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February 9, 2005
Nik Gowing, The Philosophical Guru Of Eason Jordan And Chris Cramer

The Baron did more investigating of Nik Gowing, whose book Dying To Tell The Story appears to have prompted Eason Jordan and Chris Cramer, executives at CNN, to issue multiple unsubstantiated allegations of deliberate targeting by US and Israeli militaries of journalists in war zones as policy. Baron found this sample from the book, a lengthy essay written by Gowing to summarize the arguments he presents. From the start, Gowing makes clear that he has no intention of using temperate rhetoric to make his case:

There is a growing fear in our business that some governments especially the most militarily sophisticated like the US and Israel are sanctioning the active targeting of journalists in war zones in order to shut down what we are there to do to bear witness and report what they are doing.

The fear is that an apparent culture of impunity by at least two nations is already actively encouraging others to believe they can get away with targeting and eliminating journalists, or at least turn a convenient blind eye to the issue. More than ever, we are inconvenient eyes and ears who monitor and report what some in power and command would much prefer we did not.

There is evidence that media activity in the midst of real-time war fighting is now regarded by commanders as having military significance which justifies a firm military response to remove or at least neutralise it. From the medias perspective, the core guiding principles of reporting must remain accuracy, impartiality, objectivity and balance in a time of armed conflict.Yet if some worst case fears are shown to be justified, then on the political and military side some senior officials seem to view our 24 hour/7 day-a-week presence as a real-time military threat that on some occasions justifies our removal by the application of deadly force. Despite expressions of sympathy, the fact that journalists and technicians are killed or injured appears to be of barely marginal concern.

That mirrors almost exactly what Eason Jordan has said in Portugal in November 2004, in October 2002, and allegedly in Davos last month. It also sounds very close to what Cramer said in support of Jordan's claims in the past, and probably formed the basis of his enthusiastic recommendation of Gowing's book in November 2003 to the INSI.

Unfortunately, Gowing then goes into lengthy dissertations on several incidents, most of which have been reviewed and debunked -- some that he manages to debunk himself after using them as examples to support his thesis. For instance, he alleges that the US military killed Tariq Ayyoub because they wanted to take out the al-Jazeera broadcast station to keep Arabs from broadcasting during the invasion:

There is also the US air attack involving Al Jazeeras office in Baghdad on 8 April 2003, several hours before the fatal tank shelling of the Palestine Hotel and the day before major hostilities ended in the Iraqi capital. During the pre-dawn attack by an A-10 ground attack aircraft, Al Jazeeras correspondent Tariq Ayyoub was killed by shrapnel as he stood on the bureaus roof preparing to broadcast live.

In the absence of a clear explanation from US CENTCOM, the overwhelming impression remains that the bureaus of both Al Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV not far away were targeted by the US during the critical hours before US ground forces finally secured the city centre.

Many anti-US activists have used Ayyoub's case to support Eason Jordan's argument at Davos. In fact, it's widely listed as one of twelve "suspicious" journalist deaths resulting from the Iraqi invasion. But on the very next page, Gowing himself explains what happened:

It eventually became clear that what was initially assumed to be a clear case of malicious US targeting was in reality probably more complex. The Al Jazeera bureau was located next door to a villa used by Mohammed Saeed Al-Sahaf , Iraqs information minister who towards the end of the war became known as Comical Ali. Located between the buildings was an electrical generator which the US forces wanted immobilised in order to crank up the pressure on Al-Sahaf and the regime. Al Jazeera conceded later it was probably this equipment which the US had targeted and not the Al Jazeera bureau. However, without a full and frank exchange of details with CENTCOM, along with battle damage assessment, it was hard to be sure. Tariq Ayyoub was killed by shrapnel from the weaponry that hit the generator. It penetrated a small space under his body armour because misguidedly he was one of the very few Al Jazeera staff to believe the US military assurances made to his executives in Qatar the previous day that the bureau was safe from US attack.

So the US military didn't set out to kill Ayyoub, but instead attacked a government installation nearby, and the shrapnel killed the reporter. Government broadcast facilities certainly make legitimate military targets; destroying command and control functions is simply basic military strategy. Al-Jazeera must have known that the building next to theirs belonged to the information ministry, and anyone with a lick of sense would have gotten as far away from it as possible. Standing next to it in the open and posing for a live broadcast as any invading army entered would have been, and was, a particularly foolish act.

How exactly does this have anything to do with a deliberate policy of assassination? Well, Gowing argues that a lack of "openness" led to uncertainty of US motives. And in the world of Gowing, Jordan, and Cramer, that uncertainty constitutes positive proof of malicious intent. Gowing wanted the US to stop in the middle of a battle that was expected to produce desperate door-to-door urban combat and do a field investigation, completed with releasing battle-damage assessments to al-Jazeera, in order to prove we didn't assassinate Ayyoub.

Well, excuse us -- but we were in the middle of a war. We made plain our intention to attack government forces and assets within the city of Baghdad and its surroundings. People who continued to stand around or inside those facilities assumed the risk for doing so -- and al-Jazeera's proximity to that information ministry facility was not an accident.

It's arguments like this -- Gowing does the same thing with the ITN journalists who drove between two hostile forces and got killed as a result -- that demonstrate on their face the ludicrous nature of these charges. In order to buy this argument, one has to take it on faith that the US military operates under the worst possible motives at all times, as Gowing never provides a single shred of proof of any deliberate intent to kill these specific journalists for any reason. All he does is ask a series of questions as to motive, and the faithful are expected to fill in the answers for themselves.

If CNN executives find themselves under the sway of such tripe, one could make an argument that the news service has become a faith-based organization instead of a rational fact-finding media outlet. If that's what CNN wants to be, then Time Warner needs to rebrand its service and be honest with its customers (and advertisers) that the intent is to serve those who faithfully believe the worst about America at all times. If not, then Eason Jordan and Chris Cramer need to be shown the door.

UPDATE: Rodger at This Isn't Writing, It's Typing tells me I'm in the right church but possibly in the wrong pew. He notes a speech Gowing gave at the London School of Economics last May, which contains the same specific allegations that both Jordan and Cramer made lately. However, Eason and Cramer have made allegations like these all the way back to 2002, with more specificity to the US in 2003 after Gowing's book. Rodger's undoubtedly correct that Gowing's speech influenced the CNN executives tremendously, though.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 9, 2005 12:20 PM

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