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.
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.”
Logan protested these reports as sexist. But she was also open-eyed about the uses of sex in her profession—it was a tactic, and not to use it would be stupid. “Men play on the military thing, they play on the macho thing, they play on the brotherhood thing,” she told a reporter. “No one accuses them of using gender to their advantage. The fact is that sometimes being a woman can open doors for you, but more often than not it makes things more difficult.”
In truth, Logan understood the value of the publicity and regularly gave exclusives to theMirror, including one that read, “Here’s a sight that would stop the Taliban in its tracks. War reporter Lara Logan relaxes on a deck chair in a sizzling swimsuit.”
She told a friend that she once tipped off a photographer about her lingerie on a laundry line so he could take a picture.
This would be a theme in Logan’s career, how her beauty cut several ways. Men who did what Logan did in the war zone were hailed for bravery and virtuous machismo, while Logan was critiqued for the same thing. She deployed her beauty to charm and persuade colleagues and sources to great effect—but the effectiveness didn’t prevent co-workers and competitors from calling her a lightweight.
The trip to Kabul quickly paid dividends. Logan started reporting for CBS as a radio stringer. In November 2001, when the Taliban’s grip on the capital was loosened, there were no CBS reporters on hand except Lara Logan. She found a satellite and made a segment for the evening news. Producers in New York had never laid eyes on Logan, but when she appeared onscreen she instantly caught the attention of the executive producer of the CBS Evening News, Jim Murphy, who phoned CBS News president Andrew Heyward to alert him.
Initially, Heyward didn’t act on the tip—and was soon in the position of having to bid for her contract against every other network that noticed what Murphy noticed: a captivating beauty with a smoldering presence in the war zone. Logan was picked up by a powerful agent, Carole Cooper, and soon had a full-time contract at CBS for a reported $1 million, which included work at the Wednesday spinoff of 60 Minutes.
As Ed Bradley, the late 60 Minutes correspondent and a strong advocate of Logan’s, memorably if crudely observed, “She’s got tits and balls.”
But Logan was still a raw talent, inexperienced at storytelling and considered difficult by some producers. Her almost insatiable stomach for risk made many of her colleagues uncomfortable. One of her security detail was shot during a trip to Pakistan to see an Al Qaeda training camp. And Logan often flouted traditional Islamic dress codes: At an Afghan election rally for Hamid Karzai, Logan wore blue jeans and a white T-shirt in the makeshift press cordon, which was surrounded by mobs of men. Her crew became nervous, afraid she was attracting undue attention from the aggressive and all-male crowd. Logan herself seemed oblivious. When Karzai finished his speech and left, most of the security decamped and left Logan and her crew exposed to the crowd’s jeers. According to two people familiar with the incident, Logan’s crew had to surround her and “battle” their way to safety.
Other such incidents followed. After a time, cameramen in the London bureau of CBS News refused to work with her. “The crews in London revolted,” says a CBS executive. “They thought she was dangerous and she was going to get somebody killed.”
Logan had to combat considerable skepticism—and sexism—among veteran news people at CBS. Don Hewitt, the founder of 60 Minutes, had told a story of a time when Logan came to him for advice. He recounted that he told her she was not up to 60 Minutes’ standards and needed voice training to get rid of her accent. When she replied that she had been getting training for two years, he said simply, “Then there’s no hope.”
Hewitt refused to put her on the flagship program. Fager, Hewitt’s chosen successor, thought she needed work. And the executive producer of 60 Minutes II, Josh Howard, only gave her lightweight stories on the spinoff program. Says a former female CBS colleague: “She was a great-looking woman, which means you have to prove yourself doubly and triply.”
But even the skeptics had to admit she had an exceptional work ethic. “On any day, when the normal person put in 12 hours, Logan put in 20,” says a former CBS colleague. “She was passionate and indefatigable. She went after the story and had more heart for the story than many people in the organization.”
And just as important was the enthusiasm of Moonves. “The only person who pushed Lara on Don [Hewitt] was Les,” says a CBS staffer familiar with those events. “He said that Moonves loved her.”
Logan was not shy about letting people know she had a direct line to the boss. “She was very fond of saying, ‘I could end your career with a phone call,’ ” says a former CBS producer.
After the Iraq invasion, even Rather came to see her as a competitor, edging Logan off the air after the Iraqi capital was secured and he could safely broadcast from a fortified compound. When the story on prison abuses inside Abu Ghraib broke, Logan tried to cover it but was told to stand down—it was Rather’s story.
Rather, of course, was soon sidelined by Rathergate, which precipitated the end of his career and prompted a reorganization of the CBS News division that had the effect of buoying Logan’s career. Moonves appointed Sean McManus, a sports broadcasting executive, president of CBS News in 2005, and McManus immediately revamped the foreign coverage to make Logan a star correspondent.
Nobody thought of Lara Logan as particularly political, though producers and crew members I spoke with said she came to stories with strong biases, in keeping with the British press style she cut her teeth on. In some cases, her biases proved correct, like her insistence that Pakistan was a safe haven for terrorists, even as the U.S. government maintained that Pakistan was an ally. But Logan, and 60 Minutes, were partial to stories of military valor and combat—especially if Logan could co-star in them, which she often did, walking alongside generals and combat troops with whom she was embedded.
Her reputation began to precede her, not only within CBS, where she offended sensibilities by once showing up in a black bustier, but in the military camps where she courted sources. On a list of the top ten reasons to be deployed in Iraq that circulated among soldiers, “Lara Logan in a T-shirt” was ranked high. General David Petraeus had a picture of her in his office. Her proximity to the top brass and her devotion to military interests led to exclusives, like her 2006 interview with General John Abizaid, then the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, who described in emotional terms what it was like trying to manage a war with deteriorating support as Logan listened raptly.
Logan was soon running what amounted to her own CBS fiefdom in Baghdad. Her personal life was tightly woven into the tiny subculture of fellow foreign correspondents and the security contractors on whom they relied. Logan traveled with a team of former British special-forces soldiers employed by a security firm called Pilgrims Group, which guarded CBS’s bureau in Baghdad and ferried Logan to dangerous locales as well as more prosaic duties. She began an affair with Michael Ware, a swashbuckling correspondent for Time and CNN known for his emotional reportage from the streets of Baghdad.
Logan built a domestic existence in Washington, D.C., with Burkett, whom she married around the time they had their first child. But she regularly flew overseas for war stories and was on the front news lines of the uprisings in Egypt that were part of the Arab Spring. It was the kind of story Logan lived for, charged with danger and historic import. But now she was a mother, and the chaos in Egypt created a dangerous and fluid situation for journalists. In early February, when President Hosni Mubarak attempted to crack down on the press, Anderson Cooper reported on CNN the harrowing tale of being attacked by a mob. A day later, an ABC News crew was carjacked and threatened with beheading. Logan was warned not to leave her hotel.
“She was told 15 different ways: ‘Do not leave the hotel after curfew,’ and she did,” says a person familiar with the events that transpired next. On February 3, Logan was detained by Egyptian security forces. Her Egyptian driver was badly beaten. The next day, she and her producer, Max McClellan, left the country.
Logan campaigned to go back as soon as possible. And about a week after leaving, Logan flew back to Cairo, unable to resist covering the events in Tahrir Square, which was now a powerful 24/7 spectacle.
She would later recount what happened next: She and her crew began to receive verbal threats from the crowd, which grew increasingly restive and violent. Logan said she was separated from her handlers and then assaulted by a mob of men who ripped off her clothes and groped her. “I didn’t want to let go of him,” she said of her bodyguard. “I thought I was going to die if I lost hold of him.” She was separated from her crew for 25 minutes, until a group of women and some Egyptian soldiers in the square came to her rescue, she later said.
It was around this time that her political beliefs began to be expressed more openly. When the late Michael Hastings wrote a story in Rolling Stone about General Stanley McChrystal, exposing offhand criticisms of Barack Obama over Afghanistan and leading to the general’s ouster, Logan went on CNN to defend the general—and attack Hastings as a dishonest reporter who had tricked McChrystal. “I don’t go around in my personal life pretending to be one thing and then being something else,” she said. “I find it egregious that anyone would do that in their professional life.
“Michael Hastings,” she added, “has never served his country the way Commander McChrystal has.”
Her colleagues at CBS News were appalled by Logan’s foray into punditry. But Logan felt emboldened now, making sure to let people know that her war reporting made her a serious person. “I mean, politics are critically important, but it doesn’t burn that fire the way it does to be out there in the most impossible situation,” she said in an interview. “Doing something that is truly the difference between life and death.
“I’ve acquired a reputation for having some depth of knowledge,” she said.
Asked whether journalists should give their opinions, as Logan was doing, she said, “I think when you are asked for your opinions, you should be entitled to give it and not be vilified for giving it.”
Then, at a Chicago luncheon for the Better Government Association in October 2012, she gave a speech claiming the government was propagating a “major lie” about the strength of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. “You’re not listening to what the people who are fighting you say about this fight,” she said. “In your arrogance, you think you write the script.” The speech came on the heels of her report “The Longest War,” about General John Allen’s struggles in Afghanistan—and with his superiors in the Obama administration.
Among her colleagues at 60 Minutes, there was shock that Logan’s expression of her political opinions in public was met with no blowback from management. But it was her CBS bosses who had helped arrange the speech. While Logan spoke without notes, David Rhodes, the president of CBS News, was sitting in the audience listening.
Fager didn’t reprimand Logan. At the time, she was a bright spot for CBS news. She had top sources among the military brass, produced the kind of stories that kept 60 Minutes immune to criticism from the right (Rush Limbaugh hailed her Chicago speech), and was great on TV.
Fager himself had begun to realize that Logan was a risk to be managed. Before her infamous Benghazi report would air, Fager expressed fatalism about her: “Well, we’ve crossed the Rubicon,” he told a colleague.
“I think he meant it literally,” says a CBS insider. “We have passed the point of no return with her. We have created this, and now we have to live with this.”
As President Obama began to wind down American military involvement in the Middle East, both Logan and Burkett remained enmeshed in the social world of former and current military personnel. Burkett started a company with the wife of the man who owned Blue Hackle—which itself now has former general John Abizaid as a board member.
Logan did nonwar stories, but they didn’t garner the same kind of attention. Which is why the attack on Benghazi, with its echoes of 9/11, its cast of Muslim militiamen and shadowy U.S. operatives, offered a return to form. At the time of her speech in Chicago, she had already begun searching for an angle. And while she did so, none of the other 60 Minutes correspondents was allowed to pursue stories on Benghazi. “This was her story, and nobody could do anything on it,” says a 60 Minutes staffer.
Then, after months of Logan coming up empty, McClellan was offered an exclusive look at a book published by Threshold Editions, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Titled The Embassy House, it was written under a pseudonym: Morgan Jones, the cover for the former military contractor named Dylan Davies who purported to be an eyewitness to the Benghazi attack, complete with a ripping tale of smashing the face of an attacker with the butt of an AK-47 and seeing the dead body of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens in the hospital.
Though CBS has said the segment was a year in the making, the book, which Logan and McClellan had obtained in late spring 2013, would become the majority of the broadcast. Which is why it was unusual that the weekend the report aired, four months after getting the book, the 60 Minutes staff treated it like a breaking-news story being assembled in haste, working after hours to get it ready.
Fager delegated the details of vetting the piece to Owens, whom he’d groomed to be his successor at 60 Minutes but whom some CBS colleagues felt was stretched thin by his duties. Because of the short deadline, and because it was a book by a sister company, 60 Minutes’usual fact-checking procedures were not followed. No calls were made to the State Department or the FBI specifically to vet Davies’s claims.
Benghazi had been thoroughly politicized from the beginning. But rather than steering clear of the political battle, Logan headed right toward it, consulting with Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a strong critic of the administration’s handling of the incident whom she’d met once in Afghanistan. “I really didn’t know her until she started doing this piece on Benghazi,” he told me.
The two met two or three times to talk about the Libya attack, with Graham telling Logan that from his point of view, it was “a fair thing to say” that there was a “build-up of Al Qaeda types” in the area—a major talking point for the right in arguments that the Obama White House tried covering up alleged terrorist links.
Graham declared Logan’s report the “death blow” to the Obama administration’s narrative about Benghazi. But doubts about Davies surfaced quickly. The night of the broadcast, October 27, former State Department officials under Hillary Clinton were watching the program with antennae up and exchanged emails. “I think he’s lying his head off about where he was and what he did,” wrote one former official about the man calling himself Morgan Jones. “I mean, 14 months later we’re hearing about this guy for the first time?” The episode set up the inevitable political face-off. The Washington Post soon revealed that Davies had told his own firm, Blue Mountain, a different story.
In the previous months, Logan had been distracted, dealing with an alarming health issue: a diagnosis of breast cancer. She told Esquire magazine, “I think that scarred me worse than what happened in Egypt.”
And the Saturday night after the broadcast, Logan made a reference to her Benghazi report while in Buffalo receiving the Gilda Radner Courage Award. “People are saying to me, ‘You have to prioritize your health,’ ” she said to the attendees, “and I’m like, ‘I have to prioritize my health, but if I fuck this up, I don’t have a career, you know?’ ”
The next week, Logan defended criticism of her report, telling Bill Carter of the New York Times she regretted that 60 Minutes didn’t acknowledge that Davies was selling a book on a right-wing imprint by CBS’s parent company. But, she said, “we killed ourselves not to allow politics into this report.” Two days later, the Times revealed that Davies’s statements to the FBI contradicted what he had told 60 Minutes.
At one point, Logan called Graham and asked for help. “She called afterward and basically said, ‘What did he tell the FBI?’ ” he recalls. “I’ve never seen the FBI interview, but I talked to the No. 2, who is now gone, and he said that he’s looked at the interviews and the guy never mentioned this.”
The next day, November 8, Simon & Schuster announced it was pulling the book out of circulation. Faced with overwhelming evidence that Davies had lied to Logan, Logan went on CBS This Morning and admitted, “We were wrong.”
Fager commissioned an internal investigation to clear the air after calling the segment “as big a mistake as there has been.” The report was drawn up by Al Ortiz, an executive director. Ortiz noted that Davies had confessed to 60 Minutes that he lied to Blue Mountain about his whereabouts on the night of the Benghazi attack, which should have been a “red flag.”
“The fact that the FBI and the State Department had information that differed from the account Davies gave to 60 Minutes was knowable before the piece aired,” he wrote.
Ortiz concluded that Logan’s speech in Chicago conflicted with CBS News standards and that the segment should have been clear about the source of the information behind its claim that Al Qaeda propagated the attack.
Now the news division is wracked by soul searching. “The party line that Jeff is taking—‘She’s got to make amends for her transgression’—is to perpetuate the fiction that these pieces belong to the correspondents,” says Steven Reiner, a former 60 Minutes producer who once worked with Logan, “which 60 Minutes has to perpetuate. She’s got to take the hit. But he’s really saying, ‘We failed her; the system failed her.’ ”
During an internal teleconference, Moonves expressed shock that Fager had not continued the practice of having an outside screener before airtime, the one-time role of Linda Mason, according to a person familiar with his comment. (That role has since gone to Ortiz.)
The day the report was made public, Fager announced that Logan and McClellan would be put on indefinite leave of absence. But following quickly on the heels of the Benghazi report, a series of 60 Minutes segments came under fire, starting with a positive profile of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos by Charlie Rose and a report on the NSA by correspondent John Miller that hewed closely to the NSA’s public-relations message. Both segments shared a similar critique: The show was going soft, selling its airtime for exclusive access.
But Fager has been loath to admit further weakness. “His attitude is always ‘Fuck them, we’re 60 Minutes,’ ” says a former producer on the program. “ ‘And we’re the greatest thing in the world.’ ”
The atmosphere at CBS has been toxic in recent months. Producers and correspondents tell me they do not feel empowered to voice criticism. In the course of reporting this story, two people purporting to be staffers from the show sent me anonymous messages to express unhappiness about both Logan and Fager.
Fager has tried to keep Logan out of the spotlight: In recent months, she was scheduled to give several speeches for the Greater Talent Network, some paying as much as $50,000, but was advised by CBS to cancel the appointments. Other 60 Minutes correspondents filled in for her. Fager also took down his framed “Sexty Minutes” story. Logan has spent recent weeks in her house in Washington, D.C., “losing her mind” and “stressing out of her head,” according to one CBS source. Carole Cooper, her agent, who is married to Fager’s agent, Richard Leibner, has maintained a precarious negotiation with Fager over Logan’s return to60 Minutes, which in recent weeks has not appeared certain.
And what about Les Moonves? A well-placed source at CBS suggests that he has soured on Logan. Through a spokesman, Moonves declined to comment.
So Lara Logan may, or may not, return in the fall season. Either way, the show must go on. Waiting in the wings is a new up-and-comer. Attractive, blonde, fluent in three foreign languages. Everybody is talking about 34-year-old Clarissa Ward. “Jeff’s very high on her,” says a 60 Minutes producer.