Somehow left-wing journalist Nir Rosen didn’t realize how serious it was when he shot off those tasteless tweets about CBS News Chief Foreign Correspondent Lara Logan, who was sexually assaulted in Egypt. Strangers are now lambasting him. Friends and family are telling him he’s not fit for Twitter. He says he agrees. Like many men, he says, he made a tasteless joke. Like most men, he adds, he needs to be far more sensitive. We caught up with him in an email exchange from Dubai, where he is as of this morning. Attempting damage control, he agreed to answer our questions. Rosen contributes to Atlantic Monthly, WaPo, and NYT Magazine. Due to his vitriolic comments, he has resigned as a fellow at New York University Center on Law and Security.
His tweets from Feb. 15: “Lara Logan had to outdo Anderson. Where was her buddy McCrystal.” But there was more: Yes yes its wrong what happened to her. Of course. I don’t support that. But, it would have been funny if it happened to Anderson too.” He was referring to CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who suffered beatings during his Egypt coverage. He also called Logan a war monger, saying, “Jesus Christ, at a moment when she is going to become a martyr and glorified we should at least remember her role as a major war monger.”
1. What would you like to accomplish with this interview? Thank you for giving me the opportunity to explain myself, or at least once more issue a public apology to Ms. Logan, her family, her friends and all women.
2. Have you officially gone off Twitter? I have not officially gone of twitter in that I still have an account, but I’ve often been warned by friends that someone as rash and careless as me should not be on twitter, and clearly they were right. I have certainly lost any desire to use twitter mostly because I am ashamed of what happened and I’m eager to retreat from the public spotlight I brought upon myself.
3. Do you think your statements have been misperceived? Yes and no. Its difficult to try to explain why you were a jerk (or an asshole). On twitter I often banter and argue with various acquaintances about subjects like the morality of wikileaks, the war in Afghanistan, etc. We don’t regard it as a place to make serious statements, after all, at least I thought, it’s just silly social media, but that was idiotic of me and showed terrible judgment. I heard that Ms. Logan was roughed up like many other journalists, I had not realized it was something more serious. I thought I would provoke a friend on Twitter, childishly, and then the exchange grew and suddenly statements that I could not possibly mean were being taken seriously and I was hurting people I didnt even know without any intention. I am not suggesting that making such jokes are ever okay. I have known women, and actually quite a few men, who have been sexually assaulted, and in the last eight years I have often reported on such abuses. When you’re in war zones you develop a black humor and make jokes about your death, other people’s deaths, other terrible things, writers and photographers do it, as of course do Bosnians, Iraqis, Somalis and others as a coping mechanism. But taken out of context this can be deeply hurtful, especially when made by a man. A man should never joke about women being abused or harassed.
4. Are you genuinely sorry for what you wrote about Logan and how are readers supposed to believe that? I feel like when you have done something so offensive and stupid, even trying to explain it seems like you are justifying it and what you say will be taken out of context. So I need to state that my views on women’s rights have always been quite radical (in defense of women). Moreover the last eight years of working in the Middle East, parts of Africa and Asia (like Afghanistan) and in Mexico only further outraged me, because I have seen first hand how brutally women are treated there. And we are only a little bit better in the West. The status of women in the United States is also deplorable. I have spent eight years risking my life as a journalist and also as a consultant to several NGOs and humanitarian organizations to bring attention to victims of injustice and to give voice and empowerment to the weak. By joking around with some friends I betrayed all that and betrayed my family, friends and supports, and I brought shame upon myself and them.
5. How do you view what happened to Lara Logan, honestly? A part of me was bothered by how celebrities, especially white ones, get so much attention, and before I realized it was a sexual assault I was sort of anticipating a return to the old theme about unleashed brown natives attacking a white woman. Another part of me was bothered by the knowledge that Arab victims would never get attention, that this would detract from everything else that was happening, and that most victims of sexual assault, whether in Egypt or the US will never get attention. These are not points a man has a right to make though, and nobody should try to take advantage of somebody else’s tragedy to make points anyway. I also let my personal dislike of Ms. Logan’s support for wars that have been very costly in terms of human life, which I have seen first hand, make it seem like I somehow actually think she deserved to be attacked. That is totally untrue. Nobody deserves to be assaulted in any way, regardless of their views. Like many men, I made a tasteless joke, more than tasteless of course, deeply offensive and hurtful when perceived to be sincere or when read by victims. Like most men, I need to be better educated and far more sensitive to the suffering of women and victims of sexual abuse.
6. Please say something about the power of words. This can’t be the first time that words struck you as powerful and in some ways, a danger, or do you think that’s too strong of a thing to say? I feel like shrinking now, I am so embarrassed for what I have done and how many people I offended. I always meant for my work to offend the powerful and give comfort to the weak. Yesterday I did the opposite of that. I, of all people, should know the power of words and the power of social media. In a few minutes of insensitive and sadistic banter meant to childishly provoke a few acquaintances my thoughtless words were seen by many thousands, and hurt many thousands. In addition I have now associated people I know and causes I care about with my own words, which make it seem like I could ever support assault on a woman, or anybody, which I cannot and would not. I have failed and disappointed many people and hurt many people and I am deeply sorry for that and I wish I could convey my apology to them all.
Update: Harper’s PR writes in to inform that Rosen does not contribute to the magazine. They received a number of complaints from readers about Rosen’s connection to the magazine. We have removed Harper’s from his bio information above. “We don’t have a relationship with Rosen,” the spokeswoman wrote. Duly noted.