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April 15, 2011

Just Firing Off Some Copy

By Spear's

Brave, tireless and, as recent events in Libya, Egypt and elsewhere have shown, more necessary than ever — all hail the female war correspondent, says Daisy Prince
IT IS STRANGE how life can be so quiet and then, all of a sudden, one little incident, a slap to the face of a fruit vendor, can ignite nations to revolution. The term ‘Arab Spring’ recalls the Prague Spring, but it will hopefully bring longer-lasting freedom. With the buds of these revolutions flowering all over the region and with the intense pace of a 24-hour news cycle, the demand for war journalists to place themselves in harm’s way to get better stories has never been greater.

Lara Logan, a senior reporter for the US news show 60 Minutes, is a prime example of what can happen to journalists during wars. While covering Mubarak’s fall from power in Tahrir Square, she was surrounded by men who stripped, pinched and beat her for the next 30 minutes until she was rescued by a group of women and twenty Egyptian soldiers. She has yet to speak publicly about what happened to her.

In world of war journalism, Ms Logan is something of an anomaly — she’s a 37-year-old beauty who used the money she made modelling in Cape Town to put herself through school. She has two daughters with her second husband and is known as much for her fearless reporting in highly dangerous areas as she is for her beauty-queen looks.

However, the minute the ‘incident’ occurred, there was a backlash against Ms Logan for being a ‘bad mother’ to have allowed herself to get into such a dangerous spot. Websites denounced her and one New York University academic, Nir Rosen, tweeted: ‘Jesus Christ, at a moment when she is going to become a martyr and glorified we should at least remember her role as a major war monger.’ He did apologise and step down from his post at the university but was rehired at the LSE as a research fellow (although he then resigned from there, too).

It’s nothing short of amazing to me that Ms Logan could be touted as anything but a heroine. There is never a backlash against men putting themselves in highly dangerous areas. If a male journalist is captured and happens to be a father, why doesn’t anyone question his parenting abilities?
EVERYONE KNOWS BEING a war journalist takes guts and great stamina, but I didn’t realise the full extent of their burdens until a few years ago, when I briefly considered going abroad to learn how to be a war correspondent. I decided to ask my friend Madeleine Haeringer, an Emmy-winning MSNBC producer, for her advice; she has lived overseas for the past ten years covering every war, disaster and emergency.

She described her work schedule in the field with the troops. She got up at 5am to march out with them until noon. After a quick bite of freeze-packed lunch, she began to tape the next day’s story. She would then edit the story until well into the night, normally hours past midnight, before getting up at 5am all over again. She did this seven days a week for three- or four-week stretches. ‘I would usually lose ten pounds, and not in a good way,’ she told me. Quite often there were great dangers, and more than one of her team had to face machine-gun fire or explosives. I scuttled right back to the safety of magazines and didn’t think again about war journalism.

War reporting has always been a highly prized form of journalism, and there’s no finer tradition of it than in the UK. I’m always reminded of one of the classic scenes from Love in a Cold Climate when the journalists are trying to break into Lord Montdore’s house to get some dirt on his wayward daughter’s marital split. They are the most determined group, and even the narrator comments that she can well understand how the English war correspondents were so brave fighting the Germans. If they could stand up to her father, they could stand up to anyone.

As the Middle East and North Africa explode, more correspondents have been captured and brutalised. Four New York Times correspondents were held for six days in Libya and recently released; one, a photographer, was a woman, and was sexually assaulted. In Japan’s tsunami aftermath, the correspondents risk radiation contamination and aftershocks and have not joined the mass foreign exodus overseas.

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We are so lucky to have these people who will suffer to bring us the news we have come to demand. Hopefully, once Lara Logan recovers, she will be able to make the world see that. The only question that remains is whether she will continue her career when she’s recovered from her injuries. No one would blame her for stopping but if she did carry on, it would just give us one more reason to admire her.

Illustration by Anna-Louise Felstead

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