There’s a piece running over at Salon right now by Alex Pareene, one of the site’s few bright spots these days, that asks what should be a pretty unremarkable question given the circumstances: how can CBS possibly not fire Lara Logan? The correct answer from an ethical standpoint, of course, is that there’s no way Logan should escape from this monumental public fuck-up with her job at CBS intact. She wasn’t simply the face of the entirely discredited Benghazi piece that accused the President of the United States essentially of lying to the American people, some talking head brought in to track the work of an anonymous staffer at the last minute; she was at the helm of it alongside her producer, Max McClellan, for more than a year. And yet either through gross negligence or intentional dishonesty and obfuscation, they both botched the story and Logan was forced to issue an on-air apology and retraction for it. In a just universe, neither of them survive this at 60 Minutes or CBS News.
But there’s a nearly 100% chance that Lara Logan isn’t going anywhere, and the reason why is as simple as it is unfortunate: she’s a star — a big, bright, beautiful star.
In the eyes of a television executive, Logan is a one-in-a-million TV newsperson: smart, tough and, yes, incredibly easy on the eyes. The last part of this equation may sound somewhat sexist and if so, good, because it is — but never forget that it’s also true: Logan owes her largely unassailable status at 60 Minutes and CBS News to the fact that she has the ability to back up the looks and the looks to top off the ability. If Logan possessed every single quality as a journalist she already does but wasn’t also a former model, she’d be as vulnerable as most other journalists would be right now were they in her position. Logan’s “total package” prestige makes her something more than simply another television newsperson. She’s a celebrity, a pop culture figure, and CBS News executives know they can’t get rid of her because doing so would simply allow another network to scoop her up and use her against their product. As I’ve said before many times, scandal doesn’t stick these days — our attention spans are too short — and someone like Lara Logan would be ripe for redemption and forgiveness by the public. Better CBS benefits from that redemption than another network.
I do understand that this is both unfair and, again, undeniably sexist, but it’s the visual medium of television we’re talking about and anyone who tells you that looks don’t matter — particularly a woman’s looks — is lying. The business is, ironically, ugly as hell.
Logan holds an elevated place at CBS News because she sells tickets, and while there’s certainly plenty of fuel for speculation as to what CBS News might be hiding that’s even more damning than mistakenly calling the Obama administration liars, the fact is Logan very likely won’t be taking the rap for any of it. She should — but she won’t. She’s simply too valuable to the network, even if her journalistic reputation is temporarily tarnished. Lara Logan isn’t a rising star, she’s already arrived, and CBS will do anything to protect her and to keep her in its sky. As for everyone else associated with the bad story, including producer Max McClellan, they may be vulnerable because they’re not Logan but what could keep them in place is what I wrote about yesterday:60 Minutes simply doesn’t worry too much about taking fire from the left or center, only the right. 60 Minutes EP and CBS News chairman Jeff Fager knows that anyone sacrificed over this will be held up as a martyr on the right and, again, will be in a position to be scooped up and used against the network. There are political considerations overriding ethical ones.
One more thing, and to that last point: Not long after the Benghazi siege, Lara Logan spoke at a forum in Chicago. There she seemed to indicate that she had strong personal beliefs about the attack and what the Obama administration’s role in it might have been and she made one comment that’s really worth revisiting right about now. About a story she’d covered in Afghanistan, she said, “There is a distinction between investigating something to find out what the real situation is and trying to prove something that you believe is true. And those are two very different things. The second, it was my boss Jeff Fager who kindly reminded me of that fact at a certain point in the process, and he was absolutely right about that.” In other words, as I’ve said over and over again when discussing the work of Glenn Greenwald, as a journalist you can’t work backward from a conclusion you’re convinced of. That will indelibly taint that work and make it immediately susceptible to suspicion.
With that in mind, it’s not at all beyond the pale to ask whether Logan’s own beliefs about Benghazi may have infected her reporting. Whether it was Logan who fought to ensure that Dylan Davies’s nonsense story was given the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, all we can do at this point is speculate since CBS News isn’t saying a word about what really went wrong. It also hardly matters given that CBS News almost certainly wouldn’t make Logan pay for it regardless.
Chez Pazienza was the beating heart of The Daily Banter, sadly passing away on February 25, 2017. His voice remains ever present at the Banter, and his influence as powerful as ever.