Joanna Weiss

Lara Logan’s courage

Logan in Cairo’s Tahrir Square before she was assaulted. Logan in Cairo’s Tahrir Square before she was assaulted. (Reuters/ CBS News)
By Joanna Weiss
Globe Columnist / May 4, 2011

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ONE OF the most gratifying things about the TV coverage the night Osama bin Laden died — beyond the obvious, of course — was watching Lara Logan on CBS.

Hours earlier, the network’s chief foreign correspondent had been the subject of a harrowing, pretaped “60 Minutes’’ profile, in which she recounted her February attack at the hands of a Cairo mob. Describing an unfathomable physical and sexual assault, Logan looked shaken, but poised — not fragile, but not fixed.

When she appeared on live TV a few hours later, talking about Afghanistan and Pakistan, Logan seemed different: Animated, credible, secure. It was a reminder of who she was before the attack: a war correspondent, good at what she does, experienced and brave and strong.

One striking thing about Logan’s “60 Minutes’’ account was the extent to which, at certain times, she blamed herself for weakness. When she thought she would die during the brutal attack, she chastised herself for not putting up more of a fight. When she thinks about returning to war zone coverage, she said in outtakes posted online, she laments the fact that she has “a fear now in me that I never had before.’’

Bravery, accompanied by a certain recklessness, is a hallmark for war correspondents — and for all journalists who risk physical harm, anywhere, in pursuit of a story. Being an outside observer brings an odd sense of security. In recent months, we’ve seen evidence of how false that sense can be. And in a part of the world that dehumanizes women, female reporters face a greater risk.

And yet if women go to those places and are harmed, they fear it will be seen a sign of weakness. Logan said she wanted to lift a “code of silence’’ for female reporters, who worry that acknowledging harassment or assaults might prevent women from the chance to do this kind of meaningful work.

Those worries are valid, it’s clear. Logan and her crew went to Egypt with plenty of precautions, including a local fixer and an experienced security guard. Still, news of her attack was followed by an outpouring of questions and doubts. Was she too female to report in Egypt? Too attractive? Too blonde? Too selfish, because — like many male war correspondents — she has kids? Too brazenly dressed in Western clothes, instead of covered head-to-toe in a veil?

Alas, rape survivors face those kinds of questions wherever they are, said James Ptacek, a sociologist at Suffolk University. When a woman he knows was raped in Cambridge, he said, her friends’ initial reaction was anger at her — for walking where she walked, allowing this to happen. It was a way to shield themselves from a more uncomfortable truth, Ptacek said: That this could have happened to them, too.

Logan’s story is a powerful reminder of that truth. It sheds a light on how women across the world are treated daily, and how far women in this country have to go. And while it shouldn’t be the first thing people think of when they see her on TV, the fact that it happened — and that she was brave enough to talk about it — makes her a stronger reporter, not a weaker one.

She will never be the same, but she will always be a foreign correspondent. It’s a life she chose, with its risks and significant rewards, and it’s a life she shouldn’t have to give up because of others’ animal behavior. So there’s no reason why, when and if she feels ready, Logan shouldn’t go back.

Rape survivors heal by returning to their lives, said Gina Scaramella, executive director of the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center. “They want to be defined by the things that they love . . . and the things that make them feel like a worthwhile, competent person. So the idea that she would give that up, based on a traumatic incident, is just shortsighted.’’

Nobody wants to feel weak. Everyone wants to feel strong. The jubilation in the streets after bin Laden’s death was a symbol of a national transition: a nation that had felt vulnerable now felt powerful again. Lara Logan, for enduring, healing, and moving forward, deserves to feel powerful, too.

Joanna Weiss can be reached at