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Looks can apparently kill…

ajosephs Icon Posted by Ammu Joseph

February 28th, 2011

The sexual assault and battering to which South African broadcast journalist, Lara Logan, was subjected in Egypt on 11 February generated reports and commentary replete with sexism, racism and Islamophobia, among other such charming beliefs and attitudes.

For the record, Logan, who has reported on conflict in several global hot-spots, including Afghanistan and Iraq, is currently Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent for CBS News (see CBS statement). She was in Cairo’s Tahrir Square that day covering the story of Hosni Mubarak’s resignation and the ensuing public celebrations for “60 Minutes.”

She is also a member of the board of the Committee to Protect Journalists. According to a CPJ statement, she is “a brilliant, courageous, and committed reporter” who serves on their Journalist Assistance Committee, which oversees financial and other support to journalists around the world who have been victims of violence and repression.

An amazing number of writers seemed to think Logan’s appearance was somehow critical to the story.

In a blog headlined “Lara Logan, CBS Reporter and Warzone ‘It Girl,’ Raped…” Simone Wilson not only referred to the journalist’s “shocking good looks” and “Hollywood good looks” but described her as the “gutsy stunner” and “60 Minutes firecracker.” She also quoted from a 2008 tabloid report on “the sexy CBS siren’s” private life.

For Jim Hoft, who wanted to know why “this attractive blonde female reporter” wandered into Tahrir Square that Friday, Logan’s experience also provided an opportunity to highlight the perils of political correctness, suggesting that “her liberal belief system almost got her killed.”

Another blogger posted an unrelated photograph of Logan (obviously dressed for an evening out rather than for work) to propose that “you mess with the bulls, you get the horns.” A number of other media also used the same, inappropriate photograph.

Fortunately, quite a few writers – and, reassuringly, many members of the media consuming public – criticised such ridiculous coverage of a serious, violent crime. “What’s blonde got to do with it?” asked Shannon Galpin.

Mary Elizabeth Williams’ piece was headlined “What not to say about Lara Logan.”

Amanda Marcotte found that much of the coverage was “Adding insult to Lara Logan’s injury.”

Kim Barker, in her piece headlined “Female foreign correspondents’ code of silence, finally broken,” made a broader point about the possible impact of Logan’s experience on women journalists and the important contribution they make to reporting on conflict.

Logan’s decision to break the silence may well lead to change. In the wake of her experience, a senior editor at CPJ posted a blog on “Documenting sexual violence against journalists.” The International News Safety Institute has now issued a Safety Advisory for Female Journalists (which could do with some improvement).

Meanwhile, several commentators also took on the racism and Islamophobia evident in much of the coverage. A piece titled “The marriage of sexism and Islamophobia; Re-making the news on Egypt” offers a thought-provoking perspective.

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