Iraq: Killing of Journalists
Peter Orne asks: Are you aware of the remarks of CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan at the World Economic Forum in Davos? He has now resigned. Jordan claimed that US soldiers in Iraq have killed up to a dozen journalists. Here is the story put out by Media for Democracy:
CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan quit late last week amid a furor over remarks he allegedly made about American soldiers intentionally killing journalists in Iraq. Jordan delivered the remarks while sitting on an off-the-record panel of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. While no actual tape of his comments has yet to be released, an attendee disseminated news of the event into the blogosphere and ignited a firestorm, which included charges that CNN itself -- not just Jordan in his personal capacity -- had "slimed our troops."
Leading the charge was CNN competitor Fox News Channel and its sister publication, The New York Post. Members of Congress piled on with angry demands for evidence, although the tone of their remarks suggested a total denial of the possibility that Jordan may know something that they didn't. Instead, Jordan's patriotism and CNN's integrity was attacked. This incident raises three urgent issues:
1. Do media executives have a right to express opinions that deviate from the official line? Media companies should defend the rights of their employees to take part in democratic debate without fears of recriminations. The conservative editorial page of The Wall Street Journal and the World Editors Forum have rushed in to defend Jordan's right to express controversial opinions without intimidation.
2. Do media companies have an obligation to investigate and not just denigrate? CNN, Reuters, the Associated Press, AFP and other media outlets should take a fresh look at these charges to determine their validity. At least eleven journalists have been killed by "friendly fire" since the War in Iraq began, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Thus far there has been little effort by the Pentagon to explain their deaths.
3. Are we who care about integrity in the media willing to stand up to protect free speech during a time of war? While this issue is often spun as a left-right story, it's about much more than that. We are all paying dearly for this war. Shouldn't we Americans have a right to know what's being done in our name?
Reuters, the International Federation of Journalists and other press freedom groups have pressed for independent investigations of suspicious killings in Iraq. The Pentagon has refused to cooperate or permit journalists to interview soldiers involved,
RH: Eason Jordan should not make these charges unless he has solid proof. At the same time, it was unethical for the competition to reveal statements made in an off-the-record meeting.
Randy Black writes: Peter Orne will be happy to know that the story he forwards from Media for Democracy is essentially untrue. Eason Jordan, 44, said in a statement yesterday that he was quitting after 23 years at the network "to prevent CNN from being unfairly tarnished by the controversy over conflicting accounts of my recent remarks regarding the alarming number of journalists killed in Iraq. . . . I never meant to imply U.S. forces acted with ill intent when U.S. forces accidentally killed journalists, and I apologize to anyone who thought I said or believed otherwise."
Here also is a direct quote from Eason Jordan. He is speaking to journalist Rebecca MacKinnon:: Here's what's important. First, I stressed insurgents are to blame for the vast majority of the 63 journalist deaths in Iraq. Second, when Congressman Franks said the 63 journalists killed in Iraq were the unfortunate victims of "collateral damage," I felt compelled to dispute that by pointing out that journalists in Iraq are being targeted -- I did not say all journalists killed were targeted, but that some were shot at on purpose and were not collateral damage victims. In response to a question about whether I believed the U.S. military meant to kill journalists in Iraq, I said, no, I did not believe the U.S. military was trying to kill journalists in Iraq. Yet, unfortunately, U.S. forces have killed several people who turned out to be journalists. In several cases, the U.S. troops who killed those people aimed and fired at them, not knowing they were shooting at journalists. However tragic and, in hindsight, by Pentagon admission, a mistake, such a killing does not fall into the "collateral damage" category. In Iraq and Washington, I have worked closely and constructively with U.S. military and civilian leaders in an effort to heighten the odds of survival for the courageous journalists in Iraq.
In a follow-up email Eason Jordan added: Most importantly, I do not believe the U.S. is trying to kill journalists in Iraq. To the contrary, the U.S. military has worked hard to protect journalists in Iraq. Nevertheless, there have been several tragic episodes in which U.S. forces killed journalists in what turned out to be cases not of collateral damage but of mistaken identity. Feel free to paste that, too.
UPDATE: After I had already posted the above, I received the following: To be clear, I do not believe the U.S. military is trying to kill journalists in Iraq. But the U.S. military has killed several journalists in Iraq in cases of mistaken identity. The reason the word "targeted" came up at all is because I was responding to a comment by Congressman Franks, who said he believed the 63 journalists killed in Iraq were the victims of "collateral damage." Since three of my CNN colleagues and many other journalists have been killed on purpose in Iraq, I disputed the "collateral damage" statement, saying, unfortunately, many journalists -- not all -- killed in Iraq were indeed targeted. When someone aims a gun at someone and pulls the trigger and then learns later the person fired at was actually a journalist, an apology is appropriate and is accepted, and I believe those apologies to be genuine. But such a killing is a tragic case of mistaken identity, not a case of "collateral damage." That is the distinction I was trying to make even if I did not make it clearly at the time. Further, I have worked closely with the U.S. military for months in an effort to achieve a mutual goal: keeping journalists in Iraq safe and alive.
Randy Black wrote: Peter Orne will be happy to know that the story he forwards from Media for Democracy is essentially untrue. Eason Jordan, said: When someone aims a gun at someone and pulls the trigger and then learns later the person fired at was actually a journalist, an apology is appropriate and is accepted, and I believe those apologies to be genuine. But such a killing is a tragic case of mistaken identity, not a case of "collateral damage." John Heelan comments: Differentiating between "mistaken identity" and "collateral damage" is somewhat specious and looks like weaselling-out of a difficult situation. I have sympathy with the military in this situation. From several hundred yards away, the nozzle of a telephoto lens, especially one on a shoulder-held video camera, looks much like the nozzle of a weapon, perhaps an anti-tank rocket launcher or a rifle-grenade. With such a nozzle pointed at a soldier, that soldier has only seconds to recognise whether or not a threat exists and to initiate retaliatory action. Unfortunately, mistakes happen in those high stress situations.
Daryl DeBell comments on the confused story about Eason Jordan reporting that the US Army killed American journalists in Iraq: It seems to me that common sense would make one wonder, what on earth would be a motive for American troops to attack or kill America journalists. Or for that matter why anyone would reasonably allege it. All of which leads me to conclude that it is some aberrant notion of Eason Jordan, for inexplicable personal reasons, which, even as a psychiatrist, do not interest me. I suppose that someone who wants to demonize the military or the Bush administration might look into it, but otherwise there are other things to think about.