This was no ordinary rubber chicken affair. That was my reaction to the extraordinary keynoter at Tuesday’s Better Government Association annual luncheon.
Lara Logan, a correspondent for CBS’ “60 Minutes,” delivered a provocative speech to about 1,100 influentials from government, politics, media, and the legal and corporate arenas. Such downtown gatherings are a regular on Chicago’s networking circuit. (I am a member of the BGA’s Civic Leadership Committee, and the Chicago Sun-Times was a sponsor).
Her ominous and frightening message was gleaned from years of covering our wars in the Middle East. She arrived in Chicago on the heels of her Sept. 30 report, “The Longest War.” It examined the Afghanistan conflict and exposed the perils that still confront America, 11 years after 9/11.
Eleven years later, “they” still hate us, now more than ever, Logan told the crowd. The Taliban and al-Qaida have not been vanquished, she added. They’re coming back.
“I chose this subject because, one, I can’t stand, that there is a major lie being propagated . . .” Logan declared in her native South African accent.
The lie is that America’s military might has tamed the Taliban.
“There is this narrative coming out of Washington for the last two years,” Logan said. It is driven in part by “Taliban apologists,” who claim “they are just the poor moderate, gentler, kinder Taliban,” she added sarcastically. “It’s such nonsense!”
Logan stepped way out of the “objective,” journalistic role. The audience was riveted as she told of plowing through reams of documents, and interviewing John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan; Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and a Taliban commander trained by al-Qaida. The Taliban and al-Qaida are teaming up and recruiting new terrorists to do us deadly harm, she reports.
She made a passionate case that our government is downplaying the strength of our enemies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as a rationale of getting us out of the longest war. We have been lulled into believing that the perils are in the past: “You’re not listening to what the people who are fighting you say about this fight. In your arrogance, you think you write the script.”
Our enemies are writing the story, she suggests, and there’s no happy ending for us.
As a journalist, I was queasy. Reporters should tell the story, not be the story. As an American, I was frightened.
Logan even called for retribution for the recent terrorist killings of Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three other officials. The event is a harbinger of our vulnerability, she said. Logan hopes that America will “exact revenge and let the world know that the United States will not be attacked on its own soil. That its ambassadors will not be murdered, and that the United States will not stand by and do nothing about it.”
In the “good old days,” reporters did not advocate, crusade or call for revenge.
In these “new” days in a post-9/11 world, perhaps we need more reporters who are willing to break the rules.