A Sixty Minutes Scandal

Lara Logan, Hotness and Benghazi Gone Wild

Lara Logan is a formidable TV reporter who has covered wars and other stories at significant risk. She’s supremely confident and has a powerful journalistic institution supporting her. But as a would-be ethical journalist, she seems to rely too much on her sexual allure and to be too tight with elite elements of the US military establishment.

When it comes to TV reporters, the 42-year-old Logan’s persona epitomizes the pop adjective hot. She’s a beautiful South African blonde with a come-hither sultry voice. It’s noteworthy that she’s married to a US civilian defense contractor from Texas she met covering the war in Afghanistan. They have two young kids. She made her aggressive militarist credentials clear in a 2012 speech in which she unambiguously called for vengeance by US “clandestine warriors” following the Benghazi attack.

As a journalist, Logan always seems to be falling off Albert Camus’ famous ridgeline separating the two abysses of Frivolous Art and Propaganda. In her case, the Propaganda abyss she’s falling into involves her breathy, seductive adoration of male “warriors” and adventurers she is inclined to report on and interview.

Lara Logan, her interview with Morgan Jones (really Dylan Davies), his book and Benghazi burningLara Logan, her interview with Morgan Jones (really Dylan Davies), his book and Benghazi burning

The dust-up over her October 27th 60 Minutes interview with a macho warrior cum bullshit artist about his fantasy heroics in Benghazi makes her sexy style a fair issue for discussion. Her story was timed perfectly and played right into the hands of men like California Rep. Darrel Issa, Senator Lindsey Graham, Sean Hannity and other right-wing elements doing their mightiest to undermine the Obama administration.

It’s not that President Obama’s Libya actions don’t deserve fair criticism; it’s that Lara Logan’s story featuring “security officer” Dylan Davies (using the pseudonym Morgan Jones) posturing as a brave clandestine war hero turned out to be pandering, right wing militarist garbage. Even Fox News was leery of Davies and washed their hands of the man. Finally, Davies as Morgan Jones had produced a ghost-written book called The Embassy House published by Threshold Editions, a right wing imprint owned by Simon and Schuster, which is owned by Lara Logan’s boss, CBS, something she failed to mention in her interview.

Logan says she worked on the story for a full year. Anyone who works in the journalism business should now be shaking his or her head. For a reporter with the institutional resources and clout Logan has at her beck and call not to check such a source’s claims to see if they jived with testimony on the topic he had given to the FBI simply beggars belief and deserves much more than the 90-second on-air apology she made last Sunday. That statement amounted to, “Oops! We’re really sorry.” Sixty Minutes producers say they have nothing more to say on the affair. They clearly hope it will just go away.

Sixty Minutes made its brand spurs with the on-the-street, guerrilla journalism associated with Mike Wallace, mike in hand, running after some lowlife creep fleecing the American citizenry. That was then. Nowadays it relies on its institutional heft and its high-level access power. In the post-911 world, on 60 Minutes we tend to get a lot of Pentagon puff pieces segued in with health care scandals and celebrity profiles.

It’s tough being a media consumer these days immersed in what William Arkin calls “martial life” in America. He develops this idea in his new book American Coup: How a Terrified Government Is Destroying the Constitution, in which he shows the problem is much more complicated that an ordinary “coup.” Militarism pervades everything, he says. It’s “more a product of political accretion than diabolic edict — something akin to too many greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. …[I]t is the product of ignorance — and manufactured complexity.”

As Pogo put it, “I’ve met the enemy and the enemy is us.”

Citizens are doomed to engage with a runaway militarist machine that deals with citizens in one of two distinct modes: Secrecy or Public Relations. Large corporate-based journalistic institutions like CBS and 60 Minutes are so desperate to fill their news holes their prime concern becomes not losing access to the Pentagon’s world. Access mavens like Lara Logan rise to the top due to their capacity to churn out what amounts to entertaining Pentagon public relations.

One of the more obnoxious 60 Minutes Pentagon puff pieces ran on March 22, 2008. As an anti-war activist who takes the idea of “peace” seriously, I found it personally insulting. The story by correspondent David Martin was called “The Pentagon’s Ray Gun,” and it was about an experimental, non-lethal weapon called an “active denial system.” The track-mounted “gun” could project 100,000 watts of heat as a means to break up crowds. Martin tells us this weapon will be useful in Iraq. When hit by the ray from a half-mile away, volunteers and Martin himself all fled within seconds.

So far so good. An interesting story.

Where 60 Minutes’ integrity fell into Camus’ Propaganda abyss was when the active duty military volunteers were shown marching with signs that called for WORLD PEACE, PEACE NOT WAR and HUG ME, clearly some militarist’s brilliant idea to ridicule the Iraq anti-war movement. You could see the soldier volunteers were having a hoot hollering anti-war slogans. By 2008, of course, the anti-Iraq War movement had been for years accurately and fairly characterizing the Iraq Invasion and Occupation as unnecessary, cruelly destructive and based on official delusions and lies. That view is now shared by a significant majority of Americans that crosses political lines.

I was in Baghdad in December 2003 and January 2004, and I witnessed peaceful street demonstrations critical of the US occupation. By 2008, I’d also been part of a number of massive demonstrations in Philadelphia, New York and Washington DC opposed to the war in Iraq. A very notable feature in these was connected metal railings that operated like cattle chutes and, my favorite feature, metal corrals known as “First Amendment zones.” They were, of course, always at a significant, and therefore safe, remove from the institution being protested.

I have no doubt if we demonstrators and our PEACE NOT WAR signs had become too unruly — that is, actually effective — active denial system ray guns would have been deployed in the United States before they were ever seen in Iraq. The R&D has certainly advanced and the ray guns are no doubt parked somewhere and included in someone’s numbered and filed contingency scenario.

Active denial ray guns are about shutting down information going upward. Lara Logan and Sixty Minutes are part of the vast machine that broadcasts controlled information in a downward direction.

In the propaganda game, subtext can be more powerful than the overt message. This was certainly the case with David Martin’s ray gun story. The overt message was, “Look, our military is so humane it doesn’t have to gun people down like the Chinese government did in Tiananmen Square.” The subtext was peace activists are the bad guys; so it’s OK to treat peace activists like the enemy. Sixty Minutes editors played right along with what amounts to a flagrantly biased anti-First Amendment message.

At the very least Martin and 60 Minutes should have commented on the insulting signage. But that would have put the story on a more objective footing, and to do so might have threatened their access on the next Pentagon story. Lara Logan’s stories suffer from the same access-obsessed, public-relations-reliant, pro-military bias.

Logan received a lot of sensational press and some undeserved salacious comments in February 2011 following a brutal 40-minute sexual assault by a mob of men in Cairo’s Tahrir Square the night Hosni Mubarak stepped down. It’s true certain sexually arrogant Muslim men feel that alluring western women are begging to be pawed and groped. I witnessed it in Turkey, where as a westerner, I was asked to accompany a British women under assault on a train. Following the Tahrir Square assault, CBS and Logan decided on-the-ground reporting in Muslim countries like Egypt is probably not the place to send Lara Logan.

Some may feel it’s out of line to emphasize Logan’s sexual allure and to suggest that she exploits her sexual charms. It insinuates that her success may not be based on hard work and intelligence alone. For me, it’s like Ronald Reagan’s charms. I think the man was brilliant in his own way. But Ronald Reagan without his aw-shucks acting charms is unimaginable. And it was Reagan’s acting charms that made him the Great Communicator able to sell what he sold to the American people. The point is, many Americans understand that the myth of American exceptionalism (anti-malaise) he sold the nation led inexorably to a major financial collapse and the bankrupting militarist runaway train we’re now riding in and holding on for dear life.

The Lara Logan affair should be up there with the Judith Miller and Curveball affairs during the Iraq Invasion, all ignoble markers of how really shamelessly pandering the Mainstream Media can be covering the military and its proponents.

Lara Logan is certainly not alone in producing biased journalism. What you’re now reading is arguably biased journalism. But, then, I’m not posing as anything other than an advocate for peace-friendly ideas and certain historical meanings. I clearly don’t have the power and resources of CBS and 60 Minutes at my beck and call.

Last year at the annual luncheon of the Better Government Association, Lara Logan very earnestly said this:

“There is a distinction between investigating something to find out what the real situation is and trying to prove something you believe is true. And those are two very different things, and the second one is a very dangerous thing.”

She clearly needs to ponder her own remarks, because what she did with would-be clandestine warrior hero Dylan Davies was exactly what she called a “very dangerous thing.” In her case, it was profoundly dangerous because so much life and death and destruction could hinge on what she’s advocating. Linking up with friendly pro-military voices to propagate right-wing militarist ideas because one has access to them is not the same thing as “investigating something to find out what the real situation is.”

It would be a day for rejoicing if mainstream entities like 60 Minutes could find the humility and courage needed to actually cover the runaway Pentagon leviathan as the societal leech it really is. There are, of course, excellent working models for this in reporting based on material leaked by individuals like Bradley/Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. Logan was publicly critical of Michael Hastings for his Rolling Stone expose of the real General Stanley McChrystal. Hasting, of course, died as he was reportedly working on a CIA story in a very mysterious fiery crash recently in Los Angeles.

Let’s hope this scandal grows until 60 Minutes stops stonewalling and comes clean about such a shameful reportorial fiasco. Stonewalling is what crooked politicians do. As Finley Peter Dunne’s folksy character Mr Dooley famously put it in 1898, what journalists do is “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

The fact is Lara Logan and 60 Minutes are just too damn comfortable with the Pentagon war machine that sucks our blood and monitors our communications — while it claims to protect us. Both institutions need to be afflicted more.