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Monday, February 14, 2005

NYT DISCOVERS VOICE

The New York Times didn’t mention the Eason Jordan controversy until Jordan quit—but now the sad old broadsheet has finally found an angle: unedited bloggers are hurting good people!

With the resignation Friday of a top news executive from CNN, bloggers have laid claim to a prominent media career for the second time in five months.

Two careers have ended? Last I heard, Dan Rather still had a job—hosting 60 Minutes II.

In September, conservative bloggers exposed flaws in a report by Dan Rather; he subsequently announced that on March 9 he would step down as anchor of the “CBS Evening News.” On Friday, after nearly two weeks of intensifying pressure on the Internet, Eason Jordan, the chief news executive at CNN, abruptly resigned after being besieged by the online community. Morever, last week liberal bloggers forced a sketchily credentialed White House reporter to quit his post.

This story could have been written at any time in the past forty years. Simply change a few words and you’d have a piece about politicians/builders/executives/whoever “abruptly resigning�? after “being besieged by the journalistic community.�? Certain footwear now resides on an alternate pedal extremity, and journalists don’t like it.

Some of those most familiar with Mr. Jordan’s situation emphasized, in interviews over the weekend, that his resignation should not be read solely as a function of the heat that CNN had been receiving on the Internet, where thousands of messages, many of them from conservatives, had been posted.

“Many of them from conservatives�?. Scary. Does the NYT ever visit Democratic Underground? Lots of heat there about Fox News; but heat alone, as the NYT concedes, isn’t enough.

Nonetheless, within days of his purported statement, many blog sites were swamped with outraged assertions that he was slandering American troops.

Well, he did accuse them of killing journalists.

But while the bloggers are feeling empowered, some in their ranks are openly questioning where they are headed. One was Jeff Jarvis, the head of the Internet arm of Advance Publications, who publishes a blog at buzzmachine.com. Mr. Jarvis said bloggers should keep their real target in mind. “I wish our goal were not taking off heads but digging up truth,” he cautioned.

That seemed to be the aim all along; bloggers repeatedly called for the video of Jordan’s speech to be released. (UPDATE. Jarvis points out that this quote is highly selective and misrepresents him.)

At the same time, some in the traditional media are growing alarmed as they watch careers being destroyed by what they see as the growing power of rampant, unedited dialogue.

“Rampant, unedited dialogue�?—again, I refer you to Democratic Underground—has absolutely no effect unless it’s supported by evidence (for example, a faked-up National Guard memo or a bogus quote). How often have posters at DU called for the head of, say, Sean Hannity? Yet their rampant, unedited dialogue has had no impact at all. 

Steve Lovelady, a former editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Wall Street Journal and now managing editor of CJR Daily, the Web site of The Columbia Journalism Review, has been among the most outspoken.

“The salivating morons who make up the lynch mob prevail,” he lamented online after Mr. Jordan’s resignation. He said that Mr. Jordan cared deeply about the reporters he had sent into battle and was “haunted by the fact that not all of them came back.”

Bloggers make “outraged assertions�?. Lovelady is “outspoken�?.

It was a businessman attending the forum in Davos who put Mr. Jordan’s comments on the map with a Jan. 28 posting. Rony Abovitz, 34, of Hollywood, Fla., the co-founder of a medical technology company, was invited to Davos and was asked to write for the forum’s first-ever blog, his first blogging effort. In an interview yesterday, he said that he had challenged Mr. Jordan’s assertion that the United States was taking aim at journalists and asked for evidence.

Mr. Abovitz asked some of the journalists at the event if they were going to write about Mr. Jordan’s comments and concluded that they were not because journalists wanted to protect their own. There was also some confusion about whether they could, because the session was officially “off the record.”

Mr. Abovitz said the remarks bothered him, and at 2:21 a.m. local time, he posted his write-up on the forum’s official blog under the headline “Do U.S. Troops Target Journalists in Iraq?”

He did not think it would get much attention. But Mr. Jordan’s comments zipped around the Web and fired up the conservative bloggers, who saw the remarks attributed to Mr. Jordan as evidence of a liberal bias of the big American news media.

Very occasionally—perhaps every couple of decades or so—such evidence appears, yes.

“I think he was attacked because of what he represented as much as what he said,” said David Gergen, who moderated the panel at Davos and who has served in the White House for administrations of both parties. He said he was troubled by the attacks on Mr. Jordan and said that his resignation was a mark of the increasing degree to which the news media were being drawn into the nation’s culture wars.

Drawn into the nation’s culture wars�??

While over the years Mr. Jordan had helped vault CNN to some of its most celebrated triumphs - it was largely through his diplomatic efforts that CNN was able to broadcast the first live footage from the first Gulf War, in 1991 - he also drew criticism. In one case, he wrote an article for the Op-Ed page of The New York Times in April 2003, saying that CNN had essentially suppressed news of brutalities so the network could maintain access and protect its people in Iraq.

Why the qualifier? Jordan stated outright that CNN had suppressed news of brutalities. There’s a clue in the headline: The News We Kept to Ourselves.

Through the latest uproar, the substance of Mr. Jordan’s initial assertion about the military targeting journalists was largely lost.

No, it was never released.

... the notion that journalists are “targeted” by the military did not first emerge with Mr. Jordan at Davos. Nik Gowing, a presenter, or anchor, for the BBC, has advanced the theory in writings and speeches that because the media can now convey instantaneously what is happening in a war zone, military commanders may find journalists a hindrance. The Pentagon has dismissed such theories.

So have journalists.

Ms. Robinson of CNN said that the network had no transcript of the session or a videotape because the conference organizers said that they considered the session off the record.

Oh, please. Does anyone think that CNN would respect an “off the record�? plea if this story were about George W. Bush instead of Eason Jordan? (A videotape does apparently exist, by the way.)

She said that the content of Mr. Jordan’s remarks was not in dispute, but that assertion has not satisfied those critics on the Internet who contend Mr. Jordan and CNN have something to hide.

Easy way to answer that criticism: release the tape. (Interesting, too, that the content is now “not in dispute.�?)

The online attack of Mr. Jordan, particularly among conservative commentators, appeared to gain momentum when they were seized on by other conservative outlets. A report on the National Review Web site was followed by editorials in The Washington Times and The Wall Street Journal, as well as by a column in The New York Post by Michelle Malkin (a contributor for Fox News, CNN’s rival).

It’s a conspiracy, is what it is!

Mr. Abovitz, who started it all, said he hoped bloggers could develop loftier goals than destroying people’s careers. “If you’re going to do this open-source journalism, it should have a higher purpose,” he said. “At times it did seem like an angry mob, and an angry mob using high technology, that’s not good.”

Unlike in the past, when the highest technology was only available to companies like CNN. And what did they do with it? They didn’t use it; for example, they deliberately concealed stories of brutality in Iraq.

Welcome to now, babies. Some call it “the information age�?.

UPDATE. Here’s an Eason Jordan speech from 1999:

I thank you very much for being here tonight. Let me also thank Fidel Castro. In the earliest days of CNN, when CNN was meant to be seen only in the United States, the enterprising Fidel Castro was pirating and watching CNN in Cuba. Fidel was intrigued by CNN. He wanted to meet the person responsible. So Ted Turner, who at that point had never traveled to a Communist country or knowingly met a Communist, [went to Havana]. It was big deal for Ted and during the discussions Castro suggested that CNN be made available to the entire world. In fact it was that seed, that idea that grew into CNN International, which is now seen in every country and territory on the planet ...

The triumphalism exhibited throughout is remarkable (this was prior to Fox News gaining market share), as is this stunning lie in response to an audience member asking about “access in Iraq�?:

CNN has had tremendous difficulties with the Iraqi government, a government that’s accused me during my own trips to Baghdad of being a CIA station chief for Iraq. I feel lucky to have emerged alive from that. But it’s very difficult working from Baghdad. It was during the war, and it continues to be today.

Our view is, first of all, we will not consciously pull punches. If I ever find anybody doing it, then those people will be history at this network, as well as with our Iraq coverage.

It took him six years, but Eason finally discovered himself pulling punches and fired himself.

(Previously noted at Captain’s Quarters)

Posted by Tim B. on 02/14/2005 at 03:26 AM
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