Sexual Assault Coverage by Media Shows Double Standard, Paternalism, and Sexism

 

 

by Walter Brasch

 

            Lara Logan, CBS News chief foreign affairs correspondent, was beaten and sexually assaulted, Feb. 11, while on assignment in Cairo to report on the revolution that concluded that day with Hosni Mubarak resigning as president.

            Logan, according to an official CBS announcement, was attacked by a group of about 200 Egyptians and "suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers." The mob, probably pro-Mubarak supporters, but never identified by CBS—had separated Logan from her camera crew.

            About a week earlier, Mubarak's army detained, handcuffed, blindfolded, interrogated, and then released Logan and some of her crew after several hours. The government ordered her expelled from the country, probably for her on-air comments about the government intimidating and harassing foreign journalists. Logan returned to Cairo shortly before Mubarak resigned. She returned to the United States the day after the assault, and spent the next four days recovering in a hospital.

            The Mubarak administration at the beginning of the protests had expelled the al-Jazeera news network, and began a random campaign against all journalists, the result of the government believing that the media inflamed the call for revolution and the overthrow of Mubarak. There were about 140 cases of assault and harassment of journalists during the 18-day protest, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Ahmad Mohamad Mahmoud, an Egyptian journalist, was killed by sniper fire, probably by pro-Mubarak supporters.  Among American reporters physically assaulted were CNN's Anderson Cooper and photojournalist Dana Smillie, who was seriously wounded by what appeared to be a dozen BB-size pellets. Journalists displayed "admirable levels of courage as they—initially as individuals and small groups, and eventually in droves—made statements and took actions that exposed them to immense personal and professional risk," according to the CPJ.

            There can be no justification for the rogue gangs of thugs who attacked Logan, dozens of journalists, and hundreds of citizens. But, from the story of reporter and citizen courage against a 30-year dictatorship, no matter how benevolent it may have appeared, there emerged another story, one not as dramatic, nor as compelling, nor as important. But it is a story, nevertheless.

            Because of deadlines and a sense of having to get the story at any cost, news organizations sometimes become in-your-face inquisitors. Privacy isn't usually something the more aggressive news organizations give to those they want on air or in print. It's still common to see microphones stuck inches from faces of people who have suffered tragedies

            But when it comes to one of their own, news organizations seem to have a different set of standards. The brutal attack upon Logan occurred Feb. 11, but it was four days until CBS released any statement. After a brief review of the facts, CBS refused to make further comment or to respond to reporter inquiries. "Logan and her family respectfully request privacy at this time," the network said. A four day delay to give a basic statement is inexcusable by CBS; a statement that it did not give more information about the attack in order to protect the correspondent's privacy is hypocritical, and trumpets a double standard that the news media are somehow exempt from the reporting practices it demands of news sources.

            There is another factor in this mini-story. Judith Matloff, a journalism professor at Columbia University, told the L.A. Times, "Generally, female correspondents do not come out and talk about it [sexual assaults] because they worry that they won't get sent on assignments again."

            Paternalism in the news profession often has editors and news directors, most of whom are male, "protecting" their female reporters and correspondents. Journalists and news crews who go into dangerous situations, including riots, demonstrations, and war must be trained to deal with violence—and must be given every assistance by their organizations when they have been harassed or attacked. But, for news executives to discriminate on who to send because of the "fear" that women may be subjected to sexual assault, and for women not to report it to their bosses, is to acknowledge that they, and probably society, haven't come far in eliminating sexism within the profession.

            There is a further reality. The news media often don't identify adults who have been raped or sexually assaulted, a belief that somehow these crimes are more personal and more traumatic than any other kind of assault. However, sexual assaults and rapes are always brutal and vicious crimes of power and control. For the news media to continue to adhere to some puritanical belief that they are protecting womanhood by not reporting names and details perpetuates the myth that rape is purely a sexual intrusion, and not the brutal attack it truly is.

 

[Walter Brasch has been a journalist about 40 years. During that time, he has covered everything from city council meetings and music festivals to demonstrations and riots. He is the author of 15 books, most focusing upon history and contemporary social issues. You may contact Dr. Brasch at walterbrasch@gmail.com]

 

 

Frat Boys and Navy Officers

 

by Walter Brasch

 

        When the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot two weeks ago published on its internet page three videos made four years ago by the executive officer of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Enterprise, it unleashed a firestorm that would sink the career of a decorated officer.

          The Navy's actions to relieve Capt. Owen Honors of command of the Enterprise—he had been twice promoted after the videos were made—appears to be little more than a desperate attempt at damage control.

          Honors, a Naval Academy graduate and Top Gun pilot with more than 3,400 hours flight time and 700 carrier landings, produced and starred in the videos, which were transmitted on the Enterprise's Closed Circuit Television System (CCTV). Those videos included scenes of sexual innuendo, homophobic jokes, and fraternity boy bathroom humor. None of the videos, while suggestive, sank into the depths of pornography. At the time, Honors, and most of the 4,800-person crew, believed the videos, broadcast while the ship was in combat operations, was a morale booster.

          On Facebook, Twitter, and in the other media, even before the Navy made its decision on Honors' career, thousands called the videos disgusting and inappropriate.

          Honors now  acknowledges the videos showed "extremely poor judgment" on his part. Adm. John Harvey Jr., commander of the U.S. Fleet forces, said the reason he reassigned Honors to desk duty, effectively ending his career, was because he "lost confidence in Capt. Honors' ability to lead effectively."

          However, thousands of sailors and former sailors have come to Honors' defense. A "support" page on Facebook includes about 27,000 individuals. Among those who support the captain are those who argue not only is Honors an excellent officer, but that the videos did what they were intended to do—raise crew morale during combat.

          Although the Navy had ordered Honors to stop producing the videos, it took no other disciplinary action. Only after publication did the Navy take official action, attempting to stop the flood of attacks by closing the hatch on a distinguished military career.

          If such actions by Honors were acceptable in 2006 and 2007, why were they now not acceptable? And, if they were not acceptable in 2006 and 2007, why was nothing done by the Navy to discipline one of its senior officers? Is Adm. Harvey's actions the result of a media firestorm or because Honors truly is not fit for command?

          But there is something else that needs to be understood, and it may be because the Navy has a bipolar Jekyll–Hyde history.

          The Jekyll part is a Navy that has rigorous physical and educational standards for those in several of its services—SEALS, the nuclear Navy (both undersea and surface), and Naval aviation.

          The Hyde part is a correlation between the Navy (as well as most military branches) and college fraternities. The enlisted ranks are filled with persons the same age as college students, with many of the same school boy values and beliefs, including a penchant for partying, bathroom humor, and tasteless jokes. Junior officers are usually recent college graduates. Both the military and fraternities, not unlike the general population, also have long histories of discrimination, sexism, and homophobia, parts of which appear in the videos.  

          The most serious recent incident occurred in September 1991 at a convention in Las Vegas. About 100 Navy and Marine pilots were accused of sexual assault on more than 80 women. In a "boys will be boys" attitude, condoned by senior flag officers in attendance, the first investigation was a whitewash. A subsequent investigation, demanded by the female assistant secretary of the Navy, detailed criminal conduct that would scuttle the careers of more than 300 individuals, both civilian and military.

          Thus, it is not unusual that in a climate that condones fraternity-boy attitudes, complete with hazing at all levels, a decorated senior officer with extraordinary high fitness reports, may have believed what he did to boost morale would not be a problem.

          The Navy's lack of response in 2007 may have been far too lenient. However, its current actions are similar to what college administrators do to fraternities and sororities that cause embarrassment. College administrations spend a lot of time telling fraternities and sororities they must adhere to certain standards of conduct, but usually enforce those standards only when actions—including public drunkenness, hazing, sexism, and homophobia—becomes public.  It's then the college administration, like the Navy, declare such actions are unacceptable and, trying to stem public anger, overkill the response.

 

[Dr. Brasch is an award-winning syndicated columnist, author of 17 books, and a former newspaper and magazine writer/editor and tenured full professor of mass communications. You may contact him at walterbrasch@gmail.com.]

 

 

Sexism in the Colorado GOP

YouTube strikes again. Ken Buck, the front-runner for the Repub nomination for Senate in Colorado against Jane Norton - and that first name, Jane, that's important here - was asked why primary voters should support him. His answer?

"Because I do not wear high heels." And that gesture? Geez.

The current RCP polling average has Buck up 7 points over Norton. His lead was a full 16 in the most recent survey, a mid-June poll from the Denver Post. Something tells me that might be about to change.

Here's his "excuse." At least he's not trying to lie his way through an apology:

Buck campaign spokesman Owen Loftus said, “Obviously, the comment was made in jest after Jane questioned Ken’s ‘manhood’ in her new ad.”

In that ad, Norton, a former lieutenant governor, criticizes an independent 527 organization for attacking her and challenges Buck to “be man enough to do it himself.”

What do you think is next for Buck after he loses this race? Maybe he'll run recall campaigns against GOP Senators Collins, Snowe, and Hutchison? More importantly, I wonder what the odds of Sarah Palin endorsing Norton are now?

Update: Dang, that didn't take long at all. Norton's ad in reply:

How about some New Year's resolutions for the right-wing media machine?

It's that time of year again. Some have vowed to hit the gym more often. Others are swearing off cigarettes. For some, coffee has been replaced with copious amounts of socialist green tea. Still others are signing up for community service projects to help improve the world around them.

Yes, many Americans have made their New Year's resolutions. Perhaps the conservative media establishment should do the same.

There's more...

Somebodies and Nobodies: Understanding Rankism

What is rankism? First, some examples; then, a definition.

An executive pulls into valet parking, late to a business lunch, and finds no one to take his car. He spots a teenager running towards him and yells, "Where the hell were you? I haven't got all day."

He tosses the keys on the pavement. Bending to pick them up, the boy says, "Sorry, sir. About how long do you expect to be?"

The executive hollers over his shoulder, "You'll know when you see me, won't you?" The valet winces, but holds his tongue.

Postscript: That evening the teenager bullies his kid brother.


There's more...

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