Tragically, reporter Lara Logan didn’t need to go to a region of political unrest to be the target of vicious personal attacks and misogyny. She got it right here at home.
Logan, an experienced and brave journalist for CBS, was beaten and sexually assaulted while covering the protests in Tahrir Square in Cairo. It was another reminder of the tremendous risks members of media take when covering an important story. But a series of self-styled pundits, driven by a hatred of Muslims or women or both, have taken the “blame the victim” approach to an appalling new level. [See photos of the Egyptian uprising.]
Media Matters for America has done the most comprehensive job of culling the most egregious posts, which can be read here. The rhetoric is truly disgusting: LA Weekly writer Simone Wilson referred to Logan’s “shockingly good looks” and determined that the assaulting mob “apparently consummated their newfound independence by sexually assaulting the blonde reporter.” What was her point--that only attractive and blonde women are sexually attacked? (Read the Washington Post’s excellent, and disturbing, story about a rapist who targets elderly women).
Then there’s Nir Rosen, a (now former) fellow at NYU’s Center for Law and Security, who tweeted that “It's always wrong, that's obvious, but I'm rolling my eyes at all the attention she'll get … She's so bad that I ran out of sympathy for her.” Rosen--who, given his apparent stature, should have known better--has resigned. That was tame compared to right wing blogger Debbie Schlossel, who wrote: “No one told her to go there. She knew the risks. And she should have known what Islam is all about. Now she knows.”
If that’s “what Islam is all about,” then what do these horrific comments indicate America is all about? A place where women will be met with blame and derision for daring to do what so many others--male and female--do not have the courage to do? A place where being blonde or attractive or both is justification enough to get yourself assaulted, should you dare to compete in male-dominated professional territory?
I’ve reported in a number of war zones, and never felt particularly at risk as a female journalist. Yes, I was more likely to be raped, but I was also less likely to be targeted for murder. In Muslim Albania, I found that rebels who stopped to check us for weapons would barely touch me, although they would examine my male colleagues in a way that would make a TSA screener blush. As Muslims, they automatically recoiled at touching a strange woman (I’d pull open my field vest to show I had no weapons, which was enough). In other countries, being female can be far less threatening to the local men. The annoying truth is, they didn’t take us as seriously, but that also meant they didn’t see us as potential combatants, and so the chemistry was less aggressive. Traveling in gender-mixed teams seemed to be the safest way to travel, if there is indeed a safe way to travel in a war zone. I was ambushed in the Drenica Mountains in Kosovo by Serb paramilitary in 1999; they dragged us out of our car, held guns to our heads and threatened to kill us. We were two men and two women, and eventually convinced them that we were not undercover guerrilla fighters, but a bunch of hacks in search of a story. Had our group been all-male, I’m not sure the episode would have ended without anyone being harmed. [Read stories about national security and the military.]
In truth, there’s a certain amount of blaming the victim that happens among journalists in danger zones, although not with the personal vitriol and resentment aimed at Logan. If a reporter was injured by a landmine, beaten or even killed, we’d sit in shock and sympathy and fear--then tell each other things like, “well, I never went into that neighborhood/mountain range/whatever, since it’s a little dodgy.” We said that not because we thought our colleague was to blame for being injured or worse, but because to remain sane and to keep doing our jobs, we needed to convince ourselves that we had some control over our personal safety. We’d sit around at dinner in some hellhole, talking about being safer, avoiding unnecessary risks, maybe taking another local with us for protection and guidance. Then we’d shuffle off to bed, get up at the crack of dawn the next morning, and go back into the war zone as if nothing had happened. We did it because we felt it was critical to democracy, here and abroad, to tell people what was really happening on the ground.
That’s the mentality that drives someone like Lara Logan. She wasn’t there because she’s a blonde or a beauty or naively unaware of the evils of men, Muslim or otherwise. She was there because she is a reporter. She’s a very courageous reporter. She was brave to go to Cairo. Who would have thought it would be a bigger act of bravery to reveal her ordeal to her fellow Americans?