Eason Jordan's portrayal of Iraq

Posted: Dec 15, 2006 9:47 AM
Eason Jordan's portrayal of Iraq

If I saw news that Dan Rather and Mary Mapes were opening a document analysis service I would not be any more surprised than I was to see who is heading a new Iraq information website. Editor & Publisher magazine reported this week that former CNN news division chief Eason Jordan is set to launch IraqSloggers, a one-stop spot for news from Iraq on the Web.

Jordan told Editor & Publisher the site “’grew out of the feeling that I think many people shared that there was no one place to go. Individual news organizations do terrific work but you can spend the better part of a day going from one site to another and one TV outlet to another,’ searching for a full picture.”

He continued to say that “Iraq is the story of our time” and that his goal for the site is for it to become “the world's premier Iraq-focused information source.”

The idea is a good one and the site, which has not officially launched, but is available online to the public, looks as if it could be a good source of news from Iraq. What I have a problem with is the past history of Jordan when it comes to news gathering and reporting in Iraq. There is plenty of news coming out of Iraq that is not reported by the mainstream media to the American public such as Arabic language reports and U.S. milblogger accounts. If this site were to get more of that information into American newspapers and onto the network newscasts, then it couid be a good thing. Jordan’s past does not give me confidence that will be the case though.

The author of the Editor & Publisher piece made a brief mention of the reason Jordan resigned from CNN after 23 years of employment, but did not give a full account of the circumstances. Jordan left CNN after bloggers called on him  to explain some statements he made at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Some participants in the event reported that in a panel discussion Jordan said U.S. troops in Iraq were targeting journalists. Jordan denied that is what he said, but said his comments “were not as clear as they should have been.” Blogger efforts to obtain a copy of the tape or transcript of the event were unsuccessful.

What Editor & Publisher did not include in the article about Eason Jordan’s latest effort in reporting from Iraq was a reminder to readers about the controversy over reporting Eason Jordan did in Iraq prior to the U.S. invasion. On April 11, 2003, in a New York Times column title, “The New We Kept To Ourselves,” Jordan wrote about horrible abuses committed by Saddam Hussein’s regime, yet not reported by CNN. The reason Jordan stated for not reporting the news was that lives were at stake and that he believed it was important that CNN maintain a bureau in Iraq. He only decided to share that news with the public after the U.S. led invasion uncovered many of the atrocities Saddam Hussein committed.

Keep in mind that during the lead up to the war in Iraq there was much debate over whether or not claims made against Saddam Hussein of torture, and even murder of those who dared to speak out against the regime, were true. CNN had knowledge of such activity, yet continued to report any allegations as unsubstantiated rumor when they reported them at all.

When I first read the 2003 Jordan article in the New York Times, I printed it out and re-read it at least a dozen times trying to process the shocking information. I immediately ran through all the bits of the CNN reports from Baghdad that I could recall and compared the measured words from those reports ( the “alleged” actions of Saddam, “Saddam’s opponents claim", etc.) to those in the April 2003 story. I keep that story in the back of my mind every time I hear anything even the least bit suspect on CNN. I certainly recall it anytime I see a CNN report from Cuba.

Jordan was in a tough position in the CNN bureau in Iraq, knowing that if he reported what he knew the cost could be the very lives of Iraqi informants and translators he had come to know. Of course it is impossible to know whether or not, or how many, lives might have been saved had CNN told the world what they knew to be true about the Hussein regime.

Now Eason Jordan wants the public to trust him to present the relevant news from Iraq. He says he wants to present “a full picture.” Even though the Hussein regime is no longer in power, those on the left warn us everyday how dangerous Iraq still is. Those who report the truth about the situation in Iraq may yet face violent consequences from those not wishing certain stories to be reported. Why should we believe that Mr. Jordan will do a better job now to make sure all the relevant stories from Iraq reach the public? How can we know he will do now what he failed to do prior to 2003?