Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Lara Logan on The Daily Show

[transcript below the fold] Jon Stewart's guest tonight was the Chief Foreign Correspondent for CBS News, Lara Logan, who has lived in Baghdad since the beginning of the Iraq War. She has some blunt things to say about the view of the war that manages to filter through to the average American's awareness via the mainstream media, that Americans need to see the dead bodies of American soldiers (and Iraqi civilians) in order to understand the situation there. We need to see and understand the resurgence of the Taliban — including breaking 400 of their top fighters out of prison just this weekend. I'll put it to you this way: no matter how brave, dedicated, and well-trained our military forces are, they can never win a war without the support and involvement of the entire country. We will never see an end to the war on terror as long as the American people don't care what happens "over there" wherever our troops are at the time, nor as long as so much of the world thinks we're more of a threat to peace and stability than Al Qaeda and the Taliban and and the Tamil Tigers and ETA combined. Anyway, enough of my soapbox, you tuned in for a transcript....

Jon Stewart interviewing Lara Logan, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, ©2008-06-17 Comedy Central®


Jon Stewart: Welcome back. My guest tonight, she is the Chief Foreign Correspondent for CBS News, welcome to the program Lara Logan; ma'am! Come join me, please, have a seat. You remind me of a young Ted Koppel.

Lara Logan: Dan Rather used to say that about me.

Stewart: Stop it! What's happenin'? How are ya? It's nice to see ya. You just got back from — ?

Logan: Iraq.

Stewart: Iraq. What'd you get me? Did you bring me anything back, or —?

Logan: I did.

Stewart: A small token?

Logan: A few components of suicide bombs, you know, a couple of useful things.

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. You know, listening to —

Stewart: Are you saying that a few seconds in Afghanistan is not enough to really get the full flavor of a country torn by violent war?

Logan: It depends what you're looking for.

Stewart: Mm-hmm. You think they might not be looking for the right things? How hard is it? I know you're over there filing these amazing stories; do you have to fight for airtime? Do you say, "I've got the scoop on the Afghan warlords that have turned against the United States and are helping the Taliban," and they're all like, "Geez, I dunno — [stage whisper:] Britney's back in rehab!?

Logan: Or Paris Hilton's getting arrested, yes.

Stewart: WHAT?? "Breaking News:" [pause] But 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.

Stewart: So — I guess if you're giving advice to a young journalism student, you might say, "Threats of violence to the editors"?

Logan: And the jihadi manuals on suicide bombings.

Stewart: That's the way to read through it!

Logan: It's all on the Internet.

Stewart: What do you feel like — do you watch the news that we're watching in the United States?

Logan: No.

Stewart: Do you see what we're hearing about the war?

Logan: No.

Stewart: We might actually know everything.

Logan: If I were to watch the news that you're hearing here in the United States, I'd just blow my brains out, because it would just drive me nuts.

Stewart: Really??

Logan: Yes. [audience cheers]

Stewart: I am glad to see you overcome your shyness, because — [pause] Where do you think — ? If you were to say, if you had your druthers, would we be focused right now — in terms of just reporting, because I know this isn't about policy — Afghanistan or Iraq? Where do you think the big story is?

Logan: I don't think we should have to choose between — which war, you know, is...

Stewart: Right.

Logan: So we have more soldiers on the ground in Iraq than we do in Afghanistan, do we pay more attention? I think we should — I mean, it's very hard, because you hear all the time: "People are tired of the same thing over and over." I did a piece with Navy SEALs once. It took me six months of begging, screaming, breaking down walls, crawling on my knees, to get that imbed, and when I came back with that story I was told, "These guys — you know, one guy in uniform looks like any other guy in a uniform." And I'm on high-value target raids, taking down some of the most wanted Taliban fighters and Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan, and I'm told, "Well, you know, one Arabic name sounds — unless it's Osama bin Laden, who cares about — you know, Mullah Ben Shaq, whatever?" So —

Stewart: Who's — ? I mean, these are the people that are in charge of what goes on these programs.

Logan: Well, although, for example — well, you know, Jeff Fager of 60 Minutes always says to me, "Iraq, Iraq, Iraq! Afghanistan, Afghanistan! We don't see enough of it, I want people to know more, people to see more" — I mean, it's —

Stewart: There are people pushing it —

Logan: Yes.

Stewart: — to try and get it through.

Logan: There are lots of people trying to get it through.

Stewart: And what about the danger for you? I mean, you're clearly, you know, you're a big, intimidating force — when you go out there, I mean, have you been hurt? Have you been — I mean, how do you protect yourself?

Logan: You know, often I work until 8 in the morning. I woke up one morning and I looked at the clock, and it was like, 11:00 a.m., and I thought, "Shit! I've got to get up!" and then I thought —

Stewart: Uh — I don't allow that type of language on this program. I don't care that you've just spent the last 5 years in a war zone, we have standards here.

Logan: Usually that's a good way to break the ice. You get in a Humvee with soldiers, they're all on their best behavior, they've been told not to swear about you, and you say, "Yo, what's up, motherfuckers?" and then it's all done.

Stewart: Really? [audience cheers] Wow. You know where that doesn't work? Florida retirement villages. [pause] What about you, though, safety-wise? Are you there with security details? Are you there with armed —

Logan: We have security details, we have Iraqi security guards.

Stewart: Then have you been exposed to gunfire and explosions and that type of thing.

Logan: Sure. Well, that morning in Baghdad, I looked at the clock, and I thought, Well, okay, I can have half an hour more, because I've only had 3 hours, went back to sleep, woke up, sat on the side of the bed thinking, I've gotta get up! and then it's like "Boom!" and the hotel blew up underneath me, so... They blew up the building. I think they were trying to kill some sheikhs, but, you know, they got a few other people, including a 5-year-old Iraqi girl.

Stewart: See, even that — the idea of that to me — if that happened in this country, that would be the biggest story for the next two years. It's as though we've become numb. I mean, there were 51 people killed today, in a Shi'ite neighborhood in Iraq — are we just numb? Have we lost our humanity with this entire situation?

Logan: Yeah, we have. You know, I was asked once, "Do you feel responsible for the American people having a bad view — a negative view — of the war in Iraq?" and I looked at the reporter, and I said, "Tell me the last time you saw the body of a dead American soldier. What does that look like? Who in America knows what that looks like? 'Cause I know what that looks like, and I feel responsible for the fact that no one else does." You know. That's what I feel responsible for: that nobody really understands, and the soldiers do feel forgotten. They do, no doubt. From Afghanistan to Iraq, they absolutely feel — it may be — we may be tired of hearing about this 5 years later, they still have to go out and do the same job. I was in Sadr City, when it was just going absolutely hell for — I mean, Sadr City was like Armageddon, and there were soldiers there who'd been in-country 9 months who'd never seen combat like that, just thrown into it. You're talking about a convoys ambushed with 5, 6 armor-piercing bombs, rocket-propelled grenades, everything — 9, 10, 15-hour battles.

Stewart: And it's something that we might get just a brief glimpse of on the news or just a mention, and that kind of thing? Well, what kind of —

Logan: And more soldiers just died in Afghanistan last month than Iraq — who's paying attention to that? 33,000: highest troop level since the war began, 7 years after we defeated the Taliban.

Stewart: Well, certainly, you know, it's funny — we criticize the government an awful lot, but I guess we have a responsibility that we haven't lived up to as people, either, to keep ourselves up on it, so we appreciate everything you're doin', and thanks for comin' on and seein' us.

Logan: Thank you.

Stewart: And be safe. [to audience:] Lara Logan!

My take: if our nation is at war, then the entire nation, not just the military, must be engaged to give our all to the fight, and that means paying attention to what is happening in the war. If we aren't willing to pay attention to the war, and demand truthful and accurate information, then we have to get our troops out.

The American people do not back a prolonged military presence in Iraq. The Iraqi people do not back a prolonged military presence in Iraq. Thus, in the interests of both the American people and the Iraqi people, we must withdraw as rapidly as we safely can. We should do our best to minimize the damage to our national interests — not forgetting that the peace and stability of Iraq is in our national interest. We must recognize that our national interests are damaged if more of our soldiers are wounded or killed, but also when people on our side commit torture and other war crimes. If you think that pulling out of Iraq will cause "blowback" against the United States, compare that against the blowback from having the reputation as the country that tortures and indiscriminately kills Muslim men, women, and children. The War on Terror has changed one thing quite decisively in our national security equation: it is now more important that we be loved (or at least liked and respected) than that we be feared.

Lastly, my top recommendation if you want to know what's really going on in Iraq and Afghanistan (and the rest of the world), there's no better place to start than the top name in international journalism, Al Jazeera. It's a damned shame that the American people aren't clamoring to demand their cable systems carry the English-language channel, even while we demand that CBS News and all the other domestic sources give more airtime to reporters like Lara Logan and others of her dedication to getting the truth out there.

P.S. My brother, Bill Madison, used to work at CBS News. I haven't had a chance to ask him if he knows Lara Logan, but he did write in his blog, "Billevesées," about his reflections on the view from a competing newsroom of Tim Russert

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