CNN chief stands by Iraq omissions
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Published April 12, 2003
CNN's chief news executive Eason Jordan yesterday disclosed that his network withheld details of Saddam Hussein's brutality from its coverage to protect CNN employees.
Alarming facts about secret police, abductions, beatings, dismemberment and assassinations under the Iraqi dictator were not reported to the public, Mr. Jordan wrote, "because doing so would have jeopardized Iraqis, particularly those on our Baghdad staff."
"I felt awful having those stories bottled up inside me," Mr. Jordan wrote in an editorial titled "The News We Kept to Ourselves" published yesterday in The New York Times. "At last these stories can be told freely."
In an interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Jordan stood by his decision yesterday, saying he felt "relieved" and was "absolutely sure I did the right thing holding these stories."
CNN coverage, he said, had already offered evidence of "the brutality in Iraq," and the move was not intended to "preserve CNN's presence in Iraq."
"We've already been thrown out of Iraq several times. And we are proud we've been thrown out," he said. CNN correspondents were expelled from Baghdad last month.
Some are baffled by it all.
"I was stunned by that op-ed," Fox News Channel and ABC radio host Sean Hannity told The Times yesterday. "Doesn't CNN have a journalistic obligation to report these kind of details, or to make their reporters aware of them? You can bet if CNN made discoveries about, say, a conservative administration, they would share them."
The editorial "sounds like a confession more than anything," Mr. Hannity said. "And I found it hypocritical."
Rich Noyes, director of research at the conservative Media Research Center, said that "Jordan now admits that CNN kept many of Saddam's secrets.
"Have other networks also censored their own tales of Saddam's evil?" he asked.
"If accurate reporting from Iraq was impossible, why was access to this dictatorship so important in the first place? And what truths about the thugs who run other totalitarian states — like North Korea, Cuba and Syria — are fearful and/or access-hungry reporters hiding from the American public?" Mr. Noyes said.
But Mr. Jordan had more dramatic revelations to justify his decision.
In companion pieces telecast on CNN yesterday, he said: "There were people in Iraq who believed that CNN was effectively the CIA."
Saddam's regime had accused CNN reporters of working for the CIA and Israel, Mr. Jordan said, and planned to attack them in northern Iraq last month.
The plot was discovered by Kurdish police, who arrested two Iraqi intelligence agents. CNN obtained their videotaped confessions.
Meanwhile, an Iraqi official told Mr. Jordan that "the severest possible consequences" awaited CNN correspondents and that the network's presence in the region "was a violation of Iraqi sovereignty."
According to Mr. Jordan, officials warned other news organizations that anyone caught helping CNN cover the war in Iraq would be jailed.
Tom Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism supports Mr. Jordan's decision, and described him as "obviously tortured" yesterday.
"He wrote an extraordinary and sensible essay," Mr. Rosenstiel said. "He was weighing out his journalistic responsibility and his human responsibility. It's a difficult task, but it comes with the territory of an editor who is responsible for his people — and the news."
Fox News media analyst Eric Burns said he "commended" Mr. Jordan, if he had indeed protected innocent people from harm.
"But why reveal all this now? Maybe CNN wants to cash in on the current pro-liberation sentiment," Mr. Burns said.
"If he had knowledge he couldn't reveal, then I hope that it would at least be reflected in CNN's coverage."
Barbara Cochran of the Radio and TV News Directors Association said Mr. Jordan was right not to reveal information that could endanger lives, citing the association's code of ethics, "which addresses balancing the harm you do with the news you present."