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,
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
"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