ORIGINALLY POSTED MARCH 1, 2005
Speaking at an off-the-record panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 27, CNN chief executive Eason Jordan apparently suggested that U.S. forces in Iraq had intentionally targeted journalists. When challenged by members of the audience, including Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Jordan backtracked, saying that he did not believe that such attacks were deliberate U.S. government policy.
By most accounts Jordan's assertions were wavering and ambiguous. Not so for the resulting howl from conservative bloggers. Twenty-two days later, under pressure from critics across the political spectrum, Jordan resigned.
Major news outlets jumped for the tried-and-true storyline: public figure makes outrageous statements and is taken down by persistent bloggers. The pajamahadeen, still triumphant from having toppled Dan Rather, had claimed another scalp.
Even Jordan's defenders went out of their way to attack his statements. Syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker, who voiced concerns that a "cyber-mob" mentality might chill journalistic free speech, made it a point to call Jordan's comments "manna to Islamist recruiters" and "stupid, even indefensible."
But what's truly indefensible is the American media's failure to examine the substance of Jordan's claims, however clumsily articulated. If they did, they might be surprised.
To be sure, many made superficial attempts. A typical example appears in conservative columnist Cathy Young's Feb. 14 Boston Globe op-ed, "Sliming American Troops." Young, pointing out that Jordan also cited an "uncorroborated tale" of an Al-Jazeera journalist tortured at Abu Ghraib prison, dismisses Jordan's accusations between parentheses:
"All this suggests that intentional targeting of journalists as journalists was likely a part of Jordan's claim. (No such charge has ever been made by any journalists' organization, though disturbing questions have been raised about negligence in the U.S. military's shelling of the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad in April 2003 in which two journalists were killed.)" (emphasis added)
No such charge? On April 8, Reporters Without Borders issued a press release headlined "Reporters Without Borders accuses U.S. military of deliberately firing at journalists." That Young missed this item from a global media rights group, released the very same day as the Palestine Hotel attacks that she goes on to mention, shows just how blind she is to facts that lay outside the orthodox narrative.
Young is one of the few columnists to make any connection between Jordan's comments and the shelling of the Palestine Hotel, which killed two journalists, José Couso of the Spanish network Telecinco and Reuters cameraman Taras Protsiuk, and wounded three others.
A film of the incident, shot by the French TV station France 3, shows that U.S. troops were not under any fire at the time, and that the tank crew took a few minutes to adjust its gun before opening fire on the hotel, which was home to more than 200 journalists and media assistants at the time.
Following a Pentagon investigation in which the U.S. military completely exonerated itself, the International Federation of Journalists denounced the "cynical whitewashing of a horrifying and avoidable tragedy...."
As for the "uncorroborated tale" of torture? According to those who witnessed the remarks at Davos, Jordan discussed the case of an Al-Jazeera reporter who had been taken to Abu Ghraib prison, where he was forced to eat his own shoes and mocked as "Al-Jazeera boy."
The only reporter from a major paper to look into this tale was the New York Sun's Roderick Boyd, who did so in a display of astonishingly lazy reporting. Boyd writes:
"A man who said he was a producer with Al-Jazeera at the network's headquarters in Doha, Qatar, said he was unaware of any such incident, 'although we have had problems with American troops in and out of Iraq.' The Al-Jazeera producer refused to give his name."
Had Boyd bothered to enter the words "Al-Jazeera boy" into Google or Lexis-Nexis, he would have found a March 11, 2004, story in the Nation, a May 2, 2004, story in the London Observer, and an account from Reporters Without Borders, each of which details the seven-week detention and torture at Abu Ghraib of 33-year-old Al-Jazeera cameraman Salah Hassan.
But Boyd didn't bother. He was happy enough to settle for the anonymous source who told him what he wanted to hear. His "evidence" that the incident never happened has been reprinted throughout the blogosphere, including the influential conservative blog, Instapundit.
The reporter forced by U.S. troops to eat his own shoe was actually a different person: veteran Reuters cameraman Salem Ureibi. On Jan. 2, 2004, U.S. soldiers arrested Ureibi, Falluja stringer Ahmed Mohammed Hussein al-Badrani and driver Sattar Jabar al-Badrani in Falluja as they were filming the site of a helicopter crash. The three men were held for 72 hours, during which they were beaten, stripped and threatened with rape.
The story was reported by Reuters, the Associated Press, Editor and Publisher, the New York Times, the New York Daily News, the Washington Post, the Guardian, the Raleigh News Observer, the Xinhua news service and many other outlets....
It was not the tales of abuse, however, that most appalled Jordan's critics—such stories are no longer shocking even to casual followers of the news—but the notion that the U.S. military would deliberately target media outlets in Iraq in order to silence them. In the early days of the invasion, they did just that.
In the hours before dawn on March 26, 2003, precision guided bombs struck the headquarters of Iraq's state-run television station, which had days earlier broadcast images of dead and captured American soldiers, in violation of the Geneva Conventions.
But the Geneva Conventions also prohibit targeting civilian buildings, unless they offer "definite military advantage." Media organizations and human rights groups were outraged.
"The bombing of a television station, simply because it is being used for the purposes of propaganda, cannot be condoned," read a press release from Amnesty International, which called the strike a "possible war crime."
"Once again," said Aidan White, general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, "we see military and political commanders from the democratic world targeting a television network simply because they don't like the message it gives out...."
The next time some self-congratulatory, right-wing empty suit with a blog starts blathering about how the blogosphere challenges traditional media, send them this link. As usual, the right-wing blogosphere missed the real story.