NOTE TO FELLOW REPORTERS: LET’S NOT VICTIMIZE LARA LOGAN A SECOND TIME

Lara Logan in Tahrir Square shortly before her attack

First, my beef today with some of the newsies: one had to resign after tweeting Lara Logan was trying to one-up Anderson Cooper, another says she and CBS were “complicit in a news cover-up.”  Others have noted “something fishy” in her lack of details.

My guess is whatever veteran war correspondent Lara Logan is going to do or say, it won’t quite fit what some news people expect of her. Despite the trauma, the physical and psychic pain of a “brutal and sustained sexual assault,  her news peers (and I use the term loosely) now are now examining the handling of her own horrific story. Shame on those who dare to judge her or CBS.

In today’s Boston Herald.com, columnist Michael Graham takes her and her network to task:

“Five days of silence — not even “60 Minutes” coverage of the Egypt story. No mention of the “mob of more than 200 people whipped into frenzy” who attacked their own reporter.

“How is that not news? adding, “I’m with liberal columnist Richard Cohen of The Washington Post,” who wrote, “The sexual assault of a woman in the middle of a public square is a story  . . .  particularly because the crowd in Tahrir Square was almost invariably characterized as friendly and out for nothing but democracy,” Cohen wrote.

“Watching the same complicit media we all saw, Cohen notes most journalists covered the mobs “as if they were reporting from Times Square on New Year’s Eve, stopping only at putting on a party hat.”

I agree with Cohen that most journalists covered the mobs as if they were reporting from Times Square on New Year’s Eve.  (see daily Xpress February 6th,  “…This isn’t Woodstock.)

But these are two separate issues;  Lara Logan’s personal trauma is her personal story and it’s up to her when, how and if she ever wants to discuss it.

IT’S NOT TOO LATE , MICHAEL GRAHAM, TO LEARN HOW TO BEST REPORT ON SEXUAL ASSAULT CRIMES

So who is Michael Graham and why is he weighing in?   Is he dedicated to upholding journalism standards?  Is he an advocate for women’s rights?  Has he been a part of an advanced dialog on the reporting of rape before now?

No! Michael Graham is a radio talk show host and it looks like this is his first op ed article on any of this.  During the past month, while democracy was painfully birthing in Egypt, Graham wrote about Obama’s budget cuts, the Boston mayor’s “jihad” on Wal-Mart, and how his driveway looks like an amateur luge course.  So I guess I have to ask why  Matt Drudge  linked to it high up on our daily news bible?

It would be different if Michael Graham, or any of the current critics, bothered to note the irony of the CBS Logan report appearing on the same day that a landmark federal lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., accusing our own Department of Defense of allowing a military culture that not only fails to prevent rape and sexual assaults, but often promotes the perpetrators of those crimes.

Which brings me back to my note to President Obama, our commander in chief.

I first reported on sex crimes in the military for a series of ABC News stories with Sam Donaldson  which aired on PrimeTIme Live in 1992.  Back then, the Secretary of the Navy resigned in the wake of one scandal, and we were able to influence the Navy and Marine Corps to change some policies.  We revealed that Navy women reporting rape were forced to complete a questionnaire that was nick-named “were you really raped?”  In more than 50 questions, these women were asked if they ever had financial problems (who hasn’t) and other life issues that insinuated an ulterior motive to their report.

We learned many women who reported rape were “processed out” of the service and sent home.  After our expose, at least the questionnaire was dropped.

A Marine anti-hazing policy was put into place after our broadcast of home movies of egregious hazing of new members of the elite Marine Corps Silent Drill Team.  All men, they were stripped naked, had their hands bound with duct tape, their genitals painted with toxic black shoe polish and were forced to run a gauntlet while their older team members doused them with a cocktail mixture of human body waste and dead animals left to bake in the Arizona desert where they trained for their six-week try-outs.  The home movies showed officers in rooms nearby while the new drill team members screamed in agony while trying to wash off the burning, non-water soluble shoe polish.

At the time, I actually had a hard time convincing the executive producer of PrimeTime Llive that this type of hazing was, indeed,  a legitimate story: that men, as well as women had the right to serve their country without having their genitals touched against their will.

Now, almost 20 years later, 2 men and 15 women who include veterans and active duty service members of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Reserves, specifically blame Defense Secretary Robert Gates and former Sec. Donald Rumsfield for failing “to take reasonable steps to prevent plaintiffs from be repeatedly raped, sexually assaulted and sexually harassed by federal military personnel.”

THESE BRAVE MEN AND WOMEN HAVE COME FORWARD

Some of the plaintiffs appeared on Tuesday at a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. How much national coverage did you see on this story?  I didn’t find it on Fox cable, just on their .com. Piers Morgan interviewed  one of the plaintiffs, but  CNN didn’t give it the high rotation of, let’s say, Anderson Cooper holding the feet of  Lara Logan’s humilitated tweeter to the fire.  I didn’t see it on CBS Evening News with Katie Couric  and I’m not sure why not.  I hope some executive didn’t think it was “too much in one broadcast.”

I did find it on the evening reports of ABC and NBC and  on PressTV, a 24/7 television network broadcasting in English from Tehran.

www.presstv.ir

There you’ll find the story of Myla Haider, a former Army sergeant said she was raped in 2002 while in Korea with a Criminal Investigative Command.  And the story of Kori Cioca who has described repeated sexual and physical assaults at the hands of a superior officer while stationed at the U.S. Coast Guard Station Saginaw River in Essexville in 2005.

I did find some of Cioca’s story  on YouTube.  

Kori Cioca served as a Coast Guard seaman from August 2005 until June 2007. During that time, a superior officer spat in her face, groped her, threatened to stab and/or kill her and her family, and struck her across the face so that she “was thrown across the room and against the wall,” according to court documents.

“He dislocated my jaw, he broke my jaw,” Cioca said in an Associated Press interview featured on a Facebook page titled “Show Support for Kori Cicoa and Women Like Her.”

“I went for help, by chain of command I went for help,” Cioca said in the videotaped interview. “The higherups that were the head of the station … they told me that they weren’t going to switch me stations because I didn’t like somebody.”

Cioca alleges she was raped by the officer in December 2005.  Court records show, Cioca said she reported the rape to command officers but was threatened with court-martial if she pressed the matter, ”

Her attacker ultimately pleaded guilty to striking her and was punished with a “minor” loss in pay and a 30-day restriction to base, according to court files, said the AP story.

Cioca says she continues to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, anxiety and nerve damage in her face as a result of the abuse.

Another female soldier alleges that an unnamed Fort Leonard Wood chaplain told her that “it must have been God’s will for her to be raped” and suggested she attend church more often.

THE FISH ROTS FROM THE HEAD

So, after 20 years of reporting on rape in the military, the federal lawsuit filed on Tuesday claims the military is still rife with sexual abuse.  So it’s not just “the animals” in Tahrir Square or in Rwanda, Sudan and the former Yugoslavia where militias are known to have used rape as a weapon of war.

For decades some men in the American military have used rape, sexual assault and harassment as a weapon to keep women from serving alongside them. And it’s been tolerated up the chain of command.

In 1992, our pentagon “handler”, the great Admiral Kendall Pease, made no apologies and helped us make sure our reports were accurate and fairly represented that the number of rapes and assaults mirrored that of the demographic of the civilian population.  Today, my old ABC colleague Geoff Morrel, now a Pentagon spokesman, said in a similar statement, “sexual assault is a wider societal problem,”  and that the issue was “now a command priority.”

It is naive to think anyone can bring an end to rape, a crime we know is an expression of hate, anger and hostility. But overnight, yes overnight the Pentagon can change what happens when this crime is reported in all of the branches of our armed forces.  A new avenue for reporting can be quickly established. A new system for accountability can be quickly put in place.  And victims of sexual assault can be added to the growing list of military personnel who need treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

At the news conference Tuesday, Anuradha Bhagwati, executive director of the Service Women’s Action Network said, “We hear from veterans who are in their 50s and 60s who are still coping with the trauma of having been psychologically and physically tortured.”

Whether it’s a frenzied gang in a revolution square, or an officer on a U.S. Coast Guard base, we should not underestimate the challenges of recovery.

For now, I am wishing Lara Logan, and other other women who have endured a sexual assault a full recovery.

I know Lara will be a survivor, not a victim; I hope we approach her recovery no differently than Gabby Giffords: with full optimism, hope, and universal support, along with the understanding that no matter how courageous a person may be, healing remains a mysterious friend, fiercely independent and regardless of all willful coaching, moves at its own stubborn pace.

Remember that, Mr. Graham.  Demand the fixes, Mr. President.


 


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