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Eason's Fable

Bloggers, the old media, and the rise and fall of CNN's Eason Jordan.

1:00 PM, Feb 17, 2005 • By EDWARD MORRISSEY
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FOR TWO WEEKS Eason Jordan has been engulfed in a blogswarm. During remarks at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, the now-former CNN executive accused the U.S. military of deliberately targeting journalists in Iraq for murder. The unleashed fury of the blogosphere eventually overcame a media blackout to force Jordan from his job, discredit the American media, and start a debate on the nature of blogging that derived directly from the mainstream media's attempt to cast the entire effort as a partisan witch hunt.

But the media has no one but itself to blame--as it stubbornly refused to acknowledge the existence of the controversy, with major national outlets making Eason Jordan's resignation their very first report of the story. Even worse, the media had the story first, and buried it.

The story started slowly, with a lone entry on the official WEF weblog, Forumblog.com, by Rony Arbovitz on January 28. Rony wrote:

During one of the discussions about the number of journalists killed in the Iraq War, Eason Jordan asserted that he knew of 12 journalists who had not only been killed by US troops in Iraq, but they had in fact been targeted. He repeated the assertion a few times, which seemed to win favor in parts of the audience (the anti-US crowd) and cause great strain on others.

Rony, an eyewitness to the event, started the ball rolling, but it was slow to pick up speed. Two media outlets covered the story: the Wall Street Journal and Fox News. The Journal's Bret Stephens, who also attended the forum, noted the "kerfuffle" (as the paper's editors have since labeled it) in an e-mailed subscription newsletter on January 28, although not in their print version and not on their web archives. Fox's Brit Hume included it on his Grapevine segment and blog on Monday, January 31, but no one at Fox News wrote a report for their news service or website.

On Tuesday, February 1, Hugh Hewitt reported Arbovitz' post on his nationally-syndicated radio show. Within 24 hours, Hewitt had touched off a blogswarm which produced the following revelations about Jordan:

* A former CNN reporter at the WEF forum, Rebecca MacKinnon, came forward to verify Arbovitz' account on her own blog.

* CNN had never reported on any allegations of deliberate targeting of journalists by American forces.

* A first-person account surfaced of Jordan forcing a CNN reporter to read a prepared statement written by the Iraqi Information Ministry while representing it as a straightforward news piece by CNN in 1993.

* There were two other instances of Jordan alleging the targeting of journalists for death by unspecified military forces, from 1993 (Somalia) and 2002 (Afghanistan).

* Jordan had also accused the Israeli military of deliberately targeting journalists for death in October 2002 during a News Xchange Forum appearance overseas. He referenced the wounding of an unnamed CNN reporter in the occupied territories. It seemed more likely, however, that the reporter, Ben Wedeman, had inadvertently gotten caught in a crossfire between Israeli and Palestinian forces in October 2000 when he was shot--even CNN's producer stated on air that no one could tell who shot whom.

* Jordan had made similar allegations to the ones he made at Davos less than three months earlier at a News Xchange forum in Portugal, and on the record. The British newspaper the Guardian reported that Jordan told the global news executives assembled there that "Actions speak louder than words. The reality is that at least 10 journalists have been killed by the US military, and according to reports I believe to be true journalists have been arrested and tortured by US forces."