National Press Club

CBS' Logan urges deeper coverage of foreign conflicts at Kalb Report

November 10, 2011 | By Gil Klein |

CBS correspondent Lara Logan talks with Kalb Report host Marvin Kalb on Monday, Nov. 7.

CBS correspondent Lara Logan talks with Kalb Report host Marvin Kalb on Monday, Nov. 7.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Reporters need to spend more time on the ground in conflict zones to get the real war stories, CBS New chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan in a wide-ranging conversation with Marvin Kalb at Monday's Kalb Report.
Logan minced no words. Logan, who is also a correspondent for 60 Minutes, offered tough assessments of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the deterioration of international news coverage and the treatment Gen. Stanley McCrystal suffered at the hands of the news media.
And she talked about the impact the near-fatal attack on her while covering the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt has had on her career.
Too much international news is reported from talking heads in Washington and from news correspondents who parachute in for short periods of time and act like they know what is happening, she said. The South African-born Logan said she likes to immerse herself in a conflict because it is something larger than herself that no one would understand unless she reports on it.
“If you haven’t had time to taste the dirt of Afghanistan with Afghan people, if you haven’t had time to bleed in that dirt – and by bleed I don’t mean literally – I don’t think you have a true understanding,” she said.
War coverage has been “patchy,” she said, because there’s a notion that the American people don’t want more news on the conflicts.
“There’s a lack of commitment, and I think this idea that war turns people off is nonsense,” she said. 60 Minutes has reported consistently and repeatedly on the war and our ratings have never suffered for it.”
Logan called the Iraq war an “abject failure.”
“The true depth of the failure of the Iraq invasion has never been honestly and openly talked about,” she said. “It empowered Iran to a degree we have never been honest about, and it did nothing to serve American interests.”
At the same time, she said, the United States has not been honest about the cost of the wars to the American soldier.
“Has anyone been to Walter Reed in this room?” she asked referring to the military hospital. “Has anyone seen what the debris of this war, the human debris, really looks like? … If you are going to go to war, you better go to war and you better win. But if you’re not, if you’re just going to loiter on the battlefield and mess around with one disastrous political strategy after another, then get the hell out because you have no right to ask people to go fight in your name because you’re lying to them.”
In Afghanistan, she said the U.S. government’s failure has been not taking the war to the enemy who is controlling it.
“The enemy is not in Afghanistan,” she said. “The expendable people are in Afghanistan. The real enemy is across the border in Pakistan. As long as you are not going after the command and control and the true source of the enemy … then you have no business being in the fight.”
About 24 to 48 hours of drone attacks on the right targets would take out the command and control, she said, but the U.S. government has not been willing to do that for political reasons.
“You send a message to the Pakistanis that putting American bodies in Arlington Cemetery is not an acceptable form of foreign policy,” she said.
Logan questioned whether the Rolling Stone article about Gen. Stanley McCrystal that led to President Obama firing him was true.
“I think there was something dishonest about that article,” she said. “I don’t care what Rolling Stone says. And if I weren’t on television, I’d tell them what they could do with themselves.”
During her coverage of the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt, Logan was accosted by a mob of Egyptian men in Tahrir Square who sexually assaulted and beat her before she was rescued by a group of women.
“When you come that close to dying – and that doesn’t really describe it because I’ve said I was in the process of dying. I was already half dead before it stopped, and somehow I lived,” she said “And so I look at my children now, and I look at my husband, and I think, ‘How could I do that to them?’”
The attack did not dull her passion for combat reporting.
“If I didn’t have husband and two small children, I’d be in Afghanistan right now,” she said. “You would need an armored division to dislodge me. And I believe you would see some reporting that you are not seeing now.”
The Kalb Report is a joint venture of the National Press Club, George Washington University and the Joan Shorenstein Center for the Press, Politics and Public Policy. The show is underwritten by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.