Accuracy in Media

The good news is that CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan has resigned after claiming that U.S. military forces deliberately killed journalists in Iraq. The bad news is that Jordan and CNN don’t admit the damage he has done.

CNN reported that he resigned because the controversy over his remarks “threatened to tarnish the network he helped build.” Jordan said that he decided to resign in an effort to prevent CNN from being “unfairly tarnished” by the controversy over “conflicting accounts of my recent remarks regarding the alarming number of journalists killed in Iraq.” With this strange formulation, Jordan was trying to blame others for the controversy.

This was the network that employed “Baghdad Pete” Arnett during the first Gulf War.  Later, Jordan would say that CNN covered up for Saddam Hussein so CNN could maintain a Baghdad news bureau and protect the lives of its employees there.

Then came the latest controversy over Jordan’s charge that U.S. military forces deliberately killed journalists in Iraq. Backing away from this charge didn’t mitigate the damage he caused. He defamed U.S. fighting men and women in Iraq and gave aid and comfort to the enemy. The only way to truly show that he was sorry was to back away from the charge and issue a direct public apology to our military.

If he had done that, calls for his resignation, highlighted by conservative bloggers, might have lost some of their steam. But he failed to issue a forthright apology. Instead, he said that “I never meant to imply U.S. forces acted with ill intent when U.S. forces accidentally killed journalists, and I apologize to anyone who thought I said or believed otherwise.” The reference to “thought or believed” is an attempt to blame others for what he said.  This is the kind of apology that comes when the person who made the offensive remarks is not truly contrite.

Jordan also said that “While my CNN colleagues and my friends in the U.S. military know me well enough to know I have never stated, believed, or suspected that U.S. military forces intended to kill people they knew to be journalists, my comments on this subject in a World Economic Forum panel discussion were not as clear as they should have been.”

While Jordan was backing down from reckless assertions that the U.S. military has deliberately killed journalists in Iraq, several people who heard the remarks, made at the World Economic forum in Davos, Switzerland, confirm that he did make the incendiary comments. Those people included liberal Democrats Senator Chris Dodd and Rep. Barney Frank.

Jordan, however, would only concede that his remarks at the January 27 event were “not as clear as they should have been.” The Davos group refused to release a transcript or video of what Jordan actually said, giving him the opportunity to create confusion and blame others for the controversy. Whatever happened to the right to know?

Soon, major media organizations are staging a “Sunshine Week” to demand information from the government. Where were the media demands for sunshine on Eason’s comments?  As Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post noted, the so-called mainstream media were very slow even to report this story.

Incredibly, CNN News Group President Jim Walton said in reaction to the resignation that, under Jordan’s leadership, CNN “literally circled the globe with bureaus,” and he cited Baghdad as an example. How can he say that with a straight face?

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