Friday, April 11, 2003

CNN's dubious Iraq connections. Last October the New Republic's Franklin Foer wrote a piece condemning CNN for toadying to the Iraqi government in order to keep its reporters from getting kicked out of the country. (The story is online here, and it appears to be freely available.)

Among the amusing details Foer offered was the fact that Saddam's henchmen would apparently go absolutely bonkers if reporters referred to the Great Leader as anything other than "President Saddam Hussein." In fact, that's what got Al Jazeera into trouble last week. And I recalled that detail watching CNN last night when Nic Robertson, back in Baghdad, referred repeatedly to "President Saddam Hussein" in his standup for NewsNight with Aaron Brown -- three times in just a couple of minutes, according to this transcript.

Robertson is nobody's toady, and I imagine his repetitious invocation of Saddam's preferred mode of reference was more habit than anything else. But this morning, in two pieces in the New York Times, a far more serious matter regarding CNN came to light.

The first -- and by far the more disturbing -- was an op-ed column by Eason Jordan, who is described as CNN's "chief news executive." By his own description, "CNN's ambassador to Iraq" would be more accurate. And it appears that he was an ambassador of the most odious kind, keeping silent about terrible human-rights abuses.

Jordan portrays himself as a humanitarian, and surely he wouldn't want to complain or exclaim in such a way that people would be tortured or killed -- beyond the fact that some were being tortured or killed anyway. But, as you will read, Jordan's silence may have cost the lives of Saddam's sons-in-law, who defected in 1995 and who were lured back by promises of forgiveness. Jordan does credit himself with saving the life of King Hussein. Well, at least he draws the line somewhere.

More to the point: at what moment does Jordan's concerns about access and safety morph into a slimy collaboration with Saddam's evil regime? Given the horrors that he describes, shouldn't there have come a day when he finally said, "No more"? Wasn't everything that CNN was reporting out of Iraq inherently dishonest, given that its chief news executive knew many, many things that he dared not say? "I felt awful having these stories bottled up inside of me," Jordan writes. Well, I would hope so. He should feel worse that he did nothing about it.

This other story, which describes CNN as the only major US news network to refuse to participate in a government-sponsored media campaign in Iraq, wouldn't stand out so much if it weren't for Jordan's column. CNN released a statement saying, "We didn't think that as an independent, global news organization it was appropriate to participate in a United States government video transmission."

Read Jordan's op-ed and then try to wrap your mind around the idea of CNN taking a principled stand on anything to do with Iraq. It is literally enough to induce nausea.

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