"There Will Be No Further Comment From CBS News. . ."
Lara Logan is a brave and unimpeachably dependable journalist. Her work from the war zone in Afghanistan is of the finest I've encountered from an American television reporter, coming too from right up there in the box canyons of bastard country, dodging bullets alongside the toughest blokes the U.S. Army pushes up into those ghastly front lines.
In Cairo's Tahrir Square the other day, Logan "suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers." Around the same time, a similar but less horrible calamity befell her colleague, the deservedly famous American journalist Anderson Cooper, also in Tahrir Square. Cooper took a nasty beating from what he reckoned was a gang of Mubarak's secret-police provocateurs.
Logan is now back in America, recovering in hospital. The journalists at CBS are being properly attentive to the privacy of a co-worker so seriously injured on the job. But one famous journalist who just couldn't wait to comment on Logan's condition is a certain Nir Rosen. He took Logan's assault as just the "right moment" to have a good laugh at her expense and to declare his conscience to be untroubled by any "sympathy" for her at all.
Rosen explained himself by calling Logan a "warmonger." This is a very specific term of abuse that derives directly from the lexicon of a class of persons afflicted by a very particular form of collective narcissistic personality disorder. It's the type that tends to render its sufferers utterly incoherent when confronted by the work of those real journalists who must labour in the fields plagued by the thing that these days usually goes by the name "war." By the term "real journalists" I mean those tradespeople who do their jobs in the full knowledge that it will entail telling people what they might not want to hear, but what they will need nonetheless to know in order to form sensible opinions.
When I came up in the craft, the Guild contract stipulated separate job classifications for "reporter" and "advertising support writer." The union ensured that both jobs were governed by the same duty of six years in graduated apprenticeship, the same journeymen pay scales at key rate and the same benefits. Up I went with the rest of the reporters, and across that line the boss could not make us reporters trespass. The union makes us strong. It's not a line that what we used to call "real journalists" would usually cross of their own volition anyway. The analogy and the distinctions are not exactly clean and ironclad in the matter of what Nir Rosen is, to put it delicately, but that's the whole point. It's not some grievance I'm filing here. I'm pointing out something deeply wrong about the whole dang contract.
What you need to know straight away is that Rosen himself is known as a "journalist" only because there are legions of idiots abroad who fancy themselves to be "left-wing" and sustain the flattery of that self-congratulation by endeavoring to deliberately mistake comforting propaganda for real journalism. Rosen is "famous" because idiots of this type are as thick as fleas on a dog's back in the more comfortable districts of countries like Britain, France, Canada and America. In the more upscale neighbourhoods of such districts, Rolling Stone is still considered an avante-garde authority on things like "war," but of course in the most reliable way (I will come to that particular employer in a moment). In his way, too, it must be said that Rosen is dependable. You can count on him to steadily supply sacks of it to the feeding troughs that the more fashionable and loud-mouthed pseuds in those same neighbourhoods require in order to both expound upon grave matters they know nothing about and remain blissfully unaware of just how ridiculous they sound while they're at it.
In a report suitably headlined An Appalling Reaction to an Outrageous Crime, the National Review's Jim Geraghty provides a record of the tracks Rosen left of his assault on the dignity and integrity of Lara Logan, tracks that Rosen himself tried to cover by hitting the delete buttons on his Twitter account. Caught out, Rosen's concession to decency was to give only the impression of an apology. It is the work of a skilled craftsman: "As someone who’s devoted his career to defending victims and supporting justice," Rosen wrote, "I’m very ashamed for my insensitive and offensive comments.”
See how he did that? The sentence begins with a subordinate clause that is wholly given over to boasting and self-flattery, barely rising above the level of a fraudulent padding of his own cirriculum vitae. The rest of Rosen's sentence makes a claim of remorse for merely the offense he has apparently noticed being taken by some people, owing to their sensitivities. That's all he confesses he has done, and conveniently, it is not a thing for which a real journalist, or anyone else for that matter, should ever apologize. A cunning wordsmith, that guy.
The record shows that upon hearing reports of what had happened to Logan, Rosen announced: "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 warmonger." We are to take this as funny, too: "Lara Logan had to outdo Anderson [Cooper]," the clear implication being that she invented a story about being sexually assaulted to draw attention to herself. But hey, "it would have been funny if it happened to Anderson too," the clear implication being that if Cooper's attackers had stooped to an assault of the type visited upon Logan, that too would be something to laugh about. Of course it's wrong what happened to Logan, Rosen allows. But what the hell, she was probably just "groped" and again, what the hell, that probably happened to "thousands of other women." The clear implication here is that Logan is quite some prissy bitch indeed to go all special about her problems.
It is most instructive to pay attention to what Rosen says Logan did to deserve his rebuke of her as a "warmonger." Rosen made specific reference to Logan's own notice of the low and cheap journalism that Rolling Stone offered up to President Barack Obama last summer. It was a blockbuster distinguished not by its content, but by its function - does anyone remember any of the shocking revelations contained in Michael Hastings' portrait of General Stanley McChrystal? No. Because there were none. But it was more than enough to serve as the means by which the magazine's choice for president could get shut of that dangerously intelligent general.
The thing about McChrystal was that he was almost alone among the U.S. Centcom crowd in the way he understood that a "counterinsurgency" war against the Taliban could only be won if it were fought properly, in the real world, in, among and with the Afghan people. A winning counterinsurgency would have to be waged as an armed insurgency against a rancid, deeply entrenched and pathologically reactionary status quo that had arrayed itself against the Afghan people, in the real world, with lots of ongoing help from the imperialists in Pakistan's military-industrial complex.
General McChrystal's Counterinsurgency Guidance to the 42-nation ISAF alliance in Afghanistan declared its radical departure from the American standard in its very title: "Protecting the People is the Mission." It did not speak the language of the America-Firsters in Obama's closest circles. It spoke in a foreign language: "Embrace the people. . . earn their trust. . . seek out the underprivileged, the disenfranchised, the disaffected. . . work with the children and students. . . shield the people from harm. . . live and train together. . . plan and operate together. . . be a positive force in the community. . . confront corrupt officials. . . listen and learn from our Afghan colleagues. . . improve daily."
McChrystal's counterinsurgency guidance articulated a war of the weak against the strong. It is written in the language of Mao Tse Tung, from the standard version of Mao's early instructions adopted as the rules of discipline by the Peoples Liberation Army in 1947: "Obey orders in all your actions. Do not take a single needle or piece of thread from the masses. Turn in everything captured. Speak politely. Pay fairly for what you buy. Return everything you borrow. Pay for anything you damage. Do not hit or swear at people. Do not damage crops. Do not take liberties with women. Do not ill-treat captives."
In a war of the weak against the strong, that is how you win. "We need to understand the people and see things through their eyes," McChrystal wrote to the troops. "This means that we must change the way that we think, act and operate." The victory of an Afghan people's war would not come in a flourish of brass with a handsome president on a television-studio bandstand and American flags fluttering all around from wind machines. It takes time. it takes patience. Victory is contingent, ever moving on the far horizon. Advance is stealthy. Retreat is unthinkable. "Exit strategy" are just two words from some foreign language. More words from it are 'Not in my name' and 'Stop the war.'
You get the picture. Try to imagine the 30 million most generous, hardcore and well-heeled contributors among Obama's fan base suddenly being obliged to abandon their familiar argots and turn their worlds upside down from an American counterinsurgency (FMLN, got it; Sandinistas, check; Tupamaros, yes, I dimly recall) to an American-backed insurgency. Next thing you know poltergeists are flinging dog-eared Chomsky volumes all over everybody's living rooms and Cousin Henry's writhing on the floor in the paroxyms of acid flashbacks. So McChrystal had to go. And that's not even half of the way the thing I'm calling "Rolling Stone" comes into it.
Two years ago I caught a lot of heck for dashing off Why Nir Rosen Isn't To Be Trusted. It was just as I was running off to catch a plane to Afghanistan. In retrospect it was a too-mild critique of Rosen's just-published and otherwise rave-reviewed blockbuster account of his adventures embedded with the Taliban. Rosen's work was presented to Rolling Stone readers as an exemplary event in courageous journalism. It struck me straight away that what I was reading was no such thing, and that it was more accurately understood as precisely the opposite. Plus it was as though an old union contract job-classification line had been clearly and obviously crossed. As I leafed through the magazine's lushly displayed sensation, I found myself reading the product of someone's stenographic services to the propaganda department of Afghanistan's increasingly sophisticated and media-savvy neo-Taliban formulation. Neither "real journalism" nor "brave" were words I found springing to mind.
It also occurred to me then that one of the safest places to be in Afghanistan, and probably the least-courageous thing to do there, was to be in the company of accomodating and solicitous Taliban hosts as a sympathetic pseudo-journalist busy at the business of faithfully taking down everything they wanted you to say. To boot, it was neither brave nor risk-taking to do this in just such a way that would tell all the rich white people in the comfortable neighborhoods of the NATO capitals back home exactly everything they wanted and needed to hear about Afghanistan: It's Yankee imperialism, it's doomed, you just can't win, we gotta get out, it's finished. Rosen's account read a lot like advertising copy to me, but in any case, the word that sprang to mind then, upon reading Nir Rosen's name, was not "journalist" at all. It was "coward."
It occurs to me now that one of the most dangerous places to be in the whole world has lately been in the throngs of Tahrir Square in Cairo, especially in those final hours. You'd have had no way of knowing whether your next heartbeats would accompany the roared exhaltations of Egypt's triumphant masses or a deafening staccato chorus from the throats of a hundred M2HB heavy-calibre machine guns aimed directly into the people around you, and maybe into you too. You would have been among a half million desparate and hungry and near-mad people in transports of rage one minute and flights of ecstasy the next. You wouldn't have known whether the men crushing in on you were the brave trade unionists of the Committee to Protect The Revolution from the textile mills of El Melhalla El Kubra, or plainclothes thugs from Mubarak's secret police.
Something horrible happens. Even as it is being brought to an end you don't know whether your rescuers are just carting you off for even worse treatment in some stinking dungeon, and all the while you were just a young and slightly-built American woman with a camera crew doing your damn job. But somebody's got to do it. It is the kind of work that will get done by what we used to call a "real journalist," and doing that work in a place like Tahrir Square is what most people still mean when they use the word "brave."
The year before Nir Rosen had his excellent little adventure riding around on motorbikes with Talibs, he emerged on the celebrity circuit with his book In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq. The grovelling tone and gross inaccuracy of his work is made sufficiently plain by the title alone (some triumph, eh?) It also helps to have other popular pseudo-journalists tell you how splendid you are: Iraq Does Not Exist Anymore: Journalist Nir Rosen on How the U.S. Invasion of Iraq Has Led to Ethnic Cleansing, a Worsening Refugee Crisis and the Destabilization of the Middle East. Last time I looked, Iraq still existed, and this destabilization of the Middle East is looking damn good on it. But maybe that's just me. People way above my pay scale are still trying to figure out what it all means. All I know is that back in the day we didn't clap our hands over our ears to stifle the music of tumbrels turning.
In any event, if deftly-crafted advertising copy that sweetly panders to pathological narcissism isn't enough to keep your paying fans engaged, the spectacle of of cold-blooded moral illiteracy will always bring them in. Only a few months after he spent a holiday lounging around on cushions and taking tea with turbaned war criminals in Ghazni, just such a thing was typed by Nir Rosen. He offered it up in the form of an exquisitely postulated exercise in apologetics for murder and terror in the main ring of the circus tent the Guardian usually provides for these shows. If you can't be bothered to take in the performance you won't mind the spoiler. The squeamish will look away now:
Slaughtering innocents is okay so long as you're "weak" and your enemy is "strong." If I say you are strong, you don't get to decide whether it's right or wrong to kill you. I do. I am Nir the Magnificent, and I, who so inverted the real world as to bestow upon the Taliban the glorious legitimacy of "the weak," will now pull the justification for butchering civilians, in the form of a rabbit, out of my hat: "It's merely a question of what side you choose: the side of the strong or the side of the weak." It is I, Nir, who decides who is weak and who is strong.
There is a special kind of depravity to Rosen's remarks about the type of assault Lara Logan endured in Tahrir Square. Not to be too brusque, but one is left with the unmistakeable impression that Lara Logan doesn't exactly earn much credit from Rosen for being a woman. But the worse thing, in Rosen's moral universe, is that Lara Logan is strong.
She will get better. She will get back to work. She will do her job, and there will be no further comment from CBS News.
Terry Glavin is a journalist and Contributing Writer for The Propagandist