Voice from the Commonwealth
Commentary, World Views and Occasional Rants from a small 'l' libertarian in Massachussetts

"If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest for freedom, go home and leave us in peace. We seek not your council nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen." - Samuel Adams

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

I've been thinking about this letter from Eason Jordan trying to defend his, and CNN's choices. I'm sorry, it is still unconvincing.

That is nonsense. No news organization in the world had a more contentious relationship with the Iraqi regime than CNN. The Iraqi leadership was so displeased with CNN's Iraq reporting, CNN was expelled from Iraq six times -- five times in previous years and one more time on day three of this Iraq war. Those expulsions lasted as long as six months at a time. CNN's Baghdad bureau chief, Jane Arraf, was banned from the country in response to her reporting on an unprecedented public protest demanding to know what happened to Iraqis who vanished years earlier after being abducted by Iraqi secret police.

Let's start here. It's unfortunate that we have such naive trusting people in charge over at CNN. It doesn't occur to Mr. Jordan that as the premier international news source in Baghdad Saddam would not use threats and intimidation and limited access to assure that they would report only those things he wished the outside world to see.

And, I would like to know what CNN had to do to get back into Iraq on the five occasions before the war when they were expelled. Did they merely explain to Saddam that it is their job to report the truth and he agreed that, indeed, he could not stay angry at them for their unflagging integrity? Or did they make concessions every time they returned. Did it involve money? Did it involve burying stories?

No. CNN kept pushing for access in Iraq, while never compromising its journalistic standards in doing so. Withholding information that would get innocent people killed was the right thing to do, not a journalistic sin.

If they truly "pushed" Saddam's regime, they would not have had access. Any number of news outlets that were banned from the country could attest to that. To get back in after being kicked out the five previous times without making compromises with the regime is very hard to believe. If they refused to compromise Saddam had nothing to gain by allowing them back in and would not have done so.

In Saddam's Iraq, no one was foolish enough to speak on camera or on the record about the brutality of the regime because anyone doing so would be effectively signing his or her death warrant. So we reported on Iraq's human rights record from outside Iraq and featured many interviews with Iraqi defectors who described the regime's brutality in graphic detail.

Then why did you constantly show interviews and comments from the average 'man on the street' and report it as the general mood across the country. Why did you speak about the elections and pro-Saddam rallies without qualifying it as impossible to gauge the truth since anyone criticizing the regime faced imprisonment torture and death. Sure, AI and HRW had all the info on the conditions in Iraq. But, for those who trusted you to let them know about the conditions without having to do independent research, your images of Iraqis cheering Saddam and proudly checking off the Saddam box in the election was taken at face value.

I'm going to consolidate some of Jordan's comment here for the last point.

In the op-ed, I described how the Iraqi regime intimidated, tortured, and killed people who helped CNN over the years. It was a tough piece to write. But I felt strongly the stories needed to be told as soon as telling them would not automatically result in the killing of innocent colleagues, friends, and acquaintances -- most of them Iraqis.

Some critics say if I had told my Iraq horror stories sooner, I would have saved thousands of lives. How they come to that conclusion, I don't know. Iraq's human rights record and the brutality of the Saddam Hussein regime were well known before I wrote my op-ed piece. The only sure thing that would have happened if I told those stories sooner is the regime would have tracked down and killed the innocent people who told me those stories. Critics say I could have told the stories without identifying Iraqis by name. But the Iraqi secret police surely knew everyone I met in Iraq and would have had no trouble identifying who told me the stories. No doubt those people would be dead today if I spoke sooner.

A number of people have told me CNN should have closed its Baghdad bureau, helped everyone who told me the horror stories flee Iraq, with me thereafter telling those stories publicly long before now. While that is a noble thought, doing so was not a viable option. Iraqis (and their families) who told me those stories in some cases could not, and in other cases would not, leave their country simply for the sake of CNN being able to share their stories with the world.

Allow me to explain to Mr. Jordan exactly how pulling out of Iraq and reporting the truth would have ended things sooner and saved lives. Let's break it down.

It would have saved the lives of those tortured and killed for their dealings with CNN. Mr Jordan says CNN was ejected from Iraq a total of six times. He also tells us that some people associated with CNN in Iraq were targeted for torture and death and he mentions that anyone telling the truth would be targeted for death and torture. Now, if they were kicked out six times for reporting the hard-hitting truth, how many Iraqis (and their families) connected to those stories, Mr. Jordan tells us that the secret police died would surely know everyone CNN people spoke with, were tortured and killed? Every time CNN came back and gained a new contact within the Iraq, they placed more people in danger. Every time they spoke to someone who may tell them the truth in hopes of informing the outside world, CNN put their lives in danger and still refused to report that story. By staying out of Baghdad after the first time they got kicked out they would not have placed innocent lives in danger. And every time they got kicked out for being 'tough' people were imprisoned, tortured, raped and killed. He claims they could not have extracted themselves from Iraq without endangering lives. It seems to me that before the war he had five decent opportunities to do that.

As for ending Saddam's regime of death quicker. The claim that Iraq's human rights record was part of the public store of knowledge is a pretty weak defense. Everyone knew, so there was no need for CNN to bring it up whenever they talked about Iraq? Do they make this omission, under the assumption that everyone already knows the whole story when they talk about other mass murderers? Except for Castro, I mean. As I mentioned above. A number of people expect and trust CNN to tell the whole story and don't have the time to go read the State Department, AI or HRW reports on life in Saddam's Iraq. Is Jordan really saying that if people need to know about Saddam's crimes they should tune in somewhere that will tell them that? Someone who hasn't decided to protect their status and people in Iraq rather than tell the whole story?

Also, Mr. Jordan has now publicly indicated that by threatening CNN reporters and local associates will pay dividends for murderous tyrants.

When the full extent of the crimes in Rwanda and Kosovo were made clear by the media, not AI and HRW and the others, popular opinion reinforced the resolve of America and others to end the slaughter. The media didn't report about the throngs who were 'happy' with the new reforms in Bosnia while ignoring the ethnic cleansing of the Muslims. When 800,000 Rwandans were being slaughtered news agencies were not reporting talking points from President Juvenal Habyarimana or any Hutu leaders. They told us the horrible unvarnished truth. Women were being killed and rather than waste bullets her children would be tied to her dead body and thrown in a river to drown. In both of these cases public opinion and the open media portrayal of the genocide caused world leaders to finally step in. Assuming that the public was well informed about atrocities in Iraq led to CNN reporting 12 years of sanctions, the West's (read America's) blame for civilian hardships and deaths. Mr. Jordan tries to hide behind the false premise that CNN doesn't have much influence, that there was nothing lost by their not reporting the full extent of Iraq's horrors. This leaves me with one of two possible conclusions. Mr. Jordan's defense is false and built on lies and deception. That they did sell their integrity to maintain access to Iraq. Or that CNN is just honestly incapable of bringing us the full story in troubled nations with thuggish dictators crushing the people of that nation.

< email | 4/16/2003 11:29:00 AM | link

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