Lara Logan, Rapid Riser

Lara Logan says she's surprised by her own success:
Lara Logan says she's surprised by her own success: "I'm not a performer. I don't speak in sound bites." (By Helayne Seidman For The Washington Post)
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 18, 2006

NEW YORK -- The words erupt in machine-gun bursts as Lara Logan strafes the critics who say she and other journalists in Iraq are ignoring the signs of progress there.

"That's complete nonsense," Logan says. "I tell the American commanders all the time: When we can get in our cars and drive to the opening of a store and interview people on camera without fear of being killed, or getting everyone involved with us killed, the good-news stories will be told."

Her lilting South African voice is tinged with a fervor that a more polished reporter might try to hide. But the 35-year-old Logan has no interest in tamping down the passions that drove her into journalism and fueled her rapid rise to the post of CBS's chief foreign correspondent.

She dismisses criticism of Western journalists remaining in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, saying: "Every time I leave the hotel, I have to justify why I'm risking the lives of everyone on my team."

Two weeks ago, Logan was embedded with a U.S. military unit in Ramadi when the Marine walking just in front of her was shot by a sniper during an ambush. She did a stand-up moments later, even as the gun battle raged. "It was distressing," she says matter-of-factly, as if acknowledging fear might be viewed as a sign of weakness. "You have to be professional. You can't fall apart in front of the Marines."

Viewers of the "CBS Evening News" also saw Logan in a combat helmet, crouching alongside members of the Marines' Kilo Company as gunners exchanged fire with Iraqi insurgents in a deserted building nearby. Some CBS executives have grown concerned for her safety, believing that she takes too many risks.

With her striking appearance and streaked-blond hair, Logan seems like a natural for television, but she professes to be surprised by her success. "I'm not a performer. I don't speak in sound bites. I'm not succinct."

CBS executives run out of superlatives in describing her. "Lara is one of these people that come along every 10 years," says Bob Schieffer, the CBS anchor. "I think she's the next Barbara Walters or Diane Sawyer. She is absolutely fearless, a terrific reporter; she never stops and she is quite attractive."

Logan's bulldozing style, however, can rub some colleagues the wrong way. "She's a little high-maintenance from time to time, but she is worth it," Schieffer says.

The British press has had a grand time playing up her looks -- London's Sun calls the "curvy" reporter "34D Lara" -- and the fact that as a student she worked as a part-time swimsuit model. Logan says some of the British reports, such as one claiming she wore low-cut tops during the war in Afghanistan, are false and that their implication is "laughable." To climb the career ladder, she declares, "I slugged my guts out."

Over eggs with bacon and tomahto -- and complaints about the tepid water used in American tea -- a question about how she got hired by CBS launches Logan on an hour-long disquisition about her rise from a South African high school senior who talked her way into a job at a Sunday newspaper. For the weekly story about the death toll from tribal violence, she would go to the morgue and insist on seeing the bodies.

While growing up as one of seven children in a middle-class family -- the daughter of a textile businessman and a mother who belonged to an anti-apartheid group -- Logan says she realized that "beneath the surface was this whole other world. How did a 17-year-old white girl from a relatively privileged upbringing get access to that?"

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