By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
I was reading up on the history of Benghazi and the killing of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens after watching the film ’13 hours: The secret soldiers of Benghazi’. Then I came across the 60 minutes episode by Lara Logan and the 2013 fallout over it. The episode had been badly fact-checked and Logan had to apologize.
In May of 2014 New York Magazine published an article by Joe Hagan titled ‘Benghazi and the Bombshell’ about whether Logan was “too toxic” to return to 60 minutes. The title should have been a clue to the overall article, but innocently I read it thinking there was a story to be told. In six pages what the article reveals is probably the most sexist mainstream media article ever written.
It’s emblematic of the way writers can get away with critiquing female journalists, or women in general, in a way they would never critique a man. The article initially began with what seemed like a very journalistic story of a journalist trying to get into a war zone in Iraq in 2003. But soon bits of judgement begin to creep in. Logan is said to have an “exotic accent as the raw material of a future star.” Logan is South African, perhaps to an American that is an “exotic” accent?
Hagan claims that “She also happened to have a telegenic sexual charisma, a highly useful attribute for a woman who wants to succeed in TV journalism.” What is “sexual charisma”? It’s unclear but what is clear is that Hagan is insinuating that if not for her “sexual” attributes she might not have risen so quickly. Except she was doing what young male colleagues were doing and more, by finding her way into war zones.
Next we learn that Logan got her start covering the Afghan invasion after 9/11. “It was daring and dangerous work, especially for a Western woman in an Islamic country.” Instead of praising her courage and abilities, New York Magazine claims “From the start, she had two qualities that seemed to mix profitably, if uneasily: exceptional courage—and, of course, her looks.” So it was, once again, “her looks” that were the story of her success?
The article details how British tabloids ran “swimsuit pictures of her and dubbed her ’34D Lara.'” Was that Logan’s fault? Or part of the sexism in general? The article claims it was Logan’s fault. “Logan protested these reports as sexist. But she was also open-eyed about the uses of sex in her profession—it was a tactic, and not to use it would be stupid.” Logan was photographed in a swimsuit, and of course blamed for then “using” this. If a male reporter put on a swimsuit far away from his beat, no one would care. The Mirror wrote “Here’s a sight that would stop the Taliban in its tracks. War reporter Lara Logan relaxes on a deck chair in a sizzling swimsuit.” Hagan’s take: “She deployed her beauty to charm and persuade colleagues and sources to great effect.”
According to the article, every step of the Logan career, despite her hard work, boiled down to her looks mostly, “every other network that noticed what [CBS’s Jim] Murphy noticed: a captivating beauty with a smoldering presence in the war zone. As if to add evidence, rather than detract because of its sexism, the article quotes “crude” Ed Bradley, “She’s got tits and balls.”
Not only that, but the article then critiques Logan for not dressing modestly enough. “Logan often flouted traditional Islamic dress codes: At an Afghan election rally for Hamid Karzai, Logan wore blue jeans and a white T-shirt in the makeshift press cordon, which was surrounded by mobs of men.” Do western men in Afghanistan have to wear traditional outfits? Only western women journalists apparently.
Oddly the article does mention “sexism” and quotes another woman at CBS as noting: “She was a great-looking woman, which means you have to prove yourself doubly and triply.”
Once again however the author returns to form, complaining about Logan’s lack of modesty. “Her reputation began to precede her, not only within CBS, where she offended sensibilities by once showing up in a black bustier, but in the military camps where she courted sources. On a list of the top ten reasons to be deployed in Iraq that circulated among soldiers, ‘Lara Logan in a T-shirt’ was ranked high.” If a man had shown up after a gym workout in a tight shirt, would that have been a problem? Why was it Logan’s fault that men in Iraq wanted to be around her?
But her immodest attire isn’t enough, next the author has to provide us details of how “She began an affair with Michael Ware.” If a male journalist had a relationship would it be “an affair”, would it matter? For Logan it is important to point out “By late 2007, Logan had another boyfriend in the wings.” The soft implication is “she got around”. The author accuses her of “consorting”. Back at CBS they had to worry about tabloids “When the news of her Baghdad affairs was trumpeted in the New York Post under the headline ‘Sexty Minutes.'”
Logan was groped and sexually assaulted in Egypt in 2011, but the article casts aspersions on it, noting “Her May 1 description of the incident earned Logan enormous goodwill from CBS colleagues.” If a man had been raped while being a journalist, it might be expected to earn him goodwill. A woman though? Well, then it’s “her description”, not a fact.
The article concludes after the 60 Minutes failure. “So Lara Logan may, or may not, return in the fall season. Either way, the show must go on. Waiting in the wings is a new up-and-comer. Attractive, blonde, fluent in three foreign languages. Everybody is talking about 34-year-old Clarissa Ward. ‘Jeff’s very high on her,’ says a 60 Minutes producer.”
Once again the conclusion is, if you are a woman journalist, and you are good looking, then you aren’t qualified, your looks are a problem. If it was a handsome man, of course, then it would be fine.
This is part of a pattern, revealed in recent research, where attractive women are perceived as stupider and are less likely to receive funding for businesses. Being an attractive man makes a person seem authoritative. A woman, no. You’d think that media might try to balance society’s stereotypes by not playing to them. But instead what we saw here, was gross sexism. We all know that if Logan was a man, not only would she be praised for her work, but he wouldn’t be accused for his looks.