lately, it’s become much too common for comedians and pundits to criticize and taunt reporters. Conservative pundit Ann Coulter joked last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington that more reporters needed to be jailed. Sarah Palin often chides reporters and calls them “lame-stream media.”

Perhaps those who engage in such sneering should walk a mile or two in Logan’s combat boots.


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