A combative Lara Logan plans a comeback on Fox News’ streaming service. Can she succeed?
Veteran foreign correspondent Lara Logan keeps a video of her Texas Hill Country home on her iPad. It shows the sunlight streaming through large trees on the five-acre property with only the sounds of chirping birds and an occasional truck passing by.
Logan, who risked her life being embedded in war-torn regions, has no desire to leave the bucolic domicile, even as she starts rebuilding her career as the host of a new documentary series — “Lara Logan Has No Agenda” — debuting Monday on the Fox News-operated streaming service Fox Nation.
“I don’t want to leave my children,” Logan, 48, said in a recent interview at a studio at Fox News headquarters in midtown Manhattan. “I don’t want to move to New York or Los Angeles. I live in a small town. I’m very happy there.”
No one would blame the former CBS News star for seeking some serenity after a turbulent decade. In February 2011, she was sexually assaulted on the streets of Cairo’s Tahrir Square while covering the celebration of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation.
Two years later, a serious mistake in a “60 Minutes” report that questioned the Obama administration’s response to the September 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, led to a diminished role for Logan on the venerable newsmagazine program. She took a significant cut in her $2-million-a-year salary, and her contract with CBS was not renewed in September 2018, a stunning downfall for an award-winning journalist and sought-after TV news talent.
But the South Africa native’s combination of grit, charisma and candor has kept her in the spotlight. She resurfaced in February in a 3 ½ hour interview on the podcast of her friend, former Navy SEAL Mike Ritland, in which she described the news media as predominantly left-leaning.
“The media is mostly liberal everywhere, not just the U.S.,” Logan said. “We’ve abandoned our pretense, or at least the effort, to be objective today.”
Right-wing websites and commentators latched onto her remarks, which went viral online. Invitations came from Fox News for her to appear as a guest with its President Trump-supporting prime-time hosts, who nightly accuse mainstream media outlets of liberal bias.
Her segments were well-received by the Fox News audience, and host Sean Hannity even lobbied his bosses on the air to hire her. Logan’s newest assignment eventually followed.
Logan insists her remarks were not an attempt to position herself a politically partisan pundit for a polarized media age. Her commitment to Fox News is limited to her four-episode series. “I’m not trying to be an opinion person,” she said.
Logan believes viewers who stream her new program will see that it adheres to its “No Agenda” title, despite its association with the conservative-leaning network.
“I can’t control the media landscape,” Logan said. “What I can control is the work that I do. I’m going to do that the same way here the way I did it at ‘60 Minutes.’ To date nobody has tried to make me do anything other than that. Nobody.”
The first episode of “Lara Logan Has No Agenda” looks at immigration enforcement, largely from the perspective of U.S. border agents who work along the Rio Grande. But she also devotes significant time to depicting the dangers that undocumented migrants face, and avoids taking a side in the heated political debate surrounding the issue.
For Logan, the documentary series is a chance to restore her journalistic reputation. It also signals a shift in strategy for Fox Nation, the subscription streaming service that Fox News launched in November 2018. The initial target audience was the Fox News super-fan who would be willing to pay $5.99 a month to stream more of the no-holds-barred conservative commentary that drives the biggest audiences for the top-rated cable news channel.
But the most popular offerings on Fox Nation have been original documentary-style programs, many of which cover historical events or are paeans to noncontroversial subjects such as national parks. Those programs have a celebratory, patriotic tone aimed at middle America.
“Originally we thought Fox Nation would be purely an extension of the opinion brand of Fox News,” said John Finley, executive vice president for development at Fox News. “The vast majority of the material that we’re doing now doesn’t have any political persuasion at all.”
Launching successful topical talk programs is challenging for all streaming services, as they easily become dated and are less likely to engage subscribers looking to binge. Even Netflix has failed to score a hit in the talk genre.
Fox News wanted to develop more long-form programs for Fox Nation that will have a shelf life. No subscription figures have been released for the service, but the company has said it’s ahead of its projections. Finley enlisted Montana-based company Warm Springs Productions — a supplier of unscripted shows to such cable networks as History, Discovery and ESPN — to team with Logan on her project.
Logan gives some gravitas to Fox Nation, where the current host lineup includes a former pro wrestler. But she also comes with baggage related to her messy parting with CBS News after 16 years.
Last month, Logan filed a $25-million defamation lawsuit against New York Magazine over a story on how her Benghazi report went awry. The story saidher superiors at CBS — included now ousted chairman Leslie Moonves — gave her too much latitude because they were enthralled with her star power and glamour.
Logan’s lawsuit calls the New York Magazine story a “hit job” intended to protect the reputation of the Obama administration and then-Secretary of State and future Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Among the many issues Logan had with the story, which ran with the pre-#MeToo-era headline “Benghazi and the Bombshell,” was the description of the sexual assault she experienced in Egypt as groping.
“I was raped over and over and again,” said Logan, who still suffers physical pain from the attack. “I was sodomized repeatedly. I almost died on that filthy street in Tahrir Square. And New York Magazine wrote that I was groped. What happened to me in Egypt is not in dispute.”
A spokesperson for New York Magazine said the story was “thoroughly vetted and fact checked” and the publication stands by its reporting.
“My nature is to stand up for myself,” Logan said about the lawsuit. “I won’t lie in the dirt unless I have to. In Egypt I had no choice. Even then I got back up and got knocked back down again and again and again.”
But Logan has accepted the consequences that resulted from her “60 Minutes” report that included a false account by Dylan Davies, a British security contractor who claimed he was in the Benghazi compound when it was attacked by an Islamic extremist group. J. Christopher Stevens, U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans died in the attack.
Davies told “60 Minutes” he had a confrontation with one of the attackers in the compound and had seen Stevens’ body in a hospital. But after the story aired, other news organizations cited FBI sources who said he was at his villa during the night in question.
Davies included the same erroneous story in a book he co-authored for CBS-owned subsidiary Simon & Schuster. Logan said a nondisclosure agreement with the publisher hampered the news division’s efforts to properly vet some of Davies’ claims.
A contrite Logan appeared on “60 Minutes” and “CBS This Morning” to give a lengthy apology for the flawed report.
“It’s my face, I’m out there,” she said. “If I take the credit, I’ve got to take the responsibility. I never do anything I don’t believe in. I put the interest of the show and the network ahead of my own. And I believe that was the right decision.”
Mark Lukasiewicz, dean of the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication at Hofstra University and a former NBC News executive, said Logan’s strong track record as a wartime reporter should enable her to bounce back from the setback at “60 Minutes.” But he believed the best route for recovery was to stick to factual reporting when she appears on opinion-driven forums such as the prime-time shows on Fox News.
“Spending time lamenting the reporting standards of mainstream media with Sean Hannity — a man who promulgates conspiracies on a nightly basis — does nothing to restore credibility,” Lukasiewicz said. “That goes for appearing on opinion programs on both sides of the political spectrum.”
Finley thinks the “60 Minutes” controversy will not matter to the Fox Nation audience.
“We looked at it and talked about it,” he said. “At this point several years later, it’s something that people in the business would talk about, but your average viewer would not be aware of it.“
Despite the “No Agenda” slogan, Logan does plan to wade back into the topic of media bias for one of the episodes. She has asked representatives from other news outlets to participate.
“The invitations have gone out — dozens and dozens of them,” Logan said. “No one has said yes, but we’ll keep asking.”
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