February 12, 2005

Internet targets Eason Jordan, CNN paves him over

The MSM, which mostly ignored the Eason Jordan story until now, have reported extensively on his resignation, sometimes with interesting additional information, or at least an interesting spin.

The AP story recycles the word target, perhaps simply due to lexical priming:

But the damage had been done. He [Jordan] was the target of an Internet campaign that was beginning to rival the one launched against CBS' Dan Rather after the network's story on President Bush's military service. [emphasis added]

In this case, though, there was no ambiguity about intent. Jordan was definitely the target of the blogpack, in a sense that reporters in Iraq have not been the targets of the U.S. military.

The BBC story, interestingly, chooses to group Jordan's resignation with a recent event in which a journalist in Iraq was specifically targeted for death -- by an insurgent group:

The latest journalist to die in Iraq was Abdul Hussein Khazal, 40.

Khazal, a correspondent for US-funded Arabic TV station al-Hurra, was killed by gunmen on Wednesday as he was leaving his house in the southern city of Basra.

His three-year-old son also died in the attack, claimed by a previously unknown rebel group.

This information is prominently placed in the third graf of the story. It evokes the fact that most of the journalists killed in Iraq have been killed by the other side, and have been killed on purpose because of who they are (though the BBC story does not go so far as to say this). This is a kind of juxtaposition that I don't expect from the BBC.

John Cook in the Chicago Tribune gets a sprightly quote from an anonymous source:

Jordan's resignation marks the end of a 23-year career at CNN as one of its most powerful and influential executives; much of his time at CNN was spent building and running the network's global newsgathering operations. But Jordan's power was severely circumscribed in a corporate reorganization in 2003, and insiders said Jordan was unhappy with a job that essentially made him a figurehead.

"It seems like a dumb thing to have said," said a highly placed CNN source who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Mostly he had the role of being the embodiment of CNN's journalism domestically and internationally, and having said the things he apparently said, it would have been difficult to go forward. But in a sense, he'd already been paved over. He was a chief of state, as opposed to an operating officer." [emphasis added]

He'd already been paved over. Nice. I wonder whether that "highly placed CNN source" was Jonathan Klein, who has a track record for memorable turns of phrase:

"You couldn't have a starker contrast between the multiple layers of checks and balances [at 60 Minutes] and a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing."

The LA Times story by Ned Martel tells us that

... a website called Easongate.com, featuring the executive's corporate portrait on its home page, offered a clearing-house of criticism related to Jordan's statements. The website linked to 25 other sites in its "Blogroll," with mainstream columnists such as Roger L. Simon and more obscure bloggers such as "Red State Rant" and "Winds of Change." [emphasis added]

I've always thought of Roger Simon as a mystery novelist and screenwriter who took up blogging on the side after 9/11, as the title of his blog and his about page explain. Has he acquired a newspaper column somewhere? Or does 15,528 visits a day qualify him as a "mainstream columnist", while Winds of Change at a mere 5,303 is "obscure"?

Perhaps Martel is trying to say, in a confusing way, that the the blogpack pursuing Jordan was diverse in terms of number of readers. But surely this is not news -- how could it be otherwise? And he didn't pick the extreme examples, which would be Instapundit at 158,487 visits per day on the high end. Or maybe Martel just liked the contrast between the dignified appellation "Roger L. Simon" and the edgy "Red State Rant" and "Winds of Change"?

[Update: No, it turns out that the "Politics Editor" for U.S. News and World Report is also named "Roger Simon". He's a completely different person from Roger Simon the blogger; but we can't expect an LA Times reporter to know that... ]

Perhaps the most preposterous spin was in a story from on IslamOnline.net:

Lamis Awad, a Tunisian journalist who attended the event, said Jordan criticized the US forces for targeting reporters working for Al-Jazeera news channel in particular.

“The US administration would not allow any journalist working in a heavyweight American channel like CNN to publicly criticize its policies in Iraq,” she told the Doha-based broadcaster commenting on the resignation.

A few congresscritters have spoken up, including Barney Frank and Chris Dodd, who were there at the session in Davos; but no one else has suggested so far that the Bush administration has played any role whatsoever in the whole imbroglio.

The sad thing is that the Tunisian journalist, if not misquoted, was perhaps not lying, but rather just reasoning by analogy from her own situation. A couple of decades ago, when I was working in an industrial research lab, I was visited by a bright young telecommunications engineer from a North African country. During a dinner party at my house, he had a long conversation with a financial journalist, and was politely puzzled by the notion that her job included finding stories and discovering facts. In fact, he was incredulous, since he was convinced that the selection and content of magazine stories must largely be determined by the size of the bribes paid to the publisher by their subjects, always of course under constraint from the interests and sensitivities of relevant government ministers. The other Americans at dinner were shocked by this view, a reaction which he attributed to their surprising naïveté.

[Update 1:00 p.m.: The NYT web site still has no article on the Jordan affair, other than an automatic reprint of the AP wire story on his resignation. I guess this is an example of their tendency to take the view that a story broken by others doesn't exist. Though perhaps they will come through with a package of relevant revelations later on.]

[Update 1:45 p.m.: There's a story there now, by Jacques Steinberg and Katherine Seelye. It still isn't indexed by their search function, so maybe it was up earlier today as well. They quote Stephens' "defamatory innuendo" remarks.]

[Note: Sam Bayer notes that I managed to spell "sprightly" as "spritely". Oops. We'll have to transfer to Sam's account a suitable fraction of what we usually pay Geoff Pullum for his function as copy editor. ]

Posted by Mark Liberman at February 12, 2005 09:14 AM