Eleven years ago, the 60 Minutes correspondent Lara Logan was sitting in the InterContinental hotel in Amman, Jordan, watching her career flash before her eyes.
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 three 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.” Jones, 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. Her 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.