The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Three Monkeys

CNN's top news executive Eason Jordan resigned on Friday:

CNN's top news executive resigned Friday following weeks of scrutiny over comments he made that have been interpreted as an accusation that the U.S. military deliberately targeted journalists in Iraq.

Eason Jordan, the cable news channel's executive vice president, told colleagues in a letter that he was stepping down "in an effort to prevent CNN from being unfairly tarnished by the controversy over conflicting accounts of my recent remarks regarding the alarming number of journalists killed in Iraq."

Those remarks, delivered at a panel of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January, ignited a firestorm of controversy stoked in large part by Internet bloggers.

Until Friday, this "firestorm of controversy" existed solely on the Internet. The news of Eason's resignation must have sorely puzzled anyone who got their information from the legacy media.

But we do have media critics to expose these lapses in journalistic performance, don't we? That is the theory, but in practice these "critics" are like the three monkeys with hands clasped firmly across eyes, ears, and mouth.

Anyone who reads Mickey Kaus has seen his joyous fulsome denunciations of Washington Post media critic -- and CNN television personality! -- Howard Kurtz. Watch Kaus tear great gaping chunks out of Kurtz, who could hear no evil when it came to his fellow employee:

Kurtz Does CNN's Damage Control: If you were worrying that WaPo's conflicted Howie Kurtz would bend over backwards to be tough on his own CNN bosses, you can stop now. Kurtz's article ... well, let's just say that if a p.r. agent or damage control spinner produced a piece designed to try and save CNN exec Eason Jordan's job, it would be the piece Kurtz wrote in the Post today. Why? Here are some of the blatant and subtle pro-Jordan tricks:


2) Hide the Videotape: But forget the witnesses. There's a video of this event, initially promised to a blogger but now being kept under wraps by the Davos people. Downplayed eyewitness Abovitz says Jordan "is much better off if the tape (in classic "1984" style) just disappears." Kurtz merely notes in passing that "a videotape of the event has not been made public," but he doesn't put even routine journalistic pressure on the World Economic Forum to release it. If it were a tape of, say, Karl Rove making a remark about future Supreme Court justices, wouldn't a Woodsteinian WaPo reporter raise at least a cynical eyebrow or two about the need for secrecy--asking the Davos officials for an explanation of why they weren't releasing it, or asking Jordan if he'd give his permission to have the video made public? If you wanted to kill the controversy dead, though, you'd do what Kurtz did.

Then there is Jay Rosen of PressThink, who could see no evil when it came to Eason Jordan:

It's possible that if I ever view the tape, I will see a firing offense. Right now, I don't. There still could be reasons to toss Jordan overboard, or for him to quit, absent any "firing offense."

I wasn't aware that the new journalistic standard of evidence was that only videotape suffices -- the words of (many) eyewitnesses won't cut it. It's possible that if I ever visited a morgue I would see why California had to put Richard Alton Harris to death. Right now, I don't.

As Will Collier noted at Vodkapundit, Columbia Journalism Review editor Steve Lovelady wrote to Rosen with the following nuanced thoughts about l'affaire Jordan:

The salivating morons who make up the lynch mob prevail. (Where is Jimmy Stewart when we need him?) This convinces me more than ever that Eason Jordan is guilty of one thing, and one thing only -- caring for the reporters he sent into battle, and haunted by the fact that not all of them came back. Like Gulliver, he was consumed by Lilliputians.

(I'm not sure if Lovelady sees Jimmy Stewart as a psychiatrist who can raise feeble-minded peoples' IQ's, or if he's supposed to be an endicronologist who can cure excessive salivation.)

It's certainly very ... interesting ... that Lovelady sees "caring" as an adequate defense against blood libel. If a high news executive were to repeat sick stories of Jews drinking Gentile children's blood, I wouldn't count it in his favor that he was "haunted" by the plight of Palestinian children.

Lovelady stopped by the Vodkapundit comment thread. Bully for him -- and for the power of the blogosphere -- but Lovelady's efforts didn't do much for his position. Lovelady could speak no evil about Jordan:

We are not talking about "news reports" aired by CNN here. We are talking about interpretations of one man's offhand comments at a supposedly off-the-record session where people were encouraged to think out loud.

(Actually, as a later commenter noted, the sessions were anonymous but not off-the-record. And as anyone who actually is interested in obtaining facts knows, Jordan had a history of making lurid claims about soldier abuse of journalists.)

Suppose that Jordan had instead aired his doubts about whether black people had the necessary skills to be news executives. How long do you think he would have been head news executive of CNN? My guess is about an hour and a half -- videotape or no videotape -- and Kurtz, Rosen, and Lovelady would have been first in line to denounce him.



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