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Bad coverage is still a free self propaganda: And Lara Logan, Benghazi, the Bombshell …

Eleven years ago, the 60 Minutes correspondent Lara Logan was sitting in the Inter Continental hotel in Amman, Jordan, watching her career flash before her eyes.

Joe Hagan published this May 4, 2014

Benghazi and the Bombshell

Is Lara Logan too toxic to return to 60 Minutes

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She was 31 years old, a rookie at CBS News, assigned to cover the biggest story on earth: the invasion of Iraq.

But nothing was going as planned. With only days until the American invasion, Logan had been forced to leave Baghdad and was desperate to get back before the war began, but she and her crew, because of the dangers of the imminent “shock and awe” bombing campaign, were forbidden from going by the network.

That’s when she heard about a convoy of French reporters making the trek to Baghdad.

“She called me several times, begging to go with us,” recalls Laura Haim, a French TV journalist. But the French decided it was too dangerous having an American broadcaster onboard, even if she was South African. “I said, ‘No way.’ ”

Fluent in three foreign languages, Logan begged in French.

Logan had labored tirelessly for this chance, spending several months in Kabul during the invasion of Afghanistan and heedlessly throwing herself into danger for the camera to deliver raw reportage to the CBS Evening News and 60 Minutes II, the spinoff version of the Sunday program.

Her work had earned her notice at the highest levels of the network. CBS chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves, from his perch in Los Angeles, viewed her steely eyes, breathless delivery, and exotic accent as the raw material of a future star.

So Logan had strategized with her agent to make the biggest possible splash in Baghdad—a replay of Christiane Amanpour’s star turn at CNN during the first Gulf War.

Days later, as American bombs rained down on Iraq, the French reporter was startled to see Lara Logan standing in the lobby of the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad. “Look, I made it!” she declared.

Two Iraqi fixers had smuggled her across the border, making her the only major American network-TV staff broadcaster in the country when the war began.

“I was really impressed by her courage,” says Haim. “It was not bullshit. She really wanted to do things to make a name.”

Logan was launched. She became chief foreign correspondent in only 3 years and a top correspondent on 60 Minutes two years after that.

But last fall, after a deeply flawed 60 Minutes report on the attack in Benghazi, Libya, the trajectory of her career, along with that of CBS’s flagship news show, changed abruptly.

Logan and 60 Minutes had been searching for a new angle on the Benghazi story for the better part of a year, and finally one seemed to arrive.

The break in the story came from a hulking, goateed former military contractor who called himself “Morgan Jones.” J

ones, whose real name is Dylan Davies, told Logan an emotional tale of witnessing the attack firsthand—climbing an embassy wall in order to engage the combatants, then stepping into the breach as Washington dithered.

Relentlessly hyped in the days leading up to the broadcast, the story fit broadly into the narrative the right had been trying for months to build of a White House and State Department oblivious to the dangers of Al Qaeda, feckless in their treatment of their soldiers and diplomats, then covering up their incompetence.

It was soon revealed to be made up almost of whole cloth. Davies, who worked for a security firm called Blue Mountain, had invented the story to sell a book.

For 60 Minutes and Logan, it was a stunning error, of a sort that can quickly corrode the brand of a show like 60 Minutes. And the scandal was an oddly precise echo of “Rathergate,” when Dan Rather, at the Wednesday edition of 60 Minutes in 2004, used memos of dubious provenance in a report on George W. Bush’s Texas Air National Guard service.

In the aftermath of the Benghazi report, the problems with its sourcing were glaring, the kind that should have raised red flags. Logan’s interview subject happened to be selling a book on a politically conservative imprint owned by CBS News’s own parent company.

After defending the report for more than a week, Logan was forced to apologize and later take an indefinite leave of absence while CBS conducted an internal inquiry.

Logan’s colleagues, including veteran CBS correspondents Steve Kroft and Bob Simon, were apoplectic about the damage to 60 Minutes’ reputation.

Morley Safer, the only founding member of the cast left on the 45-year-old program, went into the office of CBS News chairman and 60 Minutes executive producer Jeff Fager’s office last fall and demanded that he fire Logan.

But Fager (who declined to comment for this story) refused. Instead, he said that Logan will return sometime this year. His decision sent a ripple of discontent through CBS News, prompting questions about Fager’s judgment.

And as the months have rolled on, Logan’s return appears less and less certain.

Israeli Government suppressing 60 Minutes broadcast…

MJ Rosenberg posted (paragraphs between parenthesis are mine):

As one who has been harping for years on the Israel lobby’s unique ability to silence critics of Israeli policies, (critics working in politics, the media, academie or anywhere else…), I can’t say that I am surprised by the brouhaha surrounding Sunday’s 60 Minutes broadcast of a Bob Simon report on the treatment of Palestinian Christians.

It was a powerful segment which revealed that the Christian population has diminished dramatically in recent years as Palestinians left for other countries.

The exodus is not the result of Israeli policies that specifically target Christians and drive them from the place Christianity began. It is rather the oppressive policies toward Palestinians in general, policies that do not distinguish between Palestinian Muslims and Palestinian Christians, that have caused the Christian population to drop so dramatically.

(In 1967, Christians constituted 5 percent of Jerusalem’s population; today Christians constitute just 1.5 percent. Bethlehem, not long ago an overwhelmingly Christian city, is now hardly Christian at all).

None of this should be a surprise, given the incessant growth of Israeli settlements and the construction of the separation walls which, between them, have caused Palestinians of all persuasions to live literally between a rock and a hard place.

(Actually, Israel built two walls and starting to build a third on Lebanon borders. You have the Wall of Shame (of about 800 kilometers) erected on what is supposed to be the legal separation borders between the occupied West Bank and Israel proper and usurping Palestinian lands and cutting Palestinian towns and cities in half…, and the wall on Egypt’s borders separating Israel and the Sinai Peninsula in Gaza…) 

(Practically, Israel is reverting to the ghetto mentality so that “Out of sight, No see Palestinians, No mingling with Palestinians… Thus, no threats, no fear, do not exist occupied population…The walls are not for security reasons or for defensive means…just preventing the Israelis from seeing Palestinians under occupation…)

Christians, many of whom have relatives abroad, leave because they have places to go. But there is hardly a Palestinian, Christian or Muslim, who hasn’t considered getting out, given the miserable conditions the occupation has inflicted on them, and the end of any hope that U.S. pressure on Israel will lead to it ending its illegal occupation of the West Bank.

The 60 Minutes report caused the Israeli government to go ballistic, even before it aired. In fact, it tried hard to stop it from being broadcast.

That is because the Israeli government and its advocates here have portrayed the Christian exodus as the result of Muslim discrimination, and not the burdens of the occupation.

But 60 Minutes demonstrated how false that story line is. It does that not by interviewing Israeli government officials but by actually talking to Palestinians, none of whom mention Muslim discrimination, but all of whom talk about how the occupation is making their lives a living hell.

But the Israeli government’s problems with the segment go far beyond that.

Ever since the Likud party first came to power in 1977, Israeli propagandists have managed to successfully convince conservative American Christians that their counterparts in the Holy Land are Israelis, whose military power protects them from the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism.

 But then along came 60 Minutes, which revealed to millions of American viewers (it was the sixth highest rated show last week) that, in fact, their counterparts are Palestinian Christians who are being squeezed out by the Israeli authorities and especially by the entire settlement enterprise, which is gobbling up their land, homes, and ability to travel from one town to another.

Suddenly, Israel would have a more difficult time claiming the mantle of defender of Christians in Israel and the occupied territories.

The Israeli government perceived the threat to its propaganda line even before the show was aired and called the top brass at CBS to demand that its representative Ambassador Michael Oren be invited to participate, and offer the government’s rebuttal. CBS agreed and the government was no doubt pleased that he would be able to neutralize the report.

That is not how it worked out, as can be seen in the televised segment. Oren, predictably, first attacked the report as biased against Israel and Jews. Correspondent Simon responded that the information he relied on “was endorsed by the leaders of 13 Christian denominations including Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican.”

Oren: “These are denominations who have been exceedingly critical of the State of Israel. And sometimes to the point of going beyond legitimate criticism. And so —

Simon: What does that mean to go beyond….

Oren: Well, I think —

Simon: — legitimate criticism?

Oren: Accusing us — of crimes that would be very, I think, historically associated with anti-Semitism.

Nothing unusual about that. Israeli spokespersons invariably dismiss criticism of its government policies as anti-Israel and/or anti-Semitic.

But then came something rather different:

Oren: It seemed to me outrageous. Completely incomprehensible that at a time when these communities, Christian communities throughout the Middle East are being oppressed and massacred, when churches are being burnt, when one of the great stories in history is unfolding? I think it’s– I think it’s– I think you got me a little bit mystified.

Simon: And it was a reason to call the president of– chairman of CBS News?

Oren: Bob, I’m the ambassador of the State of Israel. I do that very, very infrequently as ambassador. It’s just– that’s an extraordinary move for me to complain about something. When I heard that you were going to do a story about Christians in the Holy Land and my assumption– and– and had, I believe, information about the nature of it, and it’s been confirmed by this interview today.

Simon: Nothing’s been confirmed by the interview, Mr. Ambassador, because you don’t know what’s going to be put on air.

Oren: Okay. I don’t. True.

Simon: Mr. Ambassador, I’ve been doing this a long time. And I’ve received lots of reactions from just about everyone I’ve done stories about. But I’ve never gotten a reaction before from a story that hasn’t been broadcast yet.

Oren: Well, there’s a first time for everything, Bob.

Always a first time. In other words, the Israeli government intends to continue its efforts to intimidate the media into shelving stories it perceives as critical of Israel, even before it knows what is in the story. In legal terms, this is what is called “prior restraint.”

Of course, this is far from the first time. Every journalist knows that writing or producing news pieces critical of Israel is a sure recipe for trouble. Usually the trouble does not come directly from the Israeli government (with the prime minister’s support).

Usually it comes from the Israel lobby, which organizes campaigns to stop a show from airing or to threaten punishment after the fact.

That happened in this case too when the largest Jewish charity in the world, the Jewish Federations of North America, sent out the following emergency email to its affiliates and members urging that the community do everything it can to stop CBS.

“We hope that CBS will be flooded with responses through their in-boxes, Facebook, Twitter and mail after the program to express discontent if it is as biased as we anticipate.”

That is how it works. Criticize Israel and you’ll be attacked as anti-Israel, anti-Semitic, or worse.

This explains what Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman, the New York Times columnist, was alluding to the other day when he explained why he avoids writing about Israel at all.

“The truth is that like many liberal American Jews — and most American Jews are still liberal — I basically avoid thinking about where Israel is going. It seems obvious from here that the narrow-minded policies of the current government are basically a gradual, long-run form of national suicide — and that’s bad for Jews everywhere, not to mention the world. But I have other battles to fight, and to say anything to that effect is to bring yourself under intense attack from organized groups that try to make any criticism of Israeli policies tantamount to anti-Semitism…”

In other words, even a figure as distinguished, well-known and influential as Paul Krugman fears to tangle with the lobby. I don’t blame him.

His issue is income inequality in America and the economics of greed that is destroying the American Dream, along with the reality. He cannot, and should not, get bogged down in a battle with modern-day McCarthyists who will seek to destroy his influence on the subject that matters to him most.

But isn’t it terrible that this is where we are today.

There is no other issue like this — not abortion, unions, nuclear power, climate change, guns, equal rights, big or small government, taxes, racism — about which people on either side are actually intimidated into silence. Not one, except Israel.

How long can this go on? One thing is certain: it won’t go on forever.

MJ Rosenberg on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mjayrosenberg

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