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."
These instances established a pattern of unsubstantiated allegations by the man in charge of news operations at CNN. How did the mainstream media react? National media outlets refused to address the story--except for CNN, which reacted twice, neither on air nor on its website.
ON FEBRUARY 2, CNN sent the following statement to those who had emailed them, as well as some bloggers who hadn't emailed them at all:
Many blogs have taken Mr. Jordan's remarks out of context. Eason Jordan does not believe the U.S. military is trying to kill journalists. Mr. Jordan simply pointed out the facts: While the majority of journalists killed in Iraq have been slain at the hands of insurgents, the Pentagon has also noted that the U.S. military on occasion has killed people who turned out to be journalists. The Pentagon has apologized for those actions. Mr. Jordan was responding to an assertion by Cong. Frank that all 63 journalist victims had been the result of "collateral damage."
When that statement failed to satisfy the bloggers, Jordan himself released a statement through Carol Platt Liebau, a blogger and journalist who contacted Jordan through intermediaries. His statement echoed the CNN email, with a non-apology for a lack of clarity.
No other national news outlet picked up the story on February 2. Nor did any address the controversy on February 3, when THE DAILY STANDARD published a column by Hugh Hewitt on the Jordan issue. On February 4, only the Washington Times reported the story. In comparison, on February 4, nearly every major media organization reported on remarks made by Lt. General James Mattis, who said he enjoyed killing terrorists. On February 5, the Toledo Blade ran a column by Jack Kelly which referenced the controversy. The next day, the Riverside Press-Enterprise issued an unsigned editorial castigating CNN and Eason Jordan for the remarks. By Monday, February 7, no other national news outlet had touched the story.
Events picked up speed at that point. Michelle Malkin interviewed Senator Chris Dodd, Rep. Barney Frank, and David Gergen, all of whom attended the Davos forum and all of whom confirmed the accounts of Arbovitz and MacKinnon. Several bloggers formed a partnership to pool their resources and created the blog Easongate.
Finally, on February 8, Howard Kurtz addressed the Eason Jordan controversy outside of the op-ed section in the Washington Post. Kurtz reported on the Davos remarks, but failed to report any of the other statements by Jordan which the blogswarm had unearthed. The Boston Globe did much the same with their coverage that day.
Only the New York Sun, alone and almost unnoticed, published a comprehensive news story outlining most of the known issues with Jordan.
Some of the cable news shows did better. On February 9, Brit Hume held a short prime-time debate about the WEF's refusal to release the videotape of Jordan's comments. Joe Scarborough called for Jordan's dismissal if he and CNN failed to release the videotape or back up Jordan's claims with evidence.
On Thursday, February 10, two national news organizations finally covered the story, but only to declare it overblown. The New York Times posted a wire-service story late in the evening to its Thursday edition, while the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by Bret Stephens. While he acknowledged that Jordan had used "defamatory innuendo," Stephens wound up decrying the bloggers:
There is an Easongate.com Web site, on which more than 1,000 petitioners demand that Mr. Jordan release a transcript of his remarks--made recently in Davos--by Feb. 15 or, in the manner of Saddam Hussein, face serious consequences. Sean Hannity and the usual Internet suspects have all weighed in. So has Michelle Malkin, who sits suspended somewhere between meltdown and release.
There's a reason the hounds are baying. Already they have feasted on the juicy entrails of Dan Rather. Mr. Jordan, whose previous offenses (other than the general tenor of CNN coverage) include a New York Times op-ed explaining why access is a more important news value than truth, was bound to be their next target. And if Mr. Jordan has now made a defamatory and unsubstantiated allegation against U.S. forces, well then . . . open the gates.
The strange and unexpected turn from the Journal signaled what should have been the end of the story, at least as far as the national media were concerned. The controversy seemed about to fade off the media's radar screens altogether--until Jordan suddenly resigned his position at CNN around 6:00 p.m. on Friday, February 11.
THE ANNOUNCEMENT sent the national media into a scramble. Excepting the Washington Post and the New York Times, almost no national news outlet had ever covered the story, which put them in the uncomfortable position of announcing the resignation of a major news executive over a two-week-old scandal about which they had not bothered to report. The broadcast networks made their very first mention of Eason Jordan on their news shows, and used the older AP report for their websites.
Howard Kurtz reported on the resignation for the Post:
Gergen said last night that Jordan's resignation was "really sad" since he had quickly backed off his original comments. "This is too high a price to pay for someone who has given so much of himself over 20 years. And he's brought down over a single mistake because people beat up on him in the blogosphere? They went after him because he is a symbol of a network seen as too liberal by some. They saw blood in the water."
Like others, Kurtz failed to mention any of Jordan's other problems that bloggers had brought to light. That lesson did not pass unnoticed by the rest of the national media. When the Los Angeles Times reported on Jordan to its readers on Saturday (for the first time), it also eliminated any reference to the other allegations he had made over the years. On Monday, the New York Times ran a background piece which focused on the dynamics of the blogswarm. By the time the weekend news cycles finished, the story was no longer about Jordan's unsubstantiated accusations against the U.S. military, but about out-of-control, bloodthirsty citizen-journalists.
Again, the Wall Street Journal led the way, this time with an unsigned editorial:
By now, everyone on the Good Ship Earth knows that this particular story ended Friday with Mr. Jordan's abrupt resignation from CNN. This has certain pundits chirping delightedly. It has been a particular satisfaction to the right wing of the so-called "blogosphere," the community of writers on the Web that has pushed the Eason story relentlessly and sees it as the natural sequel to the Dan Rather fiasco of last year. . . .
[I]t does not speak well of CNN that it apparently allowed itself to be stampeded by this Internet and talk-show crew. Of course the network must be responsive to its audience and ratings. But it has other obligations, too, chief among them to show the good judgment and sense of proportion that distinguishes professional journalism from the enthusiasms and vendettas of amateurs.
No doubt this point of view will get us described as part of the "mainstream media." But we'll take that as a compliment since we've long believed that these columns do in fact represent the American mainstream. We hope readers buy our newspaper because we make grown-up decisions about what is newsworthy, and what isn't.
It was on odd sentiment--the unqualified support of Big Media--coming from an editorial board which routinely rejects the same kinds of argument in favor of big government. Then again, nobody likes getting scooped, particularly by pajama-clad geeks with keyboards on their laps and bloodlust in their hearts.
Edward Morrissey runs the blog Captain's Quarters.