Peter Klein is the executive director of the Global Reporting Centre and professor at the University of British Columbia.
This week, Fox News commentator Lara Logan went on the air to criticize the U.S. response toward the COVID-19 pandemic, which is being led by President Biden’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci. Fair enough – we should certainly be debating those policies in an open forum.
She then shared this gem: “What you see on Dr. Fauci – this is what people say to me, that he doesn’t represent science to them. He represents Josef Mengele,” referring to the Nazi doctor who experimented on Jews during the Second World War.
As the child of Holocaust survivors, whose cousins, aunt and uncle died in Auschwitz – the camp where Dr. Mengele worked – I can’t help but take offence to such a comparison. The notion that a physician who has helped millions through his role as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as well as adviser to seven U.S. presidents, would bear any resemblance to a torturer who peddled eugenics and pseudoscience is, of course, ridiculous.
But I also come to this as Lara’s former producer at 60 Minutes, where we worked on stories about national security and war, and my first response, after eye-popping disbelief, is what I often said to her in the newsroom: show me the facts. She said on the Fox program, “I am talking about people all across the world are saying this.” Who are these sources who are widely comparing Dr. Fauci to Dr. Mengele?
Of course, there are no such sources, beyond perhaps a small circle of far-right activists she may be associating with these days.
My phone and inbox have been overflowing with questions from friends, colleagues and strangers, asking if Lara was always this way. Let me set the record straight: no.
It’s true that Lara tried to push the envelope sometimes, but there’s a system in place at reputable news organizations that keeps journalists in check. I remember a heated argument with her in the edit room, in which she insisted on calling the Iraq-based terrorist group Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn by the shorthand “Al Qaeda.” I pointed out that this group, often referred to as “Al Qaeda in Iraq,” is not the group founded by Osama bin Laden. The conflation of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan with Sunni terrorists in Iraq is precisely what we, as journalists, had the responsibility to set straight with the public and policy makers. While the group’s founder did pledge allegiance to Al Qaeda in 2004, I said that calling them the same thing would be akin to saying the Beatles and Wings were the same band. She changed the script.
The Lara I worked with was a good reporter. She was brave and curious, she listened during interviews and she knew how to tell a good story. While she did her share of pieces that glorified the U.S. military, she was also open to critiques, as in our 2007 story Dissension in the Ranks, which looked at service members refusing to redeploy to Iraq over their concerns about how the war was being run by the Bush administration.
That’s not the Lara we saw emerge two years ago. After she was put on leave by CBS News over a discredited report on the Benghazi attack, she went on an obscure right-wing podcast run by a retired Navy SEAL she had previously profiled, to excoriate the media for what she perceived as liberal bias. I called her out in private over the comments, and she listened respectfully – but, nevertheless, she persisted. She has gone on to host a streaming show with the ironic title Lara Logan Has No Agenda, and she pops up occasionally with controversial comments that keep her relevant.
The risks of these comments go beyond destroying her reputation. It fosters skepticism in scientifically sound health policies, and it feeds the attacks on Dr. Fauci, whose life is in constant danger because of this kind of propaganda.
The other question I get is – does Lara really believe the drivel she peddles? These days, she strikes me more like Sacha Baron Cohen playing the character Borat, when he got a bar in Arizona to sing along with the refrain “Throw the Jew down the well.” Or like in his recent film, when he got the crowd at a pro-Trump rally to sing “Dr. Fauci, what we gonna do? Inject him with the Wuhan flu!” Playing to a gullible audience.
That’s the sort of radical populism that has kept Lara’s crowd stirring, and has kept her career alive. But when it comes to her credibility as a fact-based journalist – that’s dead.
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