CNN’s Iraqi Cover-UpApril 15, 2003 12:00 by ManagingTeam
In a shocking New York Times opinion piece, CNN’s chief news executive Eason Jordan has admitted that for the past decade the network has systematically covered up stories of Iraqi atrocities. Reports of murder, torture, and planned assassinations were suppressed in order to maintain CNN’s Baghdad bureau.
Read Jordan’s op-ed at:
Jordan has not always been so candid — nor honest. Just six months ago on public radio, when challenged regarding the veracity of CNN’s Baghdad reports, Jordan stated:
“CNN has demonstrated again and again that it has a spine; that it’s prepared to be forthright… we work very hard to report forthrightly, to report fairly and to report accurately and if we ever determine we cannot do that, then we would not want to be there [in Iraq].”
Below, HonestReporting presents a series of op-ed columns and editorials condemning CNN’s policy. At the end of this communique is a response that CNN’s Eason Jordan sent to HonestReporting.
Now that this senior CNN executive has come clean, it leaves us wondering: In what other regions ruled by terrorist dictators do the media toe the party line so as to remain in good stead? It is known that the Palestinian Authority, since its very establishment, has employed brutal methods of intimidation against journalists.
For specific examples, see HonestReporting’s expose, “Palestinian Intimidation of the Press”:
Have the major international news agencies also withheld information on the PA in order to stay on good terms with Arafat’s henchmen? As HonestReporting chronicled on another occasion, CNN has at the very least lent credence to patent lies stated by the Palestinian Authority:
Now that CNN has turned sincere, admitting it buried stories that would smear Mideast dictators, perhaps the time has come for more comprehensive, honest reporting in the region.
HonestReporting encourages members to respond to the Jordan admission by demanding that media agencies report the facts, including efforts to intimidate Mideast journalists. If news agencies must buy access to dictators’ regions through the omission of telling violence, we must insist that they either report the truth, or leave.
==== OP-EDS AND EDITORIALS ====
(1) Some of the most damning evidence against CNN comes from a Washington Times op-ed by Peter Collins (“Corruption at CNN – April 15, 2003 – http://www.washtimes.com/op-ed/20030415-91009640.htm). Collins briefly worked for the network in Baghdad and sat in on talks involving executives Eason Jordan and Tom Johnson, who were trying to negotiate an exclusive interview with Saddam Hussein:
“The day after one such meeting, I was on the roof of the Ministry of Information, preparing for my first ‘live shot’ on CNN. A producer came up and handed me a sheet of paper with handwritten notes. ‘Tom Johnson wants you to read this on camera,’ he said. I glanced at the paper. It was an item-by-item summary of points made by Information Minister Latif Jassim in an interview that morning with Mr. Johnson and Mr. Jordan.
“The list was so long that there was no time during the live shot to provide context. I read the information minister’s points verbatim. Moments later, I was downstairs in the newsroom on the first floor of the Information Ministry. Mr. Johnson approached, having seen my performance on a TV monitor. ‘You were a bit flat there, Peter,’ he said. Again, I was astonished. The president of CNN was telling me I seemed less-than-enthusiastic reading Saddam Hussein’s propaganda.”
(2) In the Wall Street Journal (“CNN’s Access of Evil” – http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110003336), Franklin Foer writes:
“For a long time, CNN denied that its coverage skimped on truth. While I researched a story on CNN’s Iraq coverage for the New Republic last October, Mr. Jordan told me flatly that his network gave ‘a full picture of the regime.’ In our conversation, he challenged me to find instances of CNN neglecting stories about Saddam’s horrors. If only I’d had his Times op-ed!…
“For nearly a decade, the [CNN] network gave credulous treatment to orchestrated anti-U.S. protests. When Saddam won his most recent ‘election,’ CNN’s Baghdad reporter Jane Arraf treated the event as meaningful: ‘The point is that this really is a huge show of support’ and ‘a vote of defiance against the United States.’ After Saddam granted amnesty to prisoners in October, she reported, this ‘really does diffuse one of the strongest criticisms over the past decades of Iraq’s human-rights records’.”
(3) Commentator Marc J. Rauch writes:
“Like all the other similarities that exist between the despotic Arab regimes, Yasser Arafat and the PLO employ the exact same fear tactics [as Saddam]. They kill and torture anyone they can get their hands on that disseminates a dissenting opinion. It’s impossible to think that CNN hasn’t received additional threats from Arafat, and that CNN isn’t also caving into this pressure to protect their precious network, by covering up more truths.”
(4) HonestReporting member Arnold Roth, whose teenage daughter was killed in the Palestinian terrorist attack at Jerusalem’s Sbarro restaurant, writes:
“Over the past 18 months, since the Sbarro massacre, my wife Frimet and I have grown increasingly appalled at the display of poor journalistic and ethical values of a procession of reporters, photographers, journalists and media analysts. Some of them have misreported on events about which we had personal knowledge. Others have come to our home or invited us to their studios and directly interviewed us — and then did disgraceful things with the material they collected. CNN and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation are at the top of a depressingly long list.
“After a disclosure as broad-reaching and shocking as Eason Jordan’s, why would we trust anything that comes from CNN? By covering up these stories, CNN helped the evil regime of Saddam Hussein remain in power, for no other reason than sheer cowardice. CNN believed — wrongly and reprehensibly — that remaining in Baghdad was more important that reporting the truth.
“CNN and Eason Jordan are certainly not alone. From personal knowledge, some of the biggest media names regularly, consistently tell lies and deny it. This is especially true in relation to how they report on the Palestinian Arab war of terror against our children. This continues until today. It will go on until ordinary people like you and me speak out and demand that it ends. Every one of us needs to consider carefully what we can do. But doing something constructive is imperative.”
(5) Jeff Jacoby, writing in The Boston Globe (Trading Truth For Access? – http://www.boston.c
om/dailyglobe2/107/oped/Trading_truth_for_access_+.shtml), notes the testimony of Thomas Friedman, who described in his 1989 best seller “From Beirut to Jerusalem” what it was like to be a reporter in Beirut during the years when southern Lebanon was dominated by Yasser Arafat’s PLO and Syria’s Palestinian loyalists.
“No discussion about the reality of Beirut reporting would be complete,” he wrote, “without mentioning a major reporting constraint journalists there faced: physical intimidation.” He explained, for example, how Syria’s agents dealt with one journalist they didn’t like: He was found with a bullet in his head and his writing hand mutilated with acid. Earlier, Friedman recalled his own terror on learning that Arafat’s spokesman wanted to see him “immediately” about the stories he’d been filing to New York:
“I lay awake in my bed the whole night worrying that someone was going to burst in and blow my brains all over the wall.”
“There were… stories which were deliberately ignored out of fear. Here I will be the first to say `mea culpa.’ How many serious stories were writen from Beirut about the well-known corruption in the PLO leadership…? It would be hard to find any hint of them in Beirut reporting before the Israeli invasion.”
And Friedman’s most damning admission: “The truth is, the Western press coddled the PLO… For any Beirut-based correspondent, the name of the game was keeping on good terms with the PLO, because without it would you not get the interview with Arafat you wanted when your foreign editor came to town.”
(6) A pair of Washington Times editorials (April 14 and 15) note:
“For the last twelve years, CNN has provided the West with the dominant news image of Saddam’s Iraq. But, now we know… The propaganda flowed like wine. CNN was running a straight propaganda-for-profits deal with Saddam. Until CNN brings in honest news executives, no prudent viewer should trust CNN’s current and future reporting from other foreign capitals.”
“Former CNN Baghdad correspondent Peter Collins makes a strong case that Mr. Jordan is lying when he denies that ensuring access was a motive for CNN’s shading of the truth on Iraq… Collins adds that, the following day, when he factually reported that Iraqi charges that American war planes were bombing “innocent Iraqi farmers” were false (it turned out that the “farm” in question was most likely a location for Iraqi missile batteries), CNN correspondent Brent Sadler rebuked him.”
(7) Eric Fettmann writes in the New York Post (“Craven News Network” – April 12) that Eason Jordan’s revelation is “like saying that the best interests of journalism would have justified suppressing stories on the Holocaust during World War II in order to keep a U.S. news bureau in Berlin so as to be able to tell Nazi Germany’s side of the story… This astonishing confession doesn’t just undermine CNN’s claim to be “the most trusted name in news” – it wreaks incalculable damage on all journalists’ ability to be trusted… Indeed, CNN’s silence seems to have cost as many lives as it may have saved.”
(8) Margaret Wente writes in Canada’s Globe and Mail (“Saddam’s silent collaborators” – April 15) of the children’s prison in Baghdad where the regime locked up the kids of parents deemed disloyal to the regime, and tortured them. She questions why for years CNN and others didn’t report on “the children’s screams” even though they were known about. Former weapons inspector Scott Ritter, for example, said he knew about the children’s prison because his team inspected it in 1998. He once said it was the most horrific thing he had seen. “Probably 200 kids from toddlers to 12-year-olds. The stench was unreal –urine, feces, vomit, sweat. The kids were howling and dying of thirst. We threw water in there, but the Iraqis probably took the water out afterwards.”
==== EASON JORDAN RESPONDS =====
Since you chose to circulate two mass e-mails attacking my NY Times op-ed piece on CNN’s Iraq horror stories, I ask that you consider distributing my response to the controversy.
Since my op-ed piece in the New York Times Friday stirred a controversy, I want to share my thoughts with you about it. In the op-ed, I described how the Iraqi regime intimidated, tortured, and killed people who helped CNN over the years. It was a tough piece to write. But I felt strongly the stories needed to be told as soon as telling them would not automatically result in the killing of innocent colleagues, friends, and acquaintances — most of them Iraqis.
Some critics complain that the op-ed piece proves CNN withheld vital information from the public and kowtowed to the Saddam Hussein regime to maintain a CNN reporting presence in Iraq. That is nonsense. No news organization in the world had a more contentious relationship with the Iraqi regime than CNN. The Iraqi leadership was so displeased with CNN’s Iraq reporting, CNN was expelled from Iraq six times — five times in previous years and one more time on day three of this Iraq war. Those expulsions lasted as long as six months at a time. CNN’s Baghdad bureau chief, Jane Arraf, was banned from the country in response to her reporting on an unprecedented public protest demanding to know what happened to Iraqis who vanished years earlier after being abducted by Iraqi secret police. Christiane Amanpour, Wolf Blitzer, Aaron Brown, Brent Sadler, Nic Robertson, Rym Brahimi, Sheila MacVicar, Ben Wedeman, and Richard Roth were among the other CNN correspondents and anchors banned from Iraq. If CNN were trying to kowtow and maintain its Baghdad presence at any cost, would CNN’s reporting have produced a contentious relationship, expulsions, and bannings? No. CNN kept pushing for access in Iraq, while never compromising its journalistic standards in doing so. Withholding information that would get innocent people killed was the right thing to do, not a journalistic sin.
Did CNN report on the brutality of the regime? Yes, as best we could, mostly from outside Iraq, where people in the know could speak more freely than people inside Iraq. In Saddam’s Iraq, no one was foolish enough to speak on camera or on the record about the brutality of the regime because anyone doing so would be effectively signing his or her death warrant. So we reported on Iraq’s human rights record from outside Iraq and featured many interviews with Iraqi defectors who described the regime’s brutality in graphic detail. When an Iraqi official, Abbas al-Janabi, defected after his teeth were yanked out with pliers by Uday Saddam Hussein’s henchmen, I worked to ensure the defector gave his first TV interview to CNN. He did. I also personally asked Tariq Aziz in a live TV interview during one of our World Report Conferences to defend his country’s dreadful human rights record. Other CNNers over the years also put tough questions to Iraqi officials.
Some critics say if I had told my Iraq horror stories sooner, I would have saved thousands of lives. How they come to that conclusion, I don’t know. Iraq’s human rights record and the brutality of the Saddam Hussein regime were well known before I wrote my op-ed piece. The only sure thing that would have happened if I told those stories sooner is the regime would have tracked down and killed the innocent people who told me those stories. Critics say I could have told the stories without identifying Iraqis by name. But the Iraqi secret police surely knew everyone I met in Iraq and would have had no trouble identifying who told me the stories. No doubt those people would be dead today if I spoke sooner.
A number of people have told me CNN should have closed its Baghdad bureau, helped everyone who told me the horror stories flee Iraq, with me thereafter telling those stories publicly long before now. While that is a noble thought, doing so was not a viable option. Iraqis (and their families) who told me those stories in some cases could not, and in other cases would not, leave their country simply for the sake of CNN being able to share their stories with the world. Incidentally, there are countless such horror stories in Iraq. I knew just a few of them. We will hear many more of them in the days, weeks, and months ahead.
Knowing the personal stories I knew about the brutality of the regime, I had three options: 1. Never repeat such horror stories. 2. Tell the stories sooner and, as a result, see innocent people killed. 3. Tell the stories after the downfall of the Saddam Hussein regime. I chose option three and could never imagine doing anything else.
I chose to write the NY Times op-ed to provide a record of one person’s experiences with the brutality of the Iraqi regime and to ensure we maintain CNN’s long record of reporting on atrocities around the world, even if in these cases we could do so only years later to protect the lives of innocent people.