Reporters want to be anywhere news is happening. Sometimes, they face great danger. In Iraq, for example, at least ten journalists have been killed so far.
But it doesn’t do much good to have a reporter somewhere if he/she can’t actually report what’s happening. That’s why Eason Jordan’s op-ed piece in the April 11 New York Times is such a shock and such a disappointment. Jordan is the chief news executive at CNN.
“Over the last dozen years,” he writes, “I made 13 trips to Baghdad to lobby the government to keep CNN's Baghdad bureau open and to arrange interviews with Iraqi leaders. Each time I visited, I became more distressed by what I saw and heard — awful things that could not be reported.” Jordan goes on to detail beatings he knew about and the torture of some Iraqi employees of CNN.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should say I worked for CNN for almost eight years. I greatly respect Eason Jordan, who is one of the hardest working journalists I’ve ever known. He’s put his life on the line to report from inside North Korea, and he spares no effort and no expense to make sure CNN is the first – and often the only – news outlet on the scene of breaking news.
It’s good that Jordan is concerned with protecting his employees. That's the right thing to do. But being in Baghdad isn’t dangerous merely for the foreign reporters. As Jordan writes, “We also had to worry that our reporting might endanger Iraqis not on our payroll. I knew that CNN could not report that Saddam Hussein's eldest son, Uday, told me in 1995 that he intended to assassinate two of his brothers-in-law who had defected and also the man giving them asylum, King Hussein of Jordan.”
If that’s not a story, what is? The leader of one country is planning to kill the leader of another. CNN had the exclusive because of Jordan’s reporting. CNN suppressed it. That raises a key question: Why bother having journalists in place, if they can't report what they learn? The job of journalists is to cover news, not suppress it.
It’s a vicious cycle. In Jordan’s mind, what matters most is having journalists on the scene, even if they can’t truly report what they know. Once you’ve accepted that, you’ve accepted the concept of self-censorship, which Jordan is admitting CNN engaged in for at least 13 years.