Inside 60 Minutes, Logan’s flawed report is seen as the strongest evidence that the most celebrated news program in American TV history has lost its moorings under Fager, tarnished by the kind of partisanship the network has been at pains to avoid since Rather’s downfall.
In fact, one way of looking at Lara Logan’s rise at CBS is as an antidote to the network’s perceived bias. As a journalist, Logan is a product of the Bush years, her career defined by America’s Middle East wars and the military personnel and military contractors who were her sources and friends. For 60 Minutes, she delivered the kind of muscular reports that inoculated CBS against charges of a leftist agenda following the Rather incident, especially valuable in the patriotic climate after 9/11. She was part of the military culture, taking some of the same risks, imbibing its worldview. She also happened to have a telegenic sexual charisma, a highly useful attribute for a woman who wants to succeed in TV journalism. After Fager became chairman of the news division in 2011, he made Logan a permanent member of 60 Minutes, partly on the merit of her profiles of Navy seals and war generals, and partly out of corporate deference to Moonves’s enthusiasm for her.
As Logan rose, however, Fager was left to manage the risk inherent in Moonves’s asset. Logan had a zealousness that could cross the line into recklessness, a confidence that could come off as arrogance. A common view among current and former colleagues (keeping in mind that not-for-attribution backbiting and Schadenfreude are a stock-in-trade of TV news) is that Logan’s star power blinded her superiors to her flaws. “She got everything she wanted, always, even when she was wrong, and that’s been going on since the beginning,” says a former CBS News producer who worked with her.
And, with the wars finally winding down, the 2012 attack in Benghazi became the biggest journalistic prize, with the potential to bring down presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton. It was the kind of story a reporter like Lara Logan would take risks to get.
“It’s not an accident that Lara Logan fucked up,” says a colleague at CBS News. “It was inevitable. Everybody saw this coming.”
If the Bush wars were what forged Logan as a journalist, what molded her as a person was a more intimate conflict. She came from a well-off South African family, one of three children, that was torn apart when her father, a textile importer, confessed to having a child by another woman when Logan was 8. The divorce devastated her mother and threw her family into disarray. “I learned about betrayal and dishonesty,” Logan once told a newspaper. “If I appear tough, it’s because I learned at an early age what it means to be vulnerable.”
Her father, perhaps guilty for what he’d done, treated Logan like a “princess,” she told a friend, adding, “I’ll always be a princess.”
She got her college degree in South Africa while working part time as a newspaper reporter and also earning money as a swimsuit model. In the mid-1990s, after a stint working for Reuters, she made her way to London. In the late ’90s, she worked as a stringer for CNN during the conflict in the Balkans, but she rarely got on the air, eclipsed by Amanpour, who Logan believed purposefully stifled her chances. Around the same time, she married an American who played in the British Basketball League.
Logan didn’t attract much attention until she began working for a “breakfast show” in Britain called GMTV. When Al Qaeda attacked New York on 9/11, prompting the invasion of Afghanistan, Logan realized that it was the story of her career. She persuaded her superiors to let her cover the war, and they assented. She flew to Afghanistan and ultimately made her way to Kabul, where she rented an apartment, hired her own driver and security man, and began chasing war stories. It was daring and dangerous work, especially for a Western woman in an Islamic country. She told a British tabloid that members of the Northern Alliance attempted to “have their way” with her. But Logan was unfazed. “I have men who work for me who would not go where she went,” says Peter McHugh, a former director of GMTV. “I was astonished. I was frightened for her and concerned for us.”
From the start, she had two qualities that seemed to mix profitably, if uneasily: exceptional courage—and, of course, her looks. In London, she’d become a local sensation when the tabloids published swimsuit pictures of her and dubbed her “34D Lara.” In 2002, British newspapers claimed she wore a low-cut top and “flashed her cleavage” at soldiers in Afghanistan. One story was titled “Put Those Bazookas Away, Lara.”