Commentary

Libel Suit Against 'New York' Faces Uphill Battle

Former "60 Minutes" reporter Lara Logan last week sued New York magazine's publisher and writer Joe Hagan for $25 million, claiming they hurt her reputation with a story aimed at embarrassing former CBS president Les Moonves. Logan likely faces a long legal battle in a case that appears to rest on what Moonves thinks about her.

The defamation suit, filed in Texas federal court, alleges that in 2014, New York ran a "hit piece" about her coverage of Benghazi that made dozens of false claims, described her as a "reckless bimbo" and downplayed a gang rape she suffered in Egypt.

New York's story, titled "Benghazi and the Bombshell," covered the internal workings of CBS News after it had to retract a "60 Minutes" segment because of inaccuracies in Logan's reporting. She had partly relied on a source who later admitted he had invented a story about witnessing a militant attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, to sell a book.

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Logan said she publicly apologized for making a "mistake" and that key parts of the story were factual. She also said the decision by "60 Minutes" to retract the story was "motivated by politics."

“The Benghazi report contradicted the Obama narrative that al Qaeda was on the run,” according to Logan’s suit, which lists 29 examples of allegedly false and defamatory statements in New York's story.

The suit chides the magazine for referring to her as a "bombshell," a term that's "sexist, insulting and defamatory at the same time." Logan also claims that she was sexually attacked in Egypt in 2011, an incident that Hagan's story describes as "mere groping."

Logan claims that Moonves had planned for her to return to "60 Minutes" after she had taken a leave of absence while CBS News conducted an internal investigation into her story. However, he changed his mind after New York ran the story, the suit says.

“The Hagan hit piece embarrassed Moonves,” according to the suit. “He took it as a personal insult and affront. He blamed Logan. Thereafter, he made it known internally at CBS that Logan was ‘damaged goods.’ After the Hagan hit piece, Logan was ‘dead’ to Moonves.”

Logan claims she would have earned more than $2.15 million a year, but the "Hagan Hit Piece" triggered a drastic cut in pay to $750,000 over three years as a part-time correspondent.

It will be interesting to see how Logan proves the allegations in the suit, and whether New York and Hagan can be compelled to reveal unnamed sources at CBS News who described the organization's internal workings during the Benghazi flap. 

The magazine has broad license to report the story without revealing its unnamed sources, but a sympathetic judge may find New York and Hagan in contempt of court for not disclosing its sources if the case ever reaches a trial.

I'm also curious whether Moonves can be compelled to testify that New York's coverage led him to prevent her from returning to "60 Minutes," a key part of her suit against the magazine. But it's still too early to tell how Logan's case will proceed.

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