Jon Friedman disagrees with Lara Logan: American news shows are great, he says! He watches 'em and has no desire to blow his brains out, like Lara Logan said she would if she had to watch, as she told Jon Stewart last month on the Daily Show. Friedman offers her a list of 10 Reasons Why Lara Logan Should Give U.S. News Shows a Chance, which is quite fine except that it fails almost completely to address the reason behind Logan's complaint: A lack of war coverage from Iraq and Afghanistan on U.S. news programs.Let's go to the tape:
Stewart: What is — what don't we know? Do we know anything about what's going on over there? Are reports of what's really going [on] over there, getting out? You've been there since this whole thing started — what are we missing? We know nothing.
Logan: No, I don't think we really do have much of an idea of what's going on in Iraq. We have all these armchair academics who go over for one visit, you see Laura Bush going, "This is my third time" going to Afghanistan; she doesn't mention that she was only there for a few seconds.
Stewart: How hard is it to get those stories on?
Logan: It goes in cycles. You know, this is an election year, so "politics, politics, politics!" all the time. And you hear that people are tired of hearing about the war, so you have to fight against that, but generally what I say is, I'm holding the RPG; it's aimed at the bureau chief, and if you don't put my story on air, I'm going to pull the trigger. That's worked.
Later in the interview Logan describes "begging, screaming, crawling on my knees" to get an embed with U.S. Navy SEALs, only to be told of the finished piece that "one guy in uniform looks like any other guy in a uniform." We know from past revelations that Logan has been frustrated by seeing pieces from Iraq denied airtime; we know she's been frustrated by criticisms of the coverage foreign correspondents do get on the air. We know she's won awards for her coverage, and spoken movingly about what it takes to get it.
So while her Daily Show interview certainly made headlines, it certainly wasn't all that surprising, nor did it deviate from her history of being a passionate and outspoken advocate of war reporters and the importance of their mission. And I certainly wouldn't have called it "shrill" as Friedman did, neither in actual tone (she was quite soft-spoken during the entire interview, even when talking about leveling an RPG at her bureau chief) or in the substance of her complaints. Nor would I "chalk it up to battlefield fatigue," though after some of the stuff Logan's seen, she's more than entitled. Rather, I'd chalk it up to the informed assessment of someone who's been reporting on the war since the beginning, and has seen the quantity and quality of the coverage vary in accordance with the vagaries of the news cycle.
Still, Friedman is entitled to his opinion, and I was looking forward to reading his take on where to find the best war coverage and hard news. I make no quarrel with his naming of Scott Pelley, Campbell Brown or Tavis Smiley, I just didn't understand why he sniped at Logan while doing it, like in this sentence: "Brown has established herself at CNN as a determined interviewer who understands the news, shows empathy for her subjects and acts courteously to her guests — Lara, do you detect a pattern yet in my choices? — as they feel free to open up." I found Logan to be quite courteous on the Daily Show, even when she swore like a mofo.
As for Friedman's choices of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, I agree with the general assessment but would point out the actual news-based reasons why: whether in killer media and political analysis, exposing politcal doublespeak, uncovering ignored/overlooked footage, and giving airtime to scholars, journalists and authors to discuss issues of real importance. That's not just Logan, but people like Richard Engel, Bob Woodruff, Thomas Ricks, Martin Oren, Mike Isikoff, Jeremy Scahill, Pierre Rehov, Reza Aslan, Vali Nasr, James Fallows, and Angelina Jolie (for her humanitarian work, natch). In all seriousness, the airtime Stewart and Colbert give to foreign affairs experts about their books is really a wonderful thing, and has added much to the discourse.
The point is, Friedman's got the right idea but the wrong execution, because rather than being responsive to Logan's criticism he belittles it ("chalk it up to battlefield fatigue") and then mocks it (citing "Extra" as an option, largely to take a jab at Logan's personal life). Ultimately, Friedman's column did nothing to address the merits of her complaint, nor defend against it on the merits. It's fine to stick up for the media here — there is plenty of good work being done, and he's not alone in defending it. He just sounds a little shriller than the rest of us.
Ramadi: On The Front Line In Iraq [CBS News]