Friday, April 11, 2003

The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth

Eason Jordan, chief news executive at CNN, writes in today's New York Times that he was personally aware of the brutality of Saddam's regime, but did not report it, out of fear of recriminations against CNN staff.

"Each time I visited, I became more distressed by what I saw and heard—awful things that could not be reported because doing so would have jeopardized the lives of Iraqis, particularly those on our Baghdad staff.
Jordan goes on to tell a harrowing tale of Iraqi assassination, torture, and dismemberment.

Saddam was so totalitarian that CNN feared for its staff and subjects, yet publicly, it continued to report as if Saddam's brutality did not impact its operation. So much for the press serving as a watch guard against threats to freedom.

The minute Saddam threatened force against CNN, the network should have pulled out of Iraq. CNN should have had the honesty to report that it was impossible to provide provide accurate and complete news inside a totalitarian dictatorship. That would have been important news to know on the concrete level CNN could have provided. Yet instead of reporting relevant facts, CNN knowingly whitewashed for a dictator.

If CNN's judgment permitted it not to tell the whole story in Iraq, one wonders where else it hasn't told the whole story.

UPDATE: This tidbit found on WNYC Radio (dated October 25, 2002):

BOB GARFIELD: I'm sure you have seen Franklin Foer's article in The New Republic which charges that the Western press is appeasing the Iraqi regime in order to maintain its visas -- to be there reporting should a war ultimately break out. What's your take on that?

EASON JORDAN: The writer clearly doesn't have a clear understanding of the realities on the ground because CNN has demonstrated again and again that it has a spine; that it's prepared to be forthright; is forthright in its reporting. We wouldn't have a team in northern Iraq right now if we didn't want to upset the Saddam Hussein regime. We wouldn't report on the demonstration if we didn't want to upset the Saddam Hussein regime. We wouldn't have been thrown out of Iraq already 5 times over the last several years if we were there to please the Saddam Hussein regime. So the story was lopsided, unfair and chose to ignore facts that would refute the premise of the article.

BOB GARFIELD: Well what is the calculus? In the New Republic article he cites the coverage of Saddam Hussein's birthday by CNN which he deemed to be not a huge news event. Are you tossing bones to Saddam Hussein in order to be there when, when it really matters?

EASON JORDAN: No. I don't think that's the case at all. Now, there is Iraqi propaganda that is news! I mean there is propaganda from a lot of governments around the world that is newsworthy and we should report on those things. Saddam Hussein's birthday is a big deal in that country. We're not reading Iraqi propaganda; we're reporting as an independent news organization.

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