After allegedly implying that the U.S. military
was deliberately targeting journalists in Iraq, veteran CNN executive Eason
Jordan felt the heat and resigned.
Many implications have been drawn from this event by both the so-called Right
and Left. Yet they have largely missed the fundamental irony underpinning the
whole affair, which shows that Jordan is being both attacked and defended for
all the wrong reasons.
The Two Camps
This failure owes to the opinion-based point of
view shared by both "sides." For the pro-Bush critics in the "blogosphere"
who claim victory for his demise, Jordan's alleged comments were unpatriotic
and thus irresponsible – just another example of how the "liberal media"
disrespects and in fact despises America's armed forces.
What most commentators concluded was that the CNN exec represented, like that
other recently ousted high-profile media figure, Dan
Rather, the face of "old-school journalism." When the alleged
"new media" – as represented by the "citizen journalists"
of the blogosphere – decided to go to town on them with vigor, the two quickly
became history. Of course, one could also claim that the real old-school journalism,
if a dying art, is more accurately represented in all its variety by muckrakers
like Seymour Hersh
and eloquent political biographers such as Bob
Woodward. But that's besides the point.
The Case for Journalism
The whole event, or non-event, actually became
spun into an issue about standards: for the Eason-bashers,
it became a question of the patriotism of the left-wing media versus the self-sworn
defenders of American honor. Others fretted that the latter's newfound
power is worrying, since they had achieved their goal based on cited testimony
that could not be backed up by evidence; thus the conjecture of the rabble winning
out over the
sober professionalism of the "old-school" media. If a distinguished
and experienced news executive such as Jordan could be eliminated
by activist bloggers based on things that no one was even sure he said,
who could save journalism from the tabloid anarchy of the mobs? Never mind that
the broadcast media – led by CNN – has instilled the bandwagon mentality in
the general American psyche to a far greater extent than partisan Internet rantings
For the Left, especially after the narrow escape
journalist Giuliana Sgrena, Jordan's comment (which he tried to retract)
seemed to have a ring of truth to it. Was the U.S. military really murderously
motivated toward journalists in Iraq? If so, Jordan became in their eyes yet
another defender of free media steamrollered by the right-wing machine.
Other critics tried to portray the Eason story as primarily a symptom of red
state-blue state antagonisms. "There are those who wish to paint CNN as
this liberal media outlet in contrast to Fox and they want to beat up on him
for that reason," said David Gergen, a former presidential advisor onstage
with Jordan in Davos when the contentious comments were made, on
PBS' Newshour. "Frankly, I think that there has been a quality
of vigilante justice here which has … been excessive. It's been a cruel fate
for Eason Jordan to be caught in effect in the culture wars that are going on
in the country."
The characterization of CNN as an overly liberal news outlet is preposterous,
but then again so is America
today. Just as bizarre is the notion that through his martyrdom Jordan has
somehow been imbued with meaning or significance. According to The
Nation, "the real controversy here should not be over Jordan's
comments. The controversy ought to be over the unconscionable silence in the
United States about the military's repeated killing of journalists in Iraq."
A Question of Image
Not exactly. The real controversy here
is the huge role media outlets such as Jordan's have had and continue to have
in feeding the war machine. The U.S. might or might not be targeting reporters,
but the issue would never have arisen had America not been fighting so many
wars in the first place – a phenomenon that would have been impossible without
the active complicity of the media.
Further, it is disingenuous in the extreme to imagine Eason Jordan as somehow
a champion of free journalism. After all, as we will see, he himself had helped
set the precedent for embedding journalists in the U.S. military, during the
Kosovo war of 1999.
In his resignation, Eason Jordan himself betrayed the real significance of
the whole affair. According to ABC, he decided to quit "to avoid CNN being
'unfairly tarnished' by the controversy." In other words, when it comes
down to it, the whole affair was a question neither of factual verisimilitude
nor of patriotism but one of image. And in terms of creating the kind of image
that allows for modern warfare, CNN
paved the way. From the
first Gulf War's nighttime footage of U.S. bombardment, which made war seem
like a video game, right through to the human interest refugee stories that
defined the Kosovo war, CNN has worked hand-in-hand with the U.S. military to
create images that would, taken together, justify and popularize the American
war effort. In the end, Jordan became a casualty of his own success.
However, while we should shed no tears for his downfall, it is sad to see him
go out this way, for it leaves the most important things concealed. It's as
if Rummy was fired after being found to have a predilection for prancing around
in little pink tutus, instead of for causing the needless deaths of tens of
thousands. There is something deeply dissatisfying about the martyrdom of Eason
Jordan, in that it conceals the deep complicity he had in fueling wars. But
the leviathan surfaces in its bigger and arguably proper context when we consider
his complicity in the Kosovo war.
"Dumbing It Down": CNN Policy, as Stated by Jordan
At the time of his resignation, Jordan was no
longer serving as CNN's president for global news-gathering, though he remained
"CNN's chief fix-it man overseas, arranging coverage in dangerous or hard-to-reach
parts of the world." However, during the Kosovo war, he was fully in control
of operations and in fact bragged about his network's technology, methods, and
goals in an April
1, 1999 interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. After lavishing
praise on the network for its modern computer and camera technology, Jordan
spoke frankly about the importance of dumbing it down for mass consumption:
"[W]e want to make it simple to understand and as easy as possible to understand."
Indeed, there's nothing worse than alienating the average viewer by presuming
too much intelligence. The CNN method thus involved video-game footage of bombing
and heartbreaking pictures of crying refugees combined with, as Jordan puts
it, "five- and six-word bullet points to help explain the story so that
people can better understand it at home."
It gets worse. It's more than just the numbing
repetition of images and dumbed-down news. The fact is that under Eason
Jordan's watch, CNN violated almost every principal held to be sacrosanct for
journalism, willfully and with the single goal of selling Bill Clinton's war
on Serbia. These transgressions went from psycho-historical
manipulation to concocting stories, fabricating images, and uncritically
repeating administration propaganda, all the way through to serious conflict-of-interest
relationships between the network and government/military personnel. The fact
that these are all supported by facts bodes ill for Jordan – though he probably
won't have to answer for it until he gets off the elevator at the
seventh floor of Woody Allen's hell.
New Hague Testimony Bolsters the Case for CNN's Fraud
In recent witness testimony at the Hague (unsurprisingly,
ignored by CNN), three Macedonian medics who worked in 1999 at the Kosovo border
refugee singled out Eason Jordan's CNN for being the most intellectually corrupt
and deceptive news agency of all those present during the conflict.
Whereas the network (and most of the other foreign press) declared that the
Albanian refugees had been driven out of Kosovo by vengeful Serbs, robbed and
beaten along the way, only to die in squalor across the Macedonian border, three
men who worked day in and day out at the camps – the head of Macedonia's emergency
medical services, Dr. Dobre Aleksovski; Goran Stojcic, a driver who worked for
the emergency services; and medic Mirko Babic – claimed
that the truth was somewhat different. While hundreds of thousands passed
through the camps, only 14 had serious injuries: "[O]ne woman cut her finger
on a tin can, and some other people slipped and fell on the wet ground, sustaining
injuries such as broken bones and twisted ankles; there were also a couple of
pregnant women who were sent to the hospital to give birth." (Contrast
that with NATO Spokesman Jamie
Shea's absurd claim that 100,000 babies were born in the refugee camps).
Further, unlike what most Western media reports stated, the refugees had money,
cigarettes, telephones, and some, even guns. According to Dr. Aleksovski's testimony,
"the Albanians refused to eat bread that was baked in Skopje. They would
only eat bread from [the Albanian-majority city of] Tetovo. Whereas normal refugees
would have been grateful for any food they got."
Factor" at Work
According to the witnesses, the war-hungry media
– led by CNN – turned the refugee camps into a three-ring circus of simulation
and journalistic fraud. For his part, Mr. Stojcic "witnessed a CNN camera
crew coaching refugees on how to act for the cameras. He eyewitnessed a man
cross the border with two children. CNN spoke to the man and sent him back to
cross the border so that he could cross again in front of the camera; the second
time the man crossed over he had his children crying for the cameras."
Further, Mr. Stojcic "witnessed a group of refugees throwing a child into
the mud; a CNN camera crew then filmed the child after it was crying and covered
in mud. The witness identified Christiane Amanpour as the CNN reporter who was
on the spot in the refugee camps. He said that CNN was the worst media outlet,
as it was the most prone to staging scenes for its news broadcasts."
was supported by the medic, Mirko Babic, who "witnessed a CNN camera
crew staging a phony exodus of refugees over a hill. A large group of refugees
were gathered together and the camera crew filmed them coming over a muddy hill.
The camera crew recruited elderly people and small children to be part of this
group. The camera crew separated the children from their parents and then paired
them up with the old people who the children did not know. The result was that
the children would cry. The CNN crew even went so far as to instruct the old
people to pull out their handkerchiefs and act like they were crying too."
According to Babic, CNN and the BBC were the media bodies most prone to "rigging
false news footage."
Unfortunately for him, Hague Prosecutor Geoffrey Nice tried to rebut these
charges by recourse to old CNN footage that "claimed that eight Albanians
had died in the camps for want of medical treatment in one day alone."
He could just as well have mentioned the
April 6, 1999 CNN report that claimed, without naming sources, that 50 helpless
refugees had died. However, according to both medic Babic and Dr. Aleksovski,
"only one refugee died in the camps the whole time, and not due to lack
of medical care. CNN had lied when it reported that eight refugees died in one
For the mainstream media, however, all
that's worthy of note here is that the refugee angle "was used to great
effect in Kosovo."
Conflicts of Interest, From Amanpour to the Psy-Ops Crew
These shenanigans allowed the vital creation of
woeful, heartbreaking images for the viewer back home who might otherwise question
the rationale behind war. But above and beyond the work carried out by CNN's
hacks in the field, by any reasonable standard the network was guilty on a much
higher level of gross conflict of interest, in that its top war correspondent
(the aforementioned Ms. Amanpour) was the wife of the State Department's spokesman
and official liaison to the KLA at Rambouillet, James Rubin. As
Rubin himself put it when imploring budding diplomats toward public service
at a Columbia graduation speech on May 19, 1999, "cynicism … is simply
not an option." Indeed.
Even had Amanpour not been merely the faithful mouthpiece for the U.S., NATO,
and the KLA (which she was), the simple fact that she was truly embedded with
one of the parties involved with the war should have prevented her from being
allowed to take part in covering it. Nevertheless, for the media establishment
and the Peabody Awards, where the CNN gang had been just
two days before the Columbia event, award-winner
Amanpour represents "all that is good and great in television journalism."
That such conflicts of interest might matter little to the likes of Eason Jordan
is attested by an even more blatant connection between CNN and the government's
war machine in Kosovo. In a Counterpunch
article of March 26, 2000, Alexander Cockburn recounts having received "an
angry phone call from Eason Jordan" following his report about how U.S.
Army Psy-Ops personnel had been working in CNN's Atlanta headquarters during
the Kosovo war, "helping" in "the production of news," according
to a U.S. Army Major quoted. However, despite being "full of indignation
that [Cockburn] had somehow compromised the reputation of CNN," Jordan
admitted that the story was true – though, like the Amanpour conflict, it apparently
mattered little to him.
A further telling detail, in light of the recent scandal, is the fact that
Eason and CNN had received
advance warning from the military about the impending bombing of the Radio
Television Serbia building by NATO. Jordan claimed that "CNN used the knowledge
to warn off the planned bombing, as journalists from the U.S. and elsewhere
would have been in the building at the time." However, "days later,
when the Western journalists had gone, the U.S. bombing went ahead, killing
16 Serb journalists."
It All Comes Full Circle
In Iraq, the only journalists safe from American
arms are embedded ones. At least that's the thinking of people such as Sgrena
– and, possibly, of Eason
Jordan himself. Whether or not this is true, it is undeniable that since
the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration has slowly but surely eradicated
the freedoms traditionally enjoyed by independent journalists in war zones,
arguing that it cannot guarantee the safety of those who elect to strike off
on their own rather than remain within the ranks of the embedded. In other words:
enlist or face the consequences.
The wicked irony of all this is that the Bush administration hit on embedding
as a means of ensuring positive coverage only after Eason Jordan's CNN had pioneered
(if in an embryonic form) the practice during Kosovo. For example, Jordan himself
states in the April 1, 1999 Australian interview that "we had a correspondent
yesterday who flew on a B-52 bomber out of England to a bomb location just out
of Yugoslavia, and he was allowed to fly on that plane only by himself along
with the flight crew…."
"I have devoted my professional life to helping make CNN the most trusted and
respected news outlet in the world," said
Eason in penning his own eulogy, "and I would never do anything to
compromise my work or that of the thousands of talented people it is my honor
to work alongside."
Unfortunately, he already has. And it didn't take a verbal faux pas
at Davos to reveal how.