Never Wear a Ponytail
Lara Logan's courageous revelation of the sexual assault she suffered at the hands of an Egyptian mob has cast a light on a different "don't ask/don't tell." The not uncommon assaults of female reporters. No ever one asked -- and they didn't tell.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, of which CBS's Logan is member of the Board of Directors, reports 140 journalists have been attacked since January 30th, when the unrest began. There has been plenty of speculation about why CBS chose to go public with the nature of the attack on Logan. I'll leave that to the speculators. But Lara, whom I have never met, but long admired, has hugely advanced the mission of putting light to truth in doing so.
You must read this fascinating piece on a Forbes magazine blog, written by Judith Matloff, an adjunct professor of journalism at Columbia University, and former foreign correspondent. She's worked in Rwanda, Chenya, and the Sudan -- and has worked alongside Logan.
She writes of the "safety training" news personnel are given prior to dangerous postings. It's important information, to be sure -- but she points out what's missing: the mention of the possibility of rape and anything that would help a female journalist minimize her chances of being assaulted. And as Matloff discovered when she turned her investigative eye toward this taboo topic, women journalists ARE assaulted. She talks of her own near miss when she and another woman were being forced by cops in Angola into a darkened building, only to be saved when a priest happened to intervene.
When asked, several female journalists who've seen action abroad admitted they had been victimized. The perpetrators? A Russian paramilitary, an Angolan translator, a hired security guard, gangs of thugs. These are news stories you never heard about.
From her own first-hand knowledge, Matloff offers safety tips to the hundreds of women reporting in harm's way: keep spray deoderant on the bedside table to spray in an assailant's face; defecate on yourself if attacked, barricade your hotel room with furniture and -- "wear a whistle, but never a ponytail." It's sensible advice, but not nearly enough to keep one secure.
Any journalist who covers incendiary situations knowingly takes on a certain amount of risk. it's inherent in the nature of the story. Female journalists know there is the possibility of added risk because of their gender and they take that on knowingly as well.
Lara Logan's attack will inevitably renew the debate about women working in dangerous situations. It's a moot point because that's not going to change. We've earned our right to report from wherever the story happens and with two decades of wartime experience, Logan is among the best. What has also been earned is the right to be armed with information and personnel to enhance one's security in the field. I say enhance, not assure. We know that's not possible.
Oh -- and there's one more thing that's been earned the hard way: The public's appreciation of the value of solid, boots-on-the-ground reporting. Logan's victimization and that of the 140+ other reporters who were attacked 'just doing their jobs,' should serve as a reminder that what's happening elsewhere in the world has meaning and bearing on our lives -- much more so than anything Mr. Sheen and Ms. Lohan might have done that also made headlines.