Thursday, February 17, 2005

Have You Heard The One About Eason Jordan? 

The real power in the blogosphere, located firmly on the right, has another scalp to dangle from its warrior belt in its relentless battle to remove from international media any signs of aspostasy from their perception of what is appropriately American media behavior. (Not all apostasy is considered a negative; apostasy by liberals turning away from their previously held nasty mindsets are to be admired. see M. Kaus. Come to think of it, if you start out as an apostate liberal, were you ever a liberal?)

I speak of Eason Jordan, of course, formerly one of the top news executives of CNN. Until Friday, when he resigned. Mr. Jordan had said something about the extraordinarily high number of journalists who have perished while reporting in Iraq, often under fire from insurgents, but also, in some cases, from American fire. His comments were made while Mr. Jordan was participating in a panel discussion about media and democracy held at Davos as part of the International Economic Forum. Said something. About that there is general agreement. And then immediately, in real time, began to disavow the extreme interpretation of what he said that his accusers continue to insist he meant to say and continues to mean. Everyone, more or less, seems to agree upon that point, as well.

The first mention of this moment, which, please remember, came in an unscripted forum discussion, occurred in a post to the Forum's blog, by someone who is very open about not being a journalist. The post was dated January 28th. Friday was Feb 11th. Didn't take long, did it?

Since I was taking a breather from righwing blogovia, I remained unaware that this contretemp was even going on until I happened on it last week at Jay Rosen's "PressThink," by which time there was already a rightwing EasonGate blog active on the case, not to mention an excited blog swarm being led by Hugh Hewitt, Michele Malkin, Powerline, all the regulars. Mr. Rosen, a journalism professor at NYU had been covering the coverage, doing some actual journalism himself in an effort to ascertain with more precision what had happened at Davos, and his comment threads had become a forum for a variety of points of view, although the predominant one remained bloggers and commentators who insisted on believing that a single sentence uttered by Eason Jordan crossed a professional line, that he meant to say what he said, backtracking be damned, did so for the most unsavory reasons, and most infuriating of all, that the MSM, as they like to refer to big media, was steadfastly refusing to cover their allegations for all the usual suspect reasons. For his part, Mr. Rosen was attempting to withhold judgment about the exact nature of Eason Jordan's transgression, if indeed any such had transpired, until more facts were known about what he'd actually said, and what he'd said about what he meant, both during and after the fact.

What follows is an attempt to walk a reader, who, like me, was late to discover all this, through the basic texts of the "controversy," as they were developed and embraced by the rightwing blogosphere, with the help of certain well-placed media professionals, and the extraordinary passivity of the SCLM in the face of an attack that was clearly meant to limit discourse, even while the bloggers behind thie attack were extolling their own virtues as warriors in service to an expansion of discourse and media transparency. I know that many on the liberal/left axis become impatient with this kind of analysis, I become impatient with it, myself, and doing this post made me positively twitchy, but there is a pattern to be discerned here that recalls the success of the SwiftBoat Vets for their version of truth, and the success of the rightwing in slimming Joe Wilson as a liar, and Richard Clarke as a bitter ex-employee, and the obligteration of the Bush National Guard story as worthy of concern, which was the real point of the Dan Rather dustup. (Don't take this as a defense of Rather or CBS, it isn't)

The basic text regarding what happened at Davos used by everyone who has commented on this scandale was provided by Rony Abovitz, an attendee at Davos, who was in the audience at the panel discussion. I think it's fair to say that his report, in the Forum's blog, is very far from being recognizable as a news story. What seems clear is that Mr. Jordan used the unfortunate term "targeted," when discussing the high number of journalists that have been killed in Iraq in reference to both insurgents and members of the American military.

I'm willing to concede that is a highly provocative statement. And it appears to have provoked a response - some in the audience applauding the subject being brought up, Barney Franks, a panalist and David Gergen, the panel's moderator, registering shock and dismay. Abovitz is also clear that Jordan immediately backpedaled from the most extreme interpretation of that statement. What is missing from Abovitz's description is any sense of how the discussion developed, any sense of what actually got said, except for those key words that he memorializes in his title to his post, "Do US Troops Target Journalists in Iraq?"
During one of the discussions about the number of journalists killed in the Iraq War, Eason Jordan asserted that he knew of 12 journalists who had not only been killed by US troops in Iraq, but they had in fact been targeted. He repeated the assertion a few times, which seemed to win favor in parts of the audience (the anti-US crowd) and cause great strain on others. Due to the nature of the forum, I was able to directly challenge Eason, asking if he had any objective and clear evidence to backup these claims, because if what he said was true, it would make Abu Ghraib look like a walk in the park. David Gergen was also clearly disturbed and shocked by the allegation that the U.S. would target journalists, foreign or U.S. He had always seen the U.S. military as the providers of safety and rescue for all reporters

Eason seemed to backpedal quickly, but his initial statements were backed by other members of the audience (one in particular who represented a worldwide journalist group). The ensuing debate was (for lack of better words) a real "sh--storm". What intensified the problem was the fact that the session was a public forum being taped on camera, in front of an international crowd. The other looming shadow on what was going on was the presence of a U.S. Congressman and a U.S. Senator in the middle of some very serious accusations about the U.S. military.

To be fair (and balanced), Eason did backpedal and make a number of statements claiming that he really did not know if what he said was true, and that he did not himself believe it. But when pressed by others, he seemed to waver back and forth between what might have been his beliefs and the realization that he had created a kind of public mess. His statements, his reaction, and the reaction of all in attendance left me perplexed and confused. Many in the crowd, especially those from Arab nations, applauded what he said and called him a "very brave man" for speaking up against the U.S. in a public way amongst a crowd ready to hear anti-US sentiments. I am quite sure that somewhere in the Middle East, right now, his remarks are being printed up in Arab language newspapers as proof that the U.S. is an evil and corrupt nation. That is a real nightmare, because the Arab world is taking something said by a credible leader of the media (CNN!) as the gospel, or koranic truth. What is worse is that I am not really sure what Eason really meant to communicate to us, but I do know that he was quite passionate about it. Members of the audience took away what they wanted to hear, and now they will use it in every vile and twisted way imaginable.

As you can see, there is a strong admixture of undocumented assumptions and speculations in this description., and no actual quotes. Understand, I'm not being critical of Abovitz. I don't doubt that he's being honest, and is also attempting to be fair to Eason Jordan. But Abovitz doesn't even tell us what was Jordan's answer to Abovitz's fairly direct question. There is also a clear bias, a set of assumptions about the "Arab world" and about the role of journalism as a representative of American policy that are unhidden in Abovitz's summary of what happened.

If what Eason originally said was true, exactly what happened and why needs to become known to the American public and world at large. If it is not, it is an example of how "news" is created by the heat of the moment, without any bearing to reality. If it is true, we need to know if it was official or if it was just some random disgruntled soldiers. The dark scenario, what the rest of the world would love to believe, is that the U.S. is sinister and evil and this is just another example of Darth Bush. Is this the same U.S. that I know and love, or was this just someone accidentally becoming swept up in the anti-U.S. feeling that is all pervasive in Davos (but they love us too, especially Clinton).
Heaven knows that we on the left have our own arguments with Big MacMedia, but when you read a mishmash of facts, assertions, and speculations like Mr. Abovitz's summary of the incident, (which if you haven't taken advantage of the link above to read all of, you should and can by clicking here), it reminds you of the value of a good news story. Again, this isn't a knock against Abovitz, who makes no journalistic claims, other than as a citizen observer. Fair enough.

But take a look at this exchange between Hugh Hewitt and Rebecca MacKinnon, journalist turned blogger, a former associate of Mr. Jordan at CNN, who was also at Davos, and who covered the incident on her own blog, and had agreed to answer Hewitt's questions about the incident.

Q:First, was Rony's account "accurate" in the sense that it would have been a responsible filing from any journalist working for, say, a big paper?

A: A news report by a newspaper or news agency would have included verbatim quotes, ideally double-checked from a digital or tape recording made by the journalist. A TV or radio report would have included the actual "soundbite." Rony's account is detailed, and was clearly written soon after the panel discussion ended. As I've said before, his account of what transpired is consistent with my recollection of the event. However, since nobody has verbatim quotes, all we have are Jordan's clarifications after-the-fact, in which he admits to have mis-spoken.

edit (it's a big edit, you can and should read her whole answer here, along with the rest of her answers to the rest of Hewett's questions.)

So to answer your question: yes, Rony's initial blog post was "accurate" in the sense that several of us in the room have corroborated his account. He has a great memory for detail. But would any news editor have relied on his or anybody else's memory for a news story? No.

Is it just me or is something about that answer highly unsatisfying? Does Ms. MacKinnon mean that she is corroborating that Eason Jordan "seemed to waver back and forth between what might have been his beliefs and the realization that he had created a kind of public mess." Does she even understand what that means? Because I don't. Is she corroborating that "Members of the audience took away what they wanted to hear, and now they will use it in every vile and twisted way imaginable. " To be frank, I don't see any "great memory for detail" anywhere in Abovitz's original description. And what of Hewett's question? Although by training a lawyer, Hugh Hewett more or less plays a journalist on talk radio, on his own blog, in a syndicated newspaper column, and he has been seen often on KCET, our local PBS station. Was Hugh Hewett serious when he asked if Abovitz's summary was publishable as a news story? Does he think so? Or was he merely getting a point of view about that question "on the record," as a lawyer might do in building a case?

Despite later charges that Jordan was part of a coverup and refused to admit to saying what he said, it turns out that he readily responded to questions from bloggers when asked to clarify what he meant. The first such response was received by Ms. MacKinnon and posted in her blog. If you're interested in following this story further you need to take a moment and read Eason Jordan's explanation of what he was trying to say.

You'll notice that he says several times that he does not believe that the US military is deliberately targeting journalists, that he was not trying to say that they did at Davos, and that he was using "targeted" in a highly limited way, to differentiate the fate of so many journalists in Iraq from the category of "collatoral damage," in which Barney Frank had just placed them during a discussion of the huge number of journalists who have died in Iraq since the American invasion. Note that this is consistent with one thing Abovitz says, i.e., that Jordan's remarks were in the context of a discussion on exactly that subject already in progress. Note, also, that the date of this post is February 2nd. Let's see, that means that Eason Jordan "stonewalled" for all of three or four days.

Another blogger got a similar reply from Eason Jordan. Carol Platt Liebou was less inclined than Ms. MacKinnon to take Jordan's words at face value.

Our friend, formerly of CNN, passed along this statement from Eason Jordan. It seems that he is making a semantic argument, i.e., that when he said that the journalists had been "targeted", he didn't mean to imply that the U.S. military realized that they were journalists. (That is, soldiers intended to shoot the people who were killed -- they just didn't know they were journalists.) Perhaps that's true. Perhaps. But why wouldn't he have made the point about mistaken identity clear in the original remarks?
Interesting question. I have one for Ms. Liebou: what makes you think that Eason Jordan didn't do that? Or at the very least, didn't try and do that? There is a lot in Ronnie Abovitz original summary to suggest that Jordan did, isn't there? And is it really only a "semantic" difference to insist that the term "collatoral damage" is not an accurate one to describe the deaths of journalists who have died from American fire aimed at them, however innocently? Remember also that the international organizations whose task it is to protect journalists in war zones, as well as Eason Jordan along with other heads of other international news organizations have been working with the American government and military to find ways to make the work of international journalists safer. For them this is not an academic subject.

Ms Liebou's commentators were even less inclined than she to take Eason Jordan's integrity at face value, and if you want a sense of what emotions and what habits of mind and argument fueled what had now become a self-described "blog swarm," you can't do better than to read the comments to a post that featured these words from Eason Jordan himself:

"To be clear, I do not believe the U.S. military is trying to kill journalists in Iraq. I said so during the forum panel discussion. But, nonetheless, the U.S. military has killed several journalists in Iraq in cases of mistaken identity. The reason the word "targeted" came up at all is because I was responding to a comment by Congressman Franks, who said he believed the 63 journalists killed in Iraq were the victims of "collateral damage." Since three of my CNN colleagues and many other journalists have been killed on purpose in Iraq, I disputed the "collateral damage" statement, saying, unfortunately, many journalists -- not all -- killed in Iraq were indeed targeted. When someone aims a gun at someone and pulls the trigger and then learns later the person fired at was actually a journalist, an apology is ppropriate and is accepted, and I believe those apologies to be genuine. But such a killing is a tragic case of mistaken identity, not a case of "collateral damage." That is the distinction I was trying to make even if I did not make it clearly at the time."
And here are a few of the responses to that statement:
Can you believe this guy Jordan? Semantical gymnastics. He should be very sore indeed.

Nobody's buying this. Jordan said what he said and meant it: journalists are being targeted. The implication was that United States soldiers were specifically going after journalists. Now he wants to backtrack and parse "collateral damage" and mistaken identity? Sorry. Too many fact-checkers on this case. The blog swarm has descended...


Great scoop, Carol. This sounds like more of the same spin we received from CNN - that his remarks were taken out of context, he didn't say what he meant, he didn't mean what he said, etc. (pick your favorite excuse).


Thanks for putting this up, but it does sound like Jordan's trying to lie his way out of the hole he dug with his own mouth.


This man has been involved with journalism for years. Does he really expect us to believe that he doesn't know the meaning of the words he is using? Are we to understand that he wasn't aware of the nature of those to whom he was speaking?

If the journalists he is speaking of were "targeted" in the military sense, what were they doing standing opposite American forces during a fire fight? Were they acting like the stringers who just happen to be around for events such as the murder of election officials on Haifa Street?

While I have sympathy for those innocently caught in a cross-fire, I have none for those who give voice to, and act as a propaganda tool for, the enemy. Such people get our people killed. I'm not saying that this is the case here, but there are enough reporters over there that fit the bill, that I have to ask the question.


So according to Jordan, Pat Tillman's death was NOT collateral damage, rather he was "targeted" by his fellow Rangers. Both reinterpretations of existing terms are absurd. Jordan must have stayed up all night looking for a way out of his bold-faced lies.

Of course Pat Tillman's death truly was not collateral damage, and yes, he was "targeted" by his fellow Rangers who thought he was the enemy. That is the very definition of "friendly fire." Such is one of the more tragic aspects of war, a horror all soldiers fear, whether as targeted or targeter.

Comments like these, which seemed unable to fathom as straighforward an assertion as Jordan's declaration that he doesn't believe American troops were deliberately targeting journalists as a matter of policy and had said so at Devos, branding it immediately a lie, a coverup, coupled with callous expessions of hostility to journalists who get in the way of American troops, were repeated again and again, with some variations, on all the blogs that were happy to consider themselves part of the swarm, as well as at PressThink.

One of the characteristics of the Eason Jordan blogswarm was the apparent attempts on the part of many of its members to do some actual journalism. As, for instance, the previously mentioned questions Hugh Hewitt emailed to Rebecca MacKinnon. The date of her own post answering those questioins was February 7th. The questions themselves seem fairly straightfoward. On one of the key issues, was Eason Jordan responding to something that Barney Franks said about dead journalists being collatoral damage, Ms. MacKimmon doesn't remember it that way, although she reminds Hewitt that she, like apparently everyone else in attendance at Davos, didn't take any written notes. That would leave that issue fairly open, would it not? But the real queestion is this; were her answers of any real interest to Hewitt? Were his questions an honest attempt to find out what happened?

You can supply your own answer by taking at look at Hewitt's postings on the subject to his own blog for February 2nd, five days earlier, here and here.

CNN's Eason Jordan slandered the American military as journalist killers, and MSM doesn't care.

"Are bloggers journalists?" That's the headline on a Christian Science Monitor piece that mentions Powewrline's John Hinderaker and TalkingpointsMemo's Joshua Micah Marshall. (Marshall "leans to the left" and John is "firmly in the conservative camp.")

The paper ought to have asked is Eason Jordan a journalist? I doubt very much that any blogger who speculated that the American military had targeted and murdered a dozen journalists would keep his or her readership or at least their reputation. When Kos slandered the American contractors dead in Fallujah as mercenaries, the blowback was immediate. Jordan slams the U.S. military as killers, and he gets a pass.

Here is the key quote from a first-person account of Jordan's remarks at the World Economic Forum in Davos:

"During one of the discussions about the number of journalists killed in the Iraq War, Eason Jordan asserted that he knew of 12 journalists who had not only been killed by US troops in Iraq, but they had in fact been targeted. He repeated the assertion a few times, which seemed to win favor in parts of the audience (the anti-US crowd) and cause great strain on others."

A few bloggers have noted this report, and Instapundit provided a terse summary of the reaction last night: "HAVING KEPT HIS MOUTH SHUT on things he knew were true, it would behoove Eason Jordan not to blather about things that he doesn't know are true. Really." Powerline also focused on the story, and Mickey Kaus on the Powerline post.

But I searched the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post this morning, and came up with nothing on Jordan's blood slander.

That is remarkable. One of the most senior news execs in the world tells a crowd of dignitaries from around the globe that the U.S. military targeted a dozen journalists for death, and there is no MSM coverage of that?


So where's the accountability within CNN or Time-Warner? Where are the press ethicists at Poynter? What does Howard Kurtz or Jay Rosen have to say about this?

Or is it ok for an American news executive to feed anti-American propaganda machines the most incendiary of fuels for the benefit of a crowd's applause and approval?

I hope Rush devotes some time to this today. I certainly will, as I have heard from members of the military too often about the American media slagging them like this and walking away back to the green room for cupcakes and coffee.

You might want to let CNN know what you think. CNN posts this at its "Contact Us" page:

"Staffed 24 hours, seven days a week in CNN's world headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, CNN.com relies heavily on CNN's global newsgathering team of almost 4,000 professionals. And we want to hear what you think. If you have a comment, suggestion or have spotted a mistake, please select one of the links on this page"

If you post on this subject, send me the link with "Eason Jordan" in the subject line. I will post them here.

We could learn something about the way to coordinate an attack from these folks. But remember this irony; they have many more allies in the MSM they so revile than we do. Who can be surprised that Mickey Kaus would respond to CNN blood in the water; CNN has been identified as the "liberal" cable news network, what else would Kaus need to know to join the attack? Precisely nothing. Glenn Reynolds is published at MSNBC. And then there's Fox News, of course, whose bias slants in the, uh, right direction, so no problem.

Here's more Hewitt, later in the day for that same date, February 2nd, that goes directly to the issue of Eason Jordan's claim that he was responding to Barney Frank's collatoral damage formulation:

Updated at 1:30 PM, Pacific

As the list of blogs focusing attention on Eason Jordan's blood slander on the U.S. military grows, CNN begins a coverup. TKS reprints a CNN e-mail response to a critic:

"Many blogs have taken Mr. Jordan's remarks out of context. Eason Jordan does not believe the U.S. military is trying to kill journalists. Mr. Jordan simply pointed out the facts: While the majority of journalists killed in Iraq have been slain at the hands of insurgents, the Pentagon has also noted that the U.S. military on occasion has killed people who turned out to be journalists. The Pentagon has apologized for those actions.
Mr. Jordan was responding to an assertion by Cong. Frank that all 63 journalist victims had been the result of "collateral damage.""

This statement directly contradicts the account of Rony Abovitz whose post on the Jordan remarks began the controversy.

here's Mr. Abovtz's bio:
Rony Abovitz, M.S., Chief Technology Officer & Vice-President Mr. Abovitz has twelve years medical device development experience in the area of orthopedic, neurological, and cardiovascular surgery. Prior to co-founding Z-KAT, Mr. Abovitz worked on projects such as the development and testing of nitinol AAA stent-graft implants (acquired by Medtronic AVE) and the development and testing of orthopedic implants (joints and trauma). Mr. Abovitz led ZKAT.s development and acquisition of technology portfolio which includes MAKO's more than 120 patents worldwide. He has a B.S. in mechanical engineering and an M.S. in biomedical engineering from the University of Miami. Mr. Abovitz is also a member of the University of Miami Advisory Panel for Biomedical Engineering and has been a guest lecturer on computerassisted surgery.

Does that sound like a guy who would get it that wrong?

CNN should release a transcript and video of the Davos session and oblige Mr. Jordan to answer questions in front of a camera concerning his outrageous accusation.

Do these musings, assertions, digs, insults, whatever else you want to call them, by any stretch of the imagination add up to journalism? On Feb. 2nd, Hugh Hewitt already had all the answers he needed to assert that Eason Jordan was lying about what prompted his own assertions, and CNN was participating in a coverup on his behalf, even though Abovitz's summary doesn't in any substantive way actually contradict Jordan's or CNN's emailed response. It simply doesn't speak to the issue of the relationship of what Barney Franks said to what Jordan said, no matter how impressive Hugh Hewitt finds Abovitz's bio. (I haven't seen anything quite as amusing since John Stossel introduced his interview with Michael Crichton denigrating the whole notion of global warming by stressing that Crichton had shown himself to be way ahead of the crowd in such books as "The Andromeda Stain" and "Jurassic Park." Great minds and all that.)

By Feb 2nd, that rightwing powerhouse, Captain's Quarters had unearthed another pieceof damning evidence against Eason Jordan, and following that blog's framing of the evidence, Hugh Hewitt refers to it as "A second instance of Eason Jordan slandering the American military and doing so abroad." The evidence, which is referred to again and again through-out the various blog posts and comments that constitute the Eason Jordan blog swarm, is an unremarkable Guardian article from November 2004.

Independent journalists operating in Iraq face arrest and even torture at the hands of the US military and the authorities are failing to act on promises to do more to protect them, news organisations have warned.

Eason Jordan, chief news executive at CNN, said there had been only a "limited amount of progress", despite repeated meetings between news organisations and the US authorities.

"Actions speak louder than words. The reality is that at least 10 journalists have been killed by the US military, and according to reports I believe to be true journalists have been arrested and tortured by US forces," Mr Jordan told an audience of news executives at the News Xchange conference in Portugal.

Mr Jordan highlighted the case of al-Arabiya journalist Abdel Kader al-Saadi, who was arrested in Falluja last week by US forces and remains in their custody even though no reason has yet been given for his detention.
"These actions and the fact that no one has been reprimanded would indicate that no one is taking responsibility. We hear good words but not the actions to back them up," he added.

David Schlesinger, global managing editor for Reuters, said there was no indication the US government's own recommendations on journalists' safety had been understood or carried out by American military commanders in Iraq, or that there had been any progress.

Three Reuters cameramen - Taras Protsyuk, Dhia Najem and Mazen Dana - have been killed while working in Iraq.
"We have had three deaths and they were all non-embedded, non-coalition nationals and they were all at the hands of the US military, and the reaction of the US authorities in each case was that they were somehow justified," Mr Schlesinger said.
"What is the US's position on non-embeds? Are non-embedded journalists fair game?" he added.

The rest of the article is mainly an answer from a US government official, who was also at the conference. I take this as damning evidence only of Eason Jordan's on-going concern for the safety of all sorts of jounalists trying to cover what was going on in Iraq, as well as damning evidence of the rightwing's hostility to the very notion of a free press.

This is getting so long, I'm going to break it into two or three parts. Herewith ends the first part.

In the second part, you can look forward to Michelle Malkin caught in the act of doing journalism, Ronnie Abovitz having second thoughts, until he finds himself interviewed by Joe Scarborough, Jay Rosen in an act of real journalism, successfully solicits another first person viewpoint of what happened at Davos by one of the participants on the panel, three erstwhile lefties show up at PressThink to do battle with conventional wisdom, and the possibility of a tape of the session in question is promised and than denied. Stay tuned. (I anticipate posting the rest tonight or tomorrow, depending on how cranky Blogger is feeling)

(I should like to thank Jay Rosen, whose copious links form the foundation of my analysis)

Jeanne at Body & Soul had an excellent post that focuses attention on the specific jourrnalistic deaths in question, which you can and should read here. (read the comments, too)

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