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.”

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, “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 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 Kamel and Saddam Kamel, who had fled to Jordan, as well as Jordan’s King Hussein. He claimed that the next day he warned the king, who “dismissed the story as a madman’s rant,” the story was suppressed to protect Uday’s Iraqi interpreter. That was apparently more important than warning Hussein Kamel who had been involved in Iraq’s efforts to amass weapons of mass destruction. A few months later, Saddam lured the brothers back, promising to pardon them, and promptly killed them and their mother.

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.” The suppression of these stories has given CNN a black eye. How can their reports from countries like Cuba be trusted?

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 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 organization had done the same, suggesting that they too should confess. A third said Jordan’s confession showed that overthrowing Saddam was “the right thing to do.” We believe that one of the worst sins of the media in reporting on the war has been their failure to focus on what Eason Jordan has described as the “unimaginable” cruelty of Saddam Hussein.

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