Accuracy in Media

In an op-ed article in the New York Times on April 11, Eason Jordan, the chief news executive at CNN, said he had been to Baghdad many times to get the government to keep CNN’s bureau open. He said, “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.”

Here is one of the stories CNN suppressed. Jordan said, “In the mid-1990’s one of our Iraqi cameramen was abducted. For weeks he was beaten and subjected to electroshock torture in the basement of a secret police headquarters because he refused to confirm the government’s ludicrous suspicion that I was the Central Intelligence Agency’s Iraq station chief.” Jordan said that if CNN reported this the cameraman would have been killed and his family and co-workers would have been endangered.

Other suppressed stories concerned local employees of foreign news organizations who, he said, “were courageous enough to try to provide accurate reporting. Some vanished, never to be heard from again. Others disappeared and then surfaced later with whispered tales of being tortured in unimaginable ways.”

Jordan was also concerned about endangering the lives of Iraqis not on CNN’s payroll. He said that CNN did not report that Saddam’s son, Uday, had told him in 1995 that he intended to assassinate his two brothers-in-law, Hussein and Saddam Kamel, together with Jordan’s King Hussein for giving them asylum. The CNN executive claimed that he warned the king the next day, but he “dismissed the story as a madman’s rant.” He said CNN suppressed this story to protect the Iraqi who had interpreted for Uday. CNN apparently believed that was more important than warning the Kamel brothers. The older brother, Hussein, had been deeply involved in Iraq’s efforts to amass weapons of mass destruction and had been debriefed by the CIA. A few months later, Saddam Hussein lured the brothers back, promising to pardon them. He promptly killed both of them after forcing them to divorce their wives?his daughters. He also had their mother killed and her body dismembered.

Jordan wrote, “I felt awful having these stories bottled up inside me. Now that Saddam Hussein’s regime is gone, I suspect we will hear many, many more gut-wrenching tales from Iraqis about the decades of torment. At last, these stories can be told freely.” His admission that stories like these were suppressed has raised questions about the credibility of CNN.

If they were willing to suppress important stories to protect their staff and keep their bureau in Baghdad, why should anyone trust their reporting from other countries ruled by tyrants like Saddam Hussein and Fidel Castro? Cuba has just summarily executed three men for hijacking a ferry boat in a failed attempt to escape to the U.S. and has sentenced some 75 democratic activists to double-digit prison terms for seeking greater intellectual and political freedom. If the reporting from Cuba has been honest, would HBO be airing a documentary about Castro by Oliver Stone, who described the Cuban tyrant as “one of the Earth’s wisest people?”

On April 13, the Times published six letters commenting on Jordan’s article. All of them were critical of the suppression of reporting about the cruel crimes of Saddam Hussein. One said, “CNN has betrayed its viewers, the people of Iraq and its own fundamental reason for existing.” Another asked if other news organizations had done the same. It implied that they too should confess. A third said, “CNN did not report the crimes. CNN did not leave Baghdad. What price is acceptable for media profit?”

Interviewing Jordan on WNYC last October, Bob Garfield asked if CNN could get access in Iraq without appearing to be a tool for Saddam. Jordan replied, “We work very hard to report forthrightly, to report fairly and to report accurately, and if we ever determine that we cannot do that, then we would not want to be there.” But in a commentary in the Wall Street Journal on Jordan’s New York Times op-ed, Franklin Foer, an associate editor at the New Republic, said: “While I researched a story on CNN’s Iraq coverage for the New Republic last October, Mr. Jordan told me flatly that his network gave ‘a full picture of the regime.’ In our conversation, he challenged me to find instances of CNN neglecting stories about Saddam’s horrors. If only I’d had his Times op-ed.”

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