I’m still bothered by the news I commented on yesterday about CNN’s silence in their coverage of happenings in Iraq. I’m bothered even more by a link provided by Dan Lyke. For a contrast let’s look back about six months ago to an October 25, 2002 interview of Eason Jordan conducted by WNYC’s Bob Garfield.
BOB GARFIELD: I’m sure you have seen Franklin Foer’s article in The New Republic which charges that the Western press is appeasing the Iraqi regime in order to maintain its visas — to be there reporting should a war ultimately break out. What’s your take on that?
EASON JORDAN: The writer clearly doesn’t have a clear understanding of the realities on the ground because CNN has demonstrated again and again that it has a spine; that it’s prepared to be forthright; is forthright in its reporting. We wouldn’t have a team in northern Iraq right now if we didn’t want to upset the Saddam Hussein regime. We wouldn’t report on the demonstration if we didn’t want to upset the Saddam Hussein regime. We wouldn’t have been thrown out of Iraq already 5 times over the last several years if we were there to please the Saddam Hussein regime. So the story was lopsided, unfair and chose to ignore facts that would refute the premise of the article.
BOB GARFIELD: Well what is the calculus? In the New Republic article he cites the coverage of Saddam Hussein’s birthday by CNN which he deemed to be not a huge news event. Are you tossing bones to Saddam Hussein in order to be there when, when it really matters?
EASON JORDAN: No. I don’t think that’s the case at all. Now, there is Iraqi propaganda that is news! I mean there is propaganda from a lot of governments around the world that is newsworthy and we should report on those things. Saddam Hussein’s birthday is a big deal in that country. We’re not reading Iraqi propaganda; we’re reporting as an independent news organization.
BOB GARFIELD: Back in ’91 CNN and Peter Arnett in particular were heavily criticized, mostly by civilians, for reporting from within Baghdad during the U.S. attack in ways that they’d consider to be utter propaganda and to– out of context and not reflecting the overall reality of Saddam Hussein’ regime. Have you analyzed what you can get access to without appearing to be just a propaganda tool for Saddam?
EASON JORDAN: Well absolutely. I mean we work very hard to report forthrightly, to report fairly and to report accurately and if we ever determine we cannot do that, then we would not want to be there; but we do think that some light is better than no light whatsoever. I think that the world, the American people will be shortchanged if foreign journalists are kicked out, because even in Peter Arnett’s case there were things that he reported on — and this is a long time ago now — but things he reported on that I don’t think would have been reported at all had he not been there. We feel committed to our Baghdad presence. We’ve had a bureau there for 12 years with occasional interruptions when we’ve been thrown out, but we’re not there to please the Iraqi government — we’re not there to displease the Iraqi government — we’re just there to do our job.
I think I’m going to unprogram CNN from my office TV. This goes beyond just being upset with CNN’s lack of journalistic integrity. As Dan points out in a comment this goes beyond just silence and journeys into complicity. CNN was assuring us that they were giving us accurate reporting of what they were seeing in Iraq all the while not telling us how bad things had truely become.