- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 10, 2005

When CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan claimed late last month that U.S. soldiers were targeting journalists in Iraq, it constituted a major news item worthy of coverage. If it were true, the Abu Ghraib prison scandal would pale in comparison. Yet except for certain bloggers, to date there has been almost no media coverage.

The Wall Street Journal, which was one of the first major newspapers to mention the incident, followed up yesterday in an op-ed by editorial writer Bret Stephens, who was at the discussion in Davos, Switzerland, where Mr. Jordan made his remarks. The thrust of Mr. Stephens’ column, however, argued that Mr. Jordan’s unsubstantiated comments were much ado about nothing since the CNN executive almost immediately withdrew his words. An article in The Washington Post by Howard Kurtz on Tuesday came to a similar conclusion.

So, considering that from the available evidence it appears U.S. soldiers are not targeting journalists, is the debate now raging in the blogosphere merely a tempest in a teapot? For several reasons, no.

First, Mr. Jordan is a person of some importance. Not only is he CNN’s chief news executive, but also, according to CNN’s Web site, he chairs the editorial board, is a member of the executive committee and “provides strategic advice” to the senior management team. Clearly, Mr. Jordan has considerable say in what goes on at CNN headquarters in Atlanta. Of course, as big as he is, Mr. Jordan is entitled to his own opinions. However, what Mr. Jordan said at Davos wasn’t a matter of personal beliefs; as a representative of CNN, the world’s largest news network, he accused American troops of targeting journalists.

Yes, he immediately backed off his initial comment, and has done so since. But let’s put this in some perspective. According to several accounts of the discussion, only when challenged by panelist Barney Frank, a member of Congress, did Mr. Jordan retreat. A few years ago, Sen. Trent Lott retreated in a similar fashion after he made some unsettling and indefensible remarks at a birthday party for then-Sen. Strom Thurmond, and he still lost his Senate leadership position.

More unfortunate for Mr. Jordan is that he has a history of making these sorts of claims. In the past, he has accused U.S. troops of torturing journalists and the Israeli military of targeting journalists as well. In other words, despite the retreat, there’s a pattern here.

There’s also the unfortunate fact that Mr. Jordan has already changed his story. Initially, he said he was taken out of context. But when several accounts of his comments, including Mr. Frank’s, suggested otherwise, Mr. Jordan said he hadn’t been clear and that his subsequent retreat was in fact a clarification. As blogger Jim Geraghty has observed, these conflicting accounts suggest that someone here is being untruthful. Without a transcript of the discussion, it’s a matter of “he said, she said.” There is a video, however, which the World Economic Forum has refused to release. It’s interesting to note, then, who’s calling for the video’s release: among others, Rony Abovitz, an eyewitness to the discussion whose account differs markedly from Mr. Jordan’s. CNN and Mr. Jordan have not.

Is CNN stonewalling and if so, why? It’s hard to believe that if CNN — and not just bloggers — demanded the video’s release, the folks at the World Economic Forum wouldn’t do so immediately. As Sen. Christopher Dodd, an attendee, told radio host Don Imus, “It seems to me that [Mr. Jordan] ought to be the first one to say, ‘Let’s get the tape out,’ so we can put an end to these rumors if in fact his interpretation of what he was trying to say was accurate.” Good point, senator.

To be clear, this is about the defamation of American troops. To question their integrity without evidence is intolerable because it puts them in greater danger. For their sake, CNN has an obligation to set the record straight.

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