In part 1 of this article, I discussed Professor Ward Churchill and Lt. Gen. James Mattis. In this section, I discuss someone who has lost his position because of his words.
In January of this year there was a gathering of peoples at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. One of the people in attendance was Eason Jordan, the executive vice president and chief news executive of CNN. Jordan made some disturbing comments at the forum. These were first reported by Rony Abovitz:
During one of the discussions about the number of journalists killed in the Iraq War, Eason Jordan asserted that he knew of 12 journalists who had not only been killed by US troops in Iraq, but they had in fact been targeted. He repeated the assertion a few times, which seemed to win favor in parts of the audience (the anti-US crowd) and cause great strain on others.
Due to the nature of the forum, I was able to directly challenge Eason, asking if he had any objective and clear evidence to backup these claims, because if what he said was true, it would make Abu Ghraib look like a walk in the park. David Gergen was also clearly disturbed and shocked by the allegation that the U.S. would target journalists, foreign or U.S. He had always seen the U.S. military as the providers of safety and rescue for all reporters.
Eason seemed to backpedal quickly, but his initial statements were backed by other members of the audience (one in particular who represented a worldwide journalist group). The ensuing debate was (for lack of better words) a real “sh–storm”.
There has been some debate as to whether Jordan actually said what Abovitz claimed he did. The forum was video-recorded, but both CNN and the World Economic Forum have refused to release the transcript. It has been labeled an “off the record” event. How it is possible to call something witnessed by so many people and recorded for posterity as “off the record” is beyond me, but I’m not a professional journalist. Since that late January meeting, the Internet was set abuzz over Jordan’s comments, but the mainstream media wouldn’t touch the issue with a ten-foot pole. More and more bloggers demanded a full explanation from CNN and Eason Jordan and asked for proof to back up his claims, but explanations were not forthcoming. On February 11th, Eason Jordan abruptly resigned from CNN.
This Yahoo News article contains some interesting anomalies. In a memo to CNN, Jordan wrote, “I never meant to imply U.S. forces acted with ill intent when U.S. forces accidentally killed journalists, and I apologize to anyone who thought I said or believed otherwise.” But this statement is in direct contrast to what several witnesses say Jordan actually said. The article continues, “But the damage had been done, compounded by the fact that no transcript of his actual remarks has turned up.” This misleading sentence makes it sound like CNN had been digging to find a transcript and came up empty-handed, but that isn’t the case. The meeting was recorded, and CNN could have requested the tape. Instead, CNN and the World Economic Forum sat on the tape, claiming that the forum was “off the record” and that it couldn’t be released. I suspect “couldn’t” isn’t the right word — “wouldn’t” is probably more accurate.
One thing stands out — the major media dropped the ball on this news story. When Jordan resigned, many major papers were in the unenviable position of explaining to their readers why he had quit, and admitting that they hadn’t reported the story at all. The people who get their news exclusively from ABC/CBS/NBC and the national papers didn’t know anything about the controversy until Jordan left.
Since Rony Abovitz broke this story to the world and his comments led to the resignation of a major media player, I think it only fair to defer to his summary of this debacle:
The lesson to be learned here is not that speech or expression should be limited. The lesson is one of conviction and the power of words. If Eason Jordan held to his original assertions, even without data, but called out that he was in the midst of a deep news investigation which would soon yield ripe fruit, he would still have his job. But that is not what happened. He had no hard facts, no substance. He was caught, in some sense, doing his job. Not his job delivering objective news, but his job as a corporate executive, feeding his target audience what they want to believe, and maybe what he truly felt. He was in his element, his home turf, in an environment of palpable anti-American feelings and sentiment. He was building his brand, and never expected to be called hard on his own words, challenged intensely and publicly when among elite friends. That is not the Davos way. In the old Rome, he would have been safe, nestled in its walls. But in this decaying Rome, the Huns have entered Rome. What is Google, whose founders were the toast of Davos, if not a gateway to a vast new world? Civilized Huns, but Huns nonetheless. The persistence, speed, exponential growth, and unanticipated power of free information is beyond comprehension for most people. The speed of revolution is now linked to Moore’s Law, in some way we do not understand. No corrupt leader, politician, dictator, or despot can rest easy anymore. Eason Jordan was not really any of these – he was an executive doing his job, catering to his market, caught in what is becoming a massive change in the way the world functions. Caught in a grass roots demand for more honesty, more truth, more equity – and much less B.S. Caught in change itself.
Sad conclusion in the Eason Jordan affair (see below the New York Times article), sad day for the freedom of expression in America and sad day again for the future of blogging: the defense of the US army honor seemed more important to some bloggers than the defense of reporters’ work (and sometimes life)! Nevertheless, there is one advantage in this story: masks are fallen! Within the honest community of bloggers, some of them claimed to be the “sons of the First Amendment,” they were just the sons of Senator McCarthy.
Pablo’s comment on this post:
What rubbish! The “citizen media” simply asked for clarification of the remarks, and the evidence that supports them, while legacy media did its best to ignore the situation despite the outrage expressed by the two American congressmen who were present.
It’s perfectly valid to demand an explanations for remarks like those Jordan made. His problem is that if they were true, he’d still be running CNN.
Calling out a liar is not McCarthyism.
We have freedom of speech here in the United States as guaranteed by the First Amendment. People like Eason Jordan are free to make whatever claims they wish. But with this freedom comes the responsibility of being held accountable for one’s words. You are free to call your neighbor a sheep pimp, but you are not free to avoid the slander lawsuit that is likely to result. You are free to break the law by making a bomb threat as you board your plane, but you will be held accountable for your words. Likewise, Eason Jordan was free to claim that the U.S. military actively targeted journalists, but he was also responsible for owning up to his words. Rather than allowing them to be published, he chose to quit his position.
Cox & Forkum have a great editorial cartoon, summing up the mainstream media response to bloggers:
To paraphrase Uncle Ben to a young Peter Parker: “With free speech comes great responsibility.”