Attack of the blogs

Posted: Feb 16, 2005 12:00 AM

 The media buzz over the rising power of Internet weblogs (the "blogs") reached a new crescendo when CNN's chief of newsgathering, Eason Jordan, resigned over sloppy charges he made at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

 When Congressman Barney Frank suggested at the conference that journalists dying in Iraq have been "collateral damage," Jordan objected. On the forum's own weblog, journalist Rony Abovitz reported that Jordan "asserted that he knew of 12 journalists who had not only been killed by U.S. troops in Iraq, but they had in fact been targeted. He repeated the assertion a few times, which seemed to win favor in parts of the audience (the anti-U.S. crowd) and cause great strain on others."

 If these charges were true, they would make Abu Ghraib's naked pyramids pale by comparison. But they were wild and reckless accusations, which explains Jordan's subsequent, furious backpedaling and denials. Still, it begs the question: Why would a man whose profession and expertise was "newsgathering" make such wild charges without evidence? Jordan quickly drew angry objections from fellow panelist Frank, as well as a condemnation from Sen. Chris Dodd. When you're outraging Frank and Dodd, you're really putting yourself out on an extreme limb.

 But then Jordan and CNN added to the outrage by refusing any attempts to release a transcript or videotape of the off-the-record panel discussion. What a spectacle: a news outlet always championing the public's "right to know" and crusading for "full disclosure" clamping down like the stereotypical arrogant multinational corporation they like to expose. Richard Nixon, meet Eason Jordan. Does anyone believe that if President Bush (or Vice President Cheney or Secretary Rumsfeld or fill in the blank) claimed in an off-the-record forum overseas that Ted Kennedy was a murderer, that CNN wouldn't be in the front of the line demanding that the administration release the videotape?

 The controversy was deepened by the fact that Jordan already carried heavy baggage on this issue. He admitted to the world in 2003 that CNN kept a lid on news exposing the horror of Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist regime to maintain its access to Iraq and preserve the lives of its staffers there. CNN plays the same shut-up-for-access-to-dictators game with its Havana bureau to this day.

 Controversy was also deepened when bloggers like Ed Morrissey (at his blog "Captain's Quarters") reported that this was not a one-time gaffe for Jordan. Morrissey said Jordan had also "accused the U.S. military of torturing journalists (November 2004) and the Israeli military of deliberate assassinations (October 2002) at journalistic forums, all overseas and outside the reach of most American media."

 These accusations are stop-the-presses huge . So why didn't CNN ever produce some evidence for these charges and put them on the air? And if they weren't true, why wasn't this man fired long ago?

 Amazingly, most of the major "news" media avoided this news -- especially CNN. So when Jordan resigned, it made the blogs seem so powerful that liberals started attacking them for recklessly destroying Jordan's career, even using goofy terms like "cyber-McCarthyism" to denounce it. But what the bloggers did here was deliver information and accountability, the same things the major media purport to be providing -- unless it's one of their own in the hot seat.

 But the conservative bloggers aren't the only game on the Internet. Liberals are delighted by a resignation they pushed from a White House reporter for a tiny outlet called Talon News who called himself "Jeff Gannon" (real name: James Guckert).

 On Jan. 26, Guckert asked President Bush an opinionated question about Sen. Harry Reid and Hillary Clinton being "divorced from reality." With that, Media Matters for America and other leftists on the Web began frothing at the mouth over "Gannongate." The "scandal"? Someone was allowed in the White House briefing room who asked softball questions to the president.

 David Brock asked Bush press secretary Scott McClellan to revoke Guckert's weak "day pass" credentials since Talon News was founded by a well-known conservative, making his employees "political activists," not "actual journalists." This is when every conservative in America started to laugh. Using this founder's-keeper logic, Ted Turner's CNN shouldn't be allowed within a nautical mile of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

 It doesn't take long to recall the left-wing activist journalists laying down activist harangues in the White House briefing room. Forget the "actual journalists" bashing Team Bush for ABC, CBS, and so on. Remember the insufferable Helen Thomas? Briefings have also featured liberal talk-show host Ellen Ratner, and far-left writer Russell Mokhiber, who publishes an anti-corporate newsletter called "Multinational Monitor." Why doesn't Brock want their credentials revoked?

 Conservatives were also laughing when they remembered the Clinton years. If asking a softball to the president was an offense that should get your press credentials pulled, the White House briefing room in the Clinton years would have been empty.