Behind the Story: Karen Petree on “The Wrong Questions: Learning from the Lara Logan Debacle”

By Karen Petree

I always respected Lara Logan. A few years ago I found myself trapped in the myopic world of academia working on projects I really cared about, but I was unable to share them with anyone who didn’t speak my academic jargon. I had watched Lara Logan covering the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for several years, and wondered one night if I, too, could learn to tell such a complicated story so simply. I made a decision to become a journalist, and in my third semester of J-school, Logan, a reporter I’d always admired, made a career-changing mistake that gave the public a bunch of lies and lost her the respect of a lot of people.

In retrospect, we probably should’ve seen it coming. She’d been sharing her opinions on Al Qaeda for years with anyone who would listen. I didn’t think much of it. I didn’t always agree with her interpretation, but I respected her opinion. She had, after all, been there and seen first-hand. She had every right to share her opinion about the news, just as I do every day on Facebook and Twitter. But after the Benghazi story, it started to look like Logan’s opinion was clouding her objectivity and seeping into her reporting. I read everything I found about journalism’s reaction to the screw-up.

Of course, Logan’s story isn’t as simple as just a reporter’s opinion. When we talk about Benghazi, we need to talk about where we draw the line between sharing our opinions publicly on social media and objectivity. Who gets to hear our opinions, and who doesn’t? Can we have strong public opinions about the things we cover and still maintain a persona of objectivity? What about the relationship between the organizations we work for and the subjects we report on? This raises an infinite number of questions.

These are all things that resonated with me as a young reporter. These are things I need veteran journalists to talk to me about, but few did. When I heard New York magazine was publishing this piece on Logan, I was relieved. But then I read it and instead of finding a meaningful discussion, I found a bitter character assassination that sounds like it came from a high school gossip column. We can do better than this, and as the world becomes more digitized and corporatized, we’re going to have to.

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