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August 17, 2007

Backspin for War: The Convenience of Denial


by Norman Solomon

The man who ran CNN's news operation during the invasion of Iraq is now doing damage control in response to a new documentary's evidence that he kowtowed to the Pentagon on behalf of the cable network. His current denial says a lot about how "liberal media" outlets remain deeply embedded in the mindsets of pro-military conformity.

Days ago, the former CNN executive publicly defended himself against a portion of the War Made Easy film (based on my book of the same name) that has drawn much comment from viewers since the documentary's release earlier this summer. As Inter Press Service reported, the movie shows "a news clip of Eason Jordan, a CNN News chief executive who, in an interview with CNN, boasts of the network's cadre of professional 'military experts.' In fact, CNN's retired military generals turned war analysts were so good, Eason said, that they had all been vetted and approved by the U.S. government."

Inter Press called the vetting-and-approval process "shocking" – and added that "in a country revered for its freedom of speech and unfettered press, Eason's comments would infuriate any veteran reporter who upholds the most basic and important tenet of the journalistic profession: independence."

But Eason Jordan doesn't want us to see it that way. And he has now fired back via an article in IraqSlogger, which calls itself "the world's premier Iraq-focused Web site." Jordan runs that Web site.

The journalist who wrote the Aug. 14 article, Christina Davidson, was in an awkward spot: War Made Easy directly criticizes her boss, and it was the subject of the article.

Davidson's only assessment of the film that wasn't favorable had to do with its criticisms of Jordan. "While there's no doubt that journalistic laziness contributed to the uncritical re-broadcasting of the Bush administration's official line," she wrote, "Solomon takes it a little too far in trying to make the case that all of the cable networks were actively complicit in promoting the war. Solomon bases his reasoning primarily on one choice quote from Eason Jordan, former CNN news chief and current CEO of IraqSlogger's parent company, Praedict."

In fact, the film provides a wide range of evidence that "all of the cable networks were actively complicit in promoting the war" – the result of chronic biases rather than "journalistic laziness." And CNN, like the rest of the cable news operations, comes in for plenty of tough scrutiny in the documentary. As the magazine Variety noted in a review of War Made Easy a few days ago, "Fox News is predictably bashed here, but supposedly neutral CNN gets it even harder."

CNN is among the news outlets at the core of the myth of "the liberal media" – perpetuated, in part, by the fact that people are often overly impressed by the significance of rhetorical attacks on some media organizations by more conservative outlets. (Before his resignation from CNN in 2005, Eason Jordan was himself subjected to denunciations from the right – for allegedly skewing news coverage to curry favor with the Baghdad government during Saddam's rule and, after the invasion, for reportedly stating that U.S. troops had targeted some journalists in Iraq.) But antipathy from right-wing pundits is hardly an indication of journalistic independence.

Stretching to defend Jordan's CNN record, IraqSlogger complains that the CEO of its parent company is unfairly characterized in the film: "Solomon assumes that Jordan was seeking the blessing of Pentagon officials on the propriety of his choices, when in fact he was just doing a boss's duty."

The article then provides a quote from Jordan, supplying his explanation to set the record straight: "Employers routinely vet prospective employees with their previous employers. In these cases, we vetted retired generals to ensure they were experts in specific military and geographic areas. The generals were not vetted for political views."

The explanation can only flunk the laugh test.

Eason Jordan was CNN's chief news executive when, on April 20, 2003 (a month after U.S. troops invaded Iraq), he appeared on CNN and revealed that he'd gotten the Defense Department's approval of which retired high-ranking officers to put on the network's payroll. "I went to the Pentagon myself several times before the war started and met with important people there and said, for instance – 'At CNN, here are the generals we're thinking of retaining to advise us on the air and off about the war' – and we got a big thumbs-up on all of them. That was important."

With war euphoria riding high, Jordan was eager to shore up his – and CNN's – image as cooperative pals of the nation's military commanders. Now, Jordan is trying some backspin with the claim that he was merely checking job references.

"Often journalists blame the government for the failure of the journalists themselves to do independent reporting," I note in the documentary. "But nobody forced the major networks like CNN to do so much commentary from retired generals and admirals and all the rest of it." What Jordan did on behalf of CNN "wasn't even something to hide, ultimately. It was something to say to the American people on his own network, 'See, we're team players. We may be the news media, but we're on the same side and the same page as the Pentagon.' And that really runs directly counter to the idea of an independent press. And that suggests that we have some deep patterns of media avoidance when the U.S. is involved in a war based on lies."

Part of that deadly avoidance comes when powerful news executives do the bidding of the Pentagon – and then, later on, claim that they did nothing of the kind.


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