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Objections to AJE Aren’t Really About Lara Logan

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Al Jazeeraby Jillian York

As Jonathan Capehart noted in PostPartisan last Thursday, the Lara Logan assualt story has “a pernicious staying power.” Indeed, what happened to Logan during her time in Egypt is both horrifying and inexcusable. Logan was, according to reports, brutally beaten and sexually assaulted by a crowd while reporting from Cairo. She was rescued by a group of locals, including women, and is recovering.

The attack on Logan should not be diminished by the media. She is brave for speaking out about experiencing sexual assault, something that happens to women (but not only women) every single day in every single country in the world, including Egypt and including the United States. It happens all too frequently to reporters, who all too infrequently report their own experience.

That said, the media frenzy surrounding Logan’s assault–again, by no means Logan’s fault–has become a circus. On the one hand, as Jezebel and Salon have pointed out, you have the American media focusing on Logan’s “Hollywood good looks” as the impetus for the rape. Um, no. Rape doesn’t happen because you’re pretty.

Then, you’ve got the racists and Islamophobes using Logan’s attack as an excuse to blame the Muslims. The abhorrent Debbie Schlussel’s comments are but one extreme example (“t bothers me not a lick when mainstream media reporters who keep telling us Muslims and Islam are peaceful get a taste of just how ‘peaceful’ Muslims and Islam really are. In fact, it kinda warms my heart”), but others like the LA Weekly chose an only slightly more subtle approach (“In a rush of frenzied excitement, some Egyptian protesters apparently consummated their new-found independence by sexually assaulting the blond reporter”).

Capehart, on the other hand, has used Logan’s assault as an opportunity to vilify Al Jazeera. Now, let me start by saying this: Yes, Al Jazeera and all media could have reported better on Logan’s assault, using the opportunity to educate the world about what is an incredibly pervasive issue. I do think it’s okay to criticize Al Jazeera on this.

That said, I don’t honestly believe that improvement on Al Jazeera’s part is what Capehart was after, rather, his harsh criticism seems more an attempt to undermine Al Jazeera’s popularity–and their seriousness in covering sexual assault. In doing so, Capehart is implicitly continuing the right wing fight to exclude Al Jazeera from American airwaves.

Capehart’s second piece, on Friday, nailed that theory for me (and many of his commenters). In it, he writes:

Never mind that what happened to Logan IS a story. Leave aside the fact that she is a correspondent for an American broadcaster. How about the fact that a woman could be swarmed by a mob of 200 people, attacked and sexually assaulted and was only saved by the actions of a group of women and 20 Egyptian soldiers? Was Logan the only one? Is that not newsworthy? I’m at a loss for what would drive a news network to ignore news.

But what could Al Jazeera really have done better? Seek out witnesses? They didn’t have the chance to speak directly with the victim who, as Capehart correctly notes, asked specifically for privacy during this time. They had no video footage. Instead, they chose not to follow the pack of US media ruminating on the Logan story like a pack of wild dogs and noted it, briefly, then moved on.

In fact, what Al Jazeera is so good at is picking up those stories missed by the rest of the world’s media, rather than gloaming on as a follower. And that includes their coverage of sexual assault. Al Jazeera’s coverage of systematic rape from the Congo to the US military–has been excellent, at times better than coverage from equivalent outlets in the United States. And just as Capehart “proved” that Al Jazeera hadn’t covered Logan’s story well on their website, a quick Google search for “sexual assault” and “rape” within Al Jazeera’s English site shows stories like “Rape Threat Stalks Kenya’s Slums,” and “Rape Rampant in US Military”.

Al Jazeera aside, does Capehart think that the US media does a sufficient job of covering the plight of non-American journalists and the brutality they often face? Did the Washington Post, for which Capehart writes, cover the story of Colombian journalist Jineth Bedoya, who in 2000 was raped, kidnapped, and beaten while doing her job? (Hint: the answer is no). The fact is, while foreign correspondents abroad often face brutality, the brutality faced by journalists in their own countries is often far worse…and rarely receives the same attention.

Capehart could have used his column to point out how common brutality toward female journalists is. He could have discussed the sexual harassment faced by Egyptian women daily. Instead, he chose to smear Al Jazeera, adding to the cacophony of American voices protesting Al Jazeera’s entree into the US media scene. We should be asking why.

Jillian York is a writer, blogger, and activist based in Boston. She works at Harvard Law School's Berkman Centre for Internet & Society and is involved with Global Voices Online. Visit her web site at: http://jilliancyork.com/


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