Lies, damned lies and network 'news'

Posted: Feb 11, 2005 12:00 AM

"... at least 10 journalists have been killed by the U.S. military, and according to reports I believe to be true, journalists have been arrested and tortured by U.S. forces."
-- Eason Jordan, CNN executive vice president

 WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Eason Jordan is described by CNN as the network's "chief news executive" and the person who provides "strategic advice to CNN's senior management team." In November, he offered the above murderous assessment of America's military to a group of Portuguese journalists and got away with it. On Jan. 27, he apparently made a nearly identical outrageous, unfounded accusation at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. This time he got caught -- not by his colleagues in the so-called mainstream media, but by "bloggers" who were in attendance.
Ironically, Jordan, who also chairs the CNN Editorial Board, made his most recent unsupported allegation of American military war crimes during a panel discussion titled, "Will Democracy Survive the News?" The short answer to the rhetorical question is: "not if Democracy has to depend on people like Jordan to report the news."

 And therein lies the problem -- not just with Jordan's calumny about our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Guardsmen and Marines, but with his colleagues in the so-called mainstream media.

 The CNN executive's slander went unreported -- and apparently unchallenged -- by other potentates of the press who heard him accuse America's military of deliberately targeting and killing journalists in Iraq. Worse still, other "leaders" in the Fourth Estate are now rushing to Jordan's defense. David Gergen, editor-at-large for U.S. News & World Report and moderator of the discussion in Davos, now says Jordan had recently been to Iraq, and was "caught up in the tension of the moment" and "deserves the benefit of the doubt."

 Why? Aren't news reporters supposed to have a thirst for truth? Isn't there some standard of proof or corroboration required before someone in the "news business" makes such a horrific accusation? Furthermore, why should any member of the media in attendance be let off the hook for failing to immediately jump up and demand: "Prove it!" when Jordan made his unsubstantiated charges?

 Such damning allegations, if true, would make Abu Ghraib look like petty larceny. Yet, Jordan has offered no evidence to validate the alleged war crimes -- nor, apparently, has he ever proffered any witnesses or evidence of such crimes in Iraq or anywhere else.

 Thankfully, not everyone in the Davos audience was as favorably disposed toward Jordan's reckless claims as his media colleagues. Left-of-center U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., released a statement saying he was "outraged" by Jordan's comments and is "tremendously proud of the sacrifice and service of American military personnel." Liberal Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank claims he contacted Jordan and demanded "specifics." Frank said he would pursue the issue if there were credible evidence. At this writing, Jordan has yet to take the congressman up on his offer.

 What Jordan has done is claim that his comments in Davos were taken out of context. CNN's Howard Kurtz quotes Jordan -- ostensibly his boss -- as saying, "I wasn't as clear as I should have been on that panel."

 That should be easy to prove. Though the panel discussion was "off-the-record," the event was apparently videotaped -- another fact we would not know but for the "bloggers" in attendance. Jordan, Gergen, Kurtz, et al. should call for the release of the videotape -- that way we can see who challenges Jordan's slanderous assertions against our military, and who applauds them. But it's not likely that CNN will join the bloggers in calling for release of the videotape.

 According to Rony Abovitz, the Forum-sponsored blogger who first broke this story to the world, Jordan "repeated the assertion a few times, which seemed to win favor in parts of the audience and cause great strain on others." According to Abovitz, Jordan's charges met with approval among Arab attendees "who applauded and called him 'a very brave man' for speaking up against the U.S. in a public way amongst a crowd ready to hear anti-U.S. sentiments."

 There is a lesson in all of this, and not just for CNN, but for all the media. Jordan's disparaging duplicity wasn't exposed by the barons of broadcasting or the potentates of print, but by "amateurs" -- bloggers -- the same "unwashed masses" who brought down Dan Rather. These e-mailing, Web-surfing, call-'em as you see-'em bloggers are the electronic equivalent of the pamphleteers who brought about our revolution.

 Today, they "pass the word" faster than an official spokesman can draft a denial. They are the small "d" democrats of the new "news business" -- and more believable to many than what is presented on the tube or in the paper. To the bloggers, it's clear that if Dan Rather worked for CNN, he'd still have a job. Apparently, the network that bills itself as "the most trusted name in news" has even lower standards of proof than CBS.

 Next year, the World Economic Forum will again assemble its elite, self-anointed "business, political and intellectual leaders" at the posh Swiss Alpine resort to sip champagne and discuss Orwellian ideas for making "the world a better place." They should ask Jordan to return and answer a somewhat different question: "Will CNN 'News' Survive Democracy?"

Oliver North is host of "War Stories" on the Fox News Channel. The opinions expressed above are his own and do not represent the views of Fox News.