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February 1, 2005
Eason Jordan: An Echo In 2002?

CQ reader and commenter Fluff 'n Stuff did a little research on the Eason Jordan accusations of deliberate assassinations of journalists by the American military, and he found this interview of Jordan by Transnational Broadcast Studies in the spring of 2002. TBS is a publication of the American University in Cairo, where Jordan talked about the difficulties of covering the news around the world and being a global broadcaster instead of an American news service.

The last question that TBS Managing Editor Sarah Sullivan asks Jordan about the technical difficulties of covering the war in Southwest Asia, but Jordan drifts off into strangely familiar territory (emphasis mine):

Sullivan: Your coverage in Afghanistan, it's been reported, has been one of the most expensive and resource-intensive operations CNN has ever undertaken. Can you describe who you have there now, what kind of technologies are being used, and how you're even getting equipment in?

Jordan: We have a large team in Afghanistan as well as in Pakistan, and we've bolstered the size of our Islamabad bureau in recent weeks. We probably have 30 to 40 people in those countries combined, and we'll be there for a long time to come. It's been enormously expensive, but again as with the Middle East, the biggest concern we have is just keeping our people alive. We've seen eight journalists killed in Afghanistan and then obviously the Danny Pearl situation was so tragic. Money is inconsequential in relative terms when we're talking about people's lives. We'll be there for the long term with all the people we need to provide the very best coverage possible. The communications are very expensive, the satellite phones and satellite links. The transportation is very expensive, and the security is very expensivewe have more bodyguards on the ground in Afghanistan than we do journalists.

We're working two very, very big stories right now that have a couple of things in common. One is they're enormously costly, but more importantly or more worrying is that they're both exceptionally dangerous, because we've seen something in both places that I thank God happens very rarely, and that is that in both places journalists are not only being killed but they're being targeted. There are combatants in both of these conflicts who are trying to kill journalists, and that is unusual and a very nightmarish situation.

At the time, I would have taken that quote to mean that Islamists had targeted journalists, like Danny Pearl. Now, in the new context, it sounds like Jordan meant something else entirely. Did he think he had a story about Americans targeting journalists back then? Did he try passing off that rumor to the Egyptian university? Or are both incidents of Geraldo-style "My life is actually in danger" romanticism about the life of the journalist? The theme seems to run in almost every interview and column with which Eason participates.

Eason Jordan sounds a bit paranoid, but I doubt he's prepared for the attacks he'll receive over the next few days over his Davos remarks.

UPDATE: In this interview from April 2004, ironically including the estimable John Burns, Jordan gets more specific about the terrorists doing the targeting:

TERENCE SMITH: Eason Jordan, of course it's more difficult for television. You've got to get a camera to these sites. You're more conspicuous by your presence. How are you working it out?

EASON JORDAN: Well, we do what we can to minimize our exposure, but we do think it's important to get out there, and so we just send the smallest number of people possible out on stories, on assignments. We try to do it in a very intelligent way, taking advice from security experts who carry guns to protect us into the field.

But I do have to take issue with John's point in the beginning. He believes that journalists are not targeted. I do believe that journalists are targeted. There are very specific examples of that. And then beyond what's actually happened on the ground, you have Osama bin Laden in his most recent statement saying that he intends to target big media institutions because he views them as evil propagandists for the U.S. government. And so we take all these threats -- and there are real examples we can cite very specifically -- we take them very specifically and we do consider ourselves targeted.

John Burns downplayed the notion that journalists were specifically targeted as opposed to Westerners in general in the red zones of Iraq. However, Jordan insisted that reporters and their support staff had been specifically targeted for assassination by terrorists. He made no mention of the American military targeting journalists, and that was just eight months ago.

So what has happened in eight months that convinced Jordan of US military assassinations? Jordan needs to give us some answers.

UPDATE II: For a look into Eason Jordan's admitted sins involving coddling Saddam, the blog Solomonia has this excerpt from an April 2003 Washington Times piece by Peter Collins. Collins worked briefly at CNN in 1993, only briefly because he saw Eason Jordan in action. Here's what Collins saw when working from Baghdad:

CNN had made its reputation during the war with its exclusive reports from Baghdad. Shortly after my arrival, I was surprised to see CNN President Tom Johnson and Eason Jordan, then chief of international news gathering, stride into the al-Rasheed Hotel in Baghdad. They were there to help CNN bid for an exclusive interview with Saddam Hussein, timed to coincide with the coming inauguration of President Clinton.

I took part in meetings between the CNN executives and various officials purported to be close to Saddam. We met with his personal translator; with a foreign affairs adviser; with Information Minister Latif Jassim; and with Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.

In each of these meetings, Mr. Johnson and Mr. Jordan made their pitch: Saddam Hussein would have an hour's time on CNN's worldwide network; there would be no interruptions, no commercials. I was astonished. From both the tone and the content of these conversations, it seemed to me that CNN was virtually groveling for the interview.

The day after one such meeting, I was on the roof of the Ministry of Information, preparing for my first "live shot" on CNN. A producer came up and handed me a sheet of paper with handwritten notes. "Tom Johnson wants you to read this on camera," he said. I glanced at the paper. It was an item-by-item summary of points made by Information Minister Latif Jassim in an interview that morning with Mr. Johnson and Mr. Jordan.

The list was so long that there was no time during the live shot to provide context. I read the information minister's points verbatim. Moments later, I was downstairs in the newsroom on the first floor of the Information Ministry. Mr. Johnson approached, having seen my performance on a TV monitor. "You were a bit flat there, Peter," he said. Again, I was astonished. The president of CNN was telling me I seemed less-than-enthusiastic reading Saddam Hussein's propaganda.

After this experience, Collins decided that CNN didn't fit his idea of journalism and chose to work elsewhere. I'd say he made a good decision.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 1, 2005 10:38 PM

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