Sexual Assault Coverage by Media Shows Double Standard

lara loganLara Logan, CBS News chief foreign affairs correspondent, was beaten and sexually assaulted, February 11, while on assignment in Cairo to report on the revolution that concluded that day with Hosni Mubarak resigning as president.

Logan, according to an official CBS announcement, was attacked by a group of about 200 Egyptians and “suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers.” The mob, probably pro-Mubarak supporters, but never identified by CBS—had separated Logan from her camera crew.

About a week earlier, Mubarak’s army detained, handcuffed, blindfolded, interrogated, and then released Logan and some of her crew after several hours. The government ordered her expelled from the country, probably for her on-air comments about the government intimidating and harassing foreign journalists. Logan returned to Cairo shortly before Mubarak resigned. She returned to the United States the day after the assault, and spent the next four days recovering in a hospital.

The Mubarak administration at the beginning of the protests had expelled the al-Jazeera news network, and began a random campaign against all journalists, the result of the government believing that the media inflamed the call for revolution and the overthrow of Mubarak. There were about 140 cases of assault and harassment of journalists during the 18-day protest, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Ahmad Mohamad Mahmoud, an Egyptian journalist, was killed by sniper fire, probably by pro-Mubarak supporters. Among American reporters physically assaulted were CNN’s Anderson Cooper and photojournalist Dana Smillie, who was seriously wounded by what appeared to be a dozen BB-size pellets. Journalists displayed “admirable levels of courage as they—initially as individuals and small groups, and eventually in droves—made statements and took actions that exposed them to immense personal and professional risk,” according to the CPJ.

There can be no justification for the rogue gangs of thugs who attacked Logan, dozens of journalists, and hundreds of citizens. But, from the story of reporter and citizen courage against a 30-year dictatorship, no matter how benevolent it may have appeared, there emerged another story, one not as dramatic, nor as compelling, nor as important. But it is a story, nevertheless.

Because of deadlines and a sense of having to get the story at any cost, news organizations sometimes become in-your-face inquisitors. Privacy isn’t usually something the more aggressive news organizations give to those they want on air or in print. It’s still common to see microphones stuck inches from faces of people who have suffered tragedies

But when it comes to one of their own, news organizations seem to have a different set of standards. The brutal attack upon Logan occurred February 11, but it was four days until CBS released any statement. After a brief review of the facts, CBS refused to make further comment or to respond to reporter inquiries. “Logan and her family respectfully request privacy at this time,” the network said. A four-day delay to give a basic statement is inexcusable by CBS; a statement that it did not give more information about the attack in order to protect the correspondent’s privacy is hypocritical, and trumpets a double standard that the news media are somehow exempt from the reporting practices it demands of news sources.

There is another factor in this mini-story. Judith Matloff, a journalism professor at Columbia University, told the L.A. Times, “Generally, female correspondents do not come out and talk about it [sexual assaults] because they worry that they won’t get sent on assignments again.”

Paternalism in the news profession often has editors and news directors, most of whom are male, “protecting” their female reporters and correspondents. Journalists and news crews who go into dangerous situations, including riots, demonstrations, and war must be trained to deal with violence—and must be given every assistance by their organizations when they have been harassed or attacked. But, for news executives to discriminate on who to send because of the “fear” that women may be subjected to sexual assault, and for women not to report it to their bosses, is to acknowledge that they, and probably society, haven’t come far in eliminating sexism within the profession.

walter m. braschThere is a further reality. The news media often don’t identify adults who have been raped or sexually assaulted, a belief that somehow these crimes are more personal and more traumatic than any other kind of assault. However, sexual assaults and rapes are always brutal and vicious crimes of power and control. For the news media to continue to adhere to some puritanical belief that they are protecting womanhood by not reporting names and details perpetuates the myth that rape is purely a sexual intrusion, and not the brutal attack it truly is.

Walter Brasch

Walter Brasch has been a journalist about 40 years. During that time, he has covered everything from city council meetings and music festivals to demonstrations and riots. He is the author of 15 books, most focusing upon history and contemporary social issues.


  1. says

    Yes, sexism is behind part of the attempt to cover up the Logan story, but sexism was hardly the only ism that had to be overcome to finally break the Logan story.

    Blogger Caroline Glick notes that the media continue to omit or downplay parts of what really happened to Logan. Her attackers taunted her repeatedly as ‘Jew! Jew! Jew!’.

    Glick notes that the media would never have covered Logan’s victimization in the new virtuous Egypt as a Jew – or for that matter as a reporter – but finally were forced to do so via her victimization as woman.

    Except as women (when sexism is overcome) or colored (when racism is overcome), westerners and professional types simply aren’t in politically correct categories for newsworthy overseas victims.

    For reasons hinted at by Brasch’s article, reporters especially don’t make good newsworthy victims. After all, they can play it safe and remain useful to their ‘news’ organizations by staying in the good graces of the regimes and forces in power – whether it was Mubarak in Egypt, or now Hezbollah in Lebanon or – formerly – Saddam Hussein in Iraq. In that way they can keep filing nice stories in the ‘all the news that’s sanitized to print’ New York Times and elsewhere. But a few like Logan will nonetheless take real risks to get real stories. For most of them, the reward will be to rapidly become non-grata with the regimes, be expelled, and therefore become of less or no perceived value to their ‘news’ organizations. An organization which wants to stay in good graces with a regime will not readily publicize a ‘trouble-maker’ reporter’s complaint which reflects on the regime.

    And in the Mid-East too bad if you are (or are perceived as) a person of an inferior and ‘colonial’ (even if indigenous) religion – i.e. Jewish or Christian. Anti-Jewish and anti-Christian – and anti- Moslem- woman – violence and intimidation are now norms in the Mid-East, but those topics are politically incorrect for media in Obama’s USA. For the Obamites the USA’s main business in the Mid-East is to keep reassuring autocratic and thugocratic Moslem regimes that we ‘respect Islam’ (but never mind the human rights of individual Moslems, in or out of the ‘Islamic Republic’ of Iran). What such ‘respect’ has meant so far in practice is taking pains to show special disrespect to Israel. For Obama’s UN rep yesterday, the world’s biggest problem is that some Israelis build houses as do folks elsewhere in the Mid-East and around the globe – in their own capital, or on land where no one has built anything in centuries.

    Yes, behind news suppression and bias there’s plenty of sexism – but hardly only that.

  2. Nate says

    Talk about double standards ! she wasn’t ‘ sexually assaulted ” ~ she was BRUTALLY GANG RAPED OVER AND OVER BY muslims and no one has mentioned this important facet .

    I feel badly for this poor Woman as I know several rape survivors and few are ever whole again .

  3. Elizabeth Pickett says

    But we HAVEN’T come far in dealing with sexism. The unfortunate fact is that revealing the names and details of sexual assault victims places them in danger of harassment and further attack from sexual perverts. But beyond that, it is clear to me that the greater proportion of the damage done to sexual assault victims comes from the reaction of ignorant sexists.. Victims of other crimes are not so commonly attacked for having a crime committed against them. Many women choose to be open about the crimes committed against them. Some do so in the full realization that they will have much more trauma to suffer by doing so. With a very strong ego and good support, they survive, but not without damage. Some women regret having been so open and suffer ongoing trauma. The media should respect the survivor’s choice in this regard. Rape and sexual assault simply are not like any other crime. I can’t wait till they are. Until then, the media should be responsible about reporting identifying details. And you should at least pay some attention to that.

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