More than seven years ago, “60 Minutes” correspondent Lara Logan was dragged through a mob and sexually assaulted in Egypt’s Tahrir Square. She was on assignment, covering the widespread protests that kicked off in the country and led to the ousting of its president.
On Sept. 26, she recounted the attack, along with her career and the future of journalism in the age of “fake news” at Har Sinai Temple in Pennington.
“”60 Minutes” is the gold standard in television journalism; it has been for over 50 years,” Alan Kline, the Temple’s president, said. “Logan is a successor of that great tradition and legacy.”
The talk was part of the Arms of the Temple discussions, where “interesting topics about topical issues” are featured.
Logan is an award-winning South African journalist who has reported on international issues, such as the terrorist group ISIS, the Ebola crisis in Africa and victims of the Holocaust.
Her work has taken her to the Middle East, where she reported on and witnessed wars in Baghdad, Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Hollywood, where she has interviewed stars like Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and Bruno Mars.
Interviewed by Arms of the Temple chair Janice Selinger Kline, who previously reported for WCBS-TV in her early career, Logan offered those in the audience some insight into the term “fake news,” which has often be used by President Donald Trump to describe how some media outlets report and portray him and his administration.
“I grew up believing journalists are not political activists or propagandists,” she said. “For me, I’m not bothered by the president’s characterization of the news. What I am bothered by is journalists who still claim to be journalists, but are really politicians.”
While Logan doesn’t feel threatened by the president’s words, she said she is “much more concerned” about attacks the media receives from anonymous sources on social media or news sites that claim to be independent, but are paid for by “political entities.”
“It’s not identified for what it is, and it makes it very difficult for us to do our jobs because we get savaged if we divert from the accepted narratives,” she said.
Logan, herself, issued an apology in 2013 for an inaccurate report about a US mission in Benghazi, Libya, but returned to “60 Minutes” after a leave of absence.
When it comes to her reporting, Logan said her strength lies in talking about topics she has “some knowledge and experience” on.
“Great storytelling is what we strive for, and having the time to really immerse yourself in your subject,” she said.
In Palestine, Logan recalls, she slept on the floor of a poor Palestinian family’s home after reporting on two Israelis who were pulled from a police station and beaten to death during the second intifada.
“Nothing that I’ve done on the ground has been without the assistance of good, local people who have been my guides and my navigators and have made things possible,” she said.
In Egypt, Logan nearly escaped death when she nearly fell into the lap of an Egyptian woman camping out on the street during the Egyptian Revolution, during which crowds were celebrating the resignation of then-President Hosni Mubarak.
What Logan described as a party after the Super Bowl quickly turned violent when the camera battery died and the team’s translator’s face turned white with panic. The Egyptian men in the crowd were declaring they were going to take off Logan’s clothes, among other things.
“I started to feel people’s hands between my legs, and I was fighting them off and running, so many things were happening at the same time,” she said. “I spent the first 20 minutes or so trying to fight to sexual assault. At a certain point, I realized I was losing my strength.”
At that point, Logan said, she was already stripped naked, her clothes were ripped to shreds and she had to fight for her life. She was ultimately separated from her security officer, Ray Bribiesca.
After about 40 minutes, she was dragged to a group of women and children — their family members stood between Logan and the mob — and the Egyptian army beat through the crowd with batons to get Logan to safety.
“My bosses were very wary in the wake of Egypt,” she said. “If I even mentioned the word ‘Syria’ after I got back to work, people looked at me like I was psychotic.”
Around the time of the Egypt assault, Logan’s children were 1 and 2 years old. As a wife and mother traveling to the Middle East so frequently, Logan said there is “no balance.”
“You try telling your children, ‘I’m going off to cover Ebola and I might not make it home,’” she said.
Logan said that, during her career, she was pregnant with her son while living in Baghdad, and 6 months pregnant while interviewing former President Barack Obama in Afghanistan. While she was pregnant with her daughter, Logan spent six and a half hours in a sewage canal in Afghanistan when the Marines were taking back Helmand Province from the Taliban.
“I always tell my daughter she’s so tough because she fought the Taliban before she was even born,” Logan joked. “After years of saying this, my son looked at me and asked, ‘Mom, did I fight the Taliban before I was born?’ And I said, ‘No, but don’t worry, it’s OK, because you fought Al-Qaeda.’”