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CNN: news more important than truth

Maandag, April 14, 2003 / Last Modified: Zaterdag, December 31, 2011

CNN: news more important than truth

Note of Likud of Holland: In the following article, CNN is admitting (afterwards!)
that they knew much more about the bloody regime of Saddam Hussein than
they told the world. They systematically did not report Iraqi atrocities, out of
fear of being expelled.

It is shocking that they found their continued presence in Iraq more
important than telling the truth. How can they call themselves ‘independent’? Is
this their professional standard and ethics?

Of course we know that the same is happening with the reporting of
Palestinian affairs. There have been many incidents of intimidation, even
kidnapping, of journalists. Journalists travelling in autonomous territory are not
free in their choices of cameramen, interpreters and chauffeurs and so on. In
this way their reporting is controlled by the regime.

And the journalists are under pressure not to report everything. How far
this can go: when an Italian commercial station filmed how two Israeli soldiers
were brutally murdered by a mob the Italian state television (that had nothing to
do with the reporting) made their apologies, out of fear of being banned.

Two examples of media intimidation on our site:
Palestinians arrest journalist for telling truth about terror attack,

Palestinians bans journalists from taking pictures of
armed children
and Arafat’s cover for terror.

Following is the article “The News We Kept to Ourselves”, by Eason
Jordan, chief news executive at CNN, in The New York Times of April 11, 2003.

Below that are reactions on that article from the Wall Street Journal and
the Boston Globe.

ATLANTA – Over the last dozen years I made 13 trips to Baghdad to lobby the
government to keep CNN’s Baghdad bureau open and to arrange interviews
with Iraqi leaders. Each time I visited, I became more distressed by what I saw
and heard – awful things that could not be reported because doing so would
have jeopardized the lives of Iraqis, particularly those on our Baghdad staff.

For example, in the mid-1990’s one of our Iraqi cameramen was abducted. For
weeks he was beaten and subjected to electroshock torture in the basement of
a secret police headquarters because he refused to confirm the government’s
ludicrous suspicion that I was the Central Intelligence Agency’s Iraq station
chief. CNN had been in Baghdad long enough to know that telling the world
about the torture of one of its employees would almost certainly have gotten
him killed and put his family and co-workers at grave risk.

Working for a foreign news organization provided Iraqi citizens no protection.
The secret police terrorized Iraqis working for international press services who
were courageous enough to try to provide accurate reporting. Some vanished,
never to be heard from again. Others disappeared and then surfaced later with
whispered tales of being hauled off and tortured in unimaginable ways.
Obviously, other news organizations were in the same bind we were when it
came to reporting on their own workers.

We also had to worry that our reporting might endanger Iraqis not on our
payroll. I knew that CNN could not report that Saddam Hussein’s eldest son,
Uday, told me in 1995 that he intended to assassinate two of his
brothers-in-law who had defected and also the man giving them asylum, King
Hussein of Jordan.

If we had gone with the story, I was sure he would have responded by
killing the Iraqi translator who was the only other participant in the meeting.
After all, secret police thugs brutalized even senior officials of the Information
Ministry, just to keep them in line (one such official has long been missing all
his fingernails).

Still, I felt I had a moral obligation to warn Jordan’s monarch, and I did so the
next day. King Hussein dismissed the threat as a madman’s rant. A few months
later Uday lured the brothers-in-law back to Baghdad; they were soon killed.

I came to know several Iraqi officials well enough that they confided in me that
Saddam Hussein was a maniac who had to be removed. One Foreign Ministry
officer told me of a colleague who, finding out his brother had been executed
by the regime, was forced, as a test of loyalty, to write a letter of
congratulations on the act to Saddam Hussein.

An aide to Uday once told me why he had no front teeth: henchmen had
ripped them out with pliers and told him never to wear dentures, so he would
always remember the price to be paid for upsetting his boss. Again, we could
not broadcast anything these men said to us.

Last December, when I told Information Minister Muhammad Said al-Sahhaf that
we intended to send reporters to Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq, he warned
me they would “suffer the severest possible consequences.”

CNN went ahead, and in March, Kurdish officials presented us with
evidence that they had thwarted an armed attack on our quarters in Erbil. This
included videotaped confessions of two men identifying themselves as Iraqi
intelligence agents who said their bosses in Baghdad told them the hotel
actually housed C.I.A. and Israeli agents. The Kurds offered to let us interview
the suspects on camera, but we refused, for fear of endangering our staff in Baghdad.

Then there were the events that were not unreported but that nonetheless still
haunt me.

A 31-year-old Kuwaiti woman, Asrar Qabandi, was captured by Iraqi
secret police occupying her country in 1990 for “crimes,” one of which
included speaking with CNN on the phone. They beat her daily for two months,
forcing her father to watch. In January 1991, on the eve of the American-led
offensive, they smashed her skull and tore her body apart limb by limb. A
plastic bag containing her body parts was left on the doorstep of her family’s home.

I felt awful having these stories bottled up inside me. Now that Saddam
Hussein’s regime is gone, I suspect we will hear many, many more
gut-wrenching tales from Iraqis about the decades of torment. At last, these
stories can be told freely.


CNN’s Access of Evil

The network of record covered Saddam’s repression with propaganda.

Comment by Franklin Foer, The Wall Street Journal, April 14, 2003

As Baghdad fell last week, CNN announced that it too had been liberated. On
the New York Times’ op-ed page on Friday, Eason Jordan, the network’s news
chief, admitted that his organization had learned some “awful things” about the
Baathist regime — murders, tortures, assassination plots — that it simply could
not broadcast earlier.

Reporting these stories, Mr. Jordan wrote, “would have jeopardized the
lives of Iraqis, particularly those on our Baghdad staff.”

Of course, Mr. Jordan may feel he deserves a pinch of credit for coming clean
like this. But this admission shouldn’t get him any ethical journalism trophies.
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!

Would that this were an outbreak of honesty, however belated. But it isn’t. If it
were, Mr. Jordan wouldn’t be portraying CNN as Saddam’s victim. He’d be
apologizing for its cooperation with Iraq’s erstwhile information ministry — and
admitting that CNN policy hinders truthful coverage of dictatorships.

For CNN, the highest prize is “access,” to score live camera feeds from a
story’s epicenter. Dictatorships understand this hunger, and also that it
provides blackmail opportunities. In exchange for CNN bureaus, dictatorships
require adherence to their own rules of reportage. They create conditions where
CNN — and other U.S. media — can do little more than toe the regime’s line.

The Iraq example is the telling one. Information Minister Mohammad Said
al-Sahhaf has turned into an international joke, but the operation of his ministry
was a model of totalitarian efficiency. The ministry compiled dossiers on U.S.
journalists. It refused to issue visas to anyone potentially hostile — which meant
that it didn’t issue visas to reporters who strayed from al-Sahhaf’s talking
points.

CNN correspondents Wolf Blitzer, Christiane Amanpour and Richard
Roth, to name a few, were banned for critical reporting. It didn’t take much to
get on this list. A reporter who referred to “Saddam” (not “President Saddam
Hussein”) was shut out for “disrespect.” If you didn’t cover agitprop, like
Saddam’s 100% victory in October’s referendum, the ministry made it clear
that you were out.

Leaving, however, might have been preferable to staying under these
conditions. Upon arrival in Iraq, journalists contended with constant
surveillance. Minders obstructed their every move, dictated camera angles, and
prevented unauthorized interviews. When the regime worried that it had lost
control of a journalist, it resorted to more heavy-handed methods. Information
ministry officials would wake journalists in the dead of night, drive them to
government buildings, and denounce them as CIA plants.

The French documentary filmmaker Joel Soler described to me how his
minder took him to a hospital to ostensibly examine the effects of sanctions,
but then called in a nurse with a long needle “for a series of blood tests.” Only
Mr. Soler’s screaming prevented an uninvited jab.

With so little prospect for reporting the truth, you’d think that CNN and other
networks would have stopped sending correspondents into Iraq. But the
opposite occurred. Each time the regime threatened to pull the plug, network
execs set out to assiduously reassure them. Mr. Jordan made 13 of these trips.

To be fair, CNN was not the only organization to play this game. But as the
network of record, soi-disant, they have a longer trail than most. It makes rich
reading to return to transcripts and compare the CNN version of Iraq with the
reality that has emerged.

For nearly a decade, the 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.”

For long stretches, Ms. Arraf was American TV’s only Baghdad correspondent.
Her work was often filled with such parrotings of the Baathist line. On the Gulf
War’s 10th anniversary, she told viewers, “At 63, [Saddam] mocks rumors he
is ill. Not just standing tall but building up. As soon as the dust settled from the
Gulf War, and the bodies were buried, Iraq began rebuilding.”

She said little about human-rights violations, violent oppression, or
festering resentment towards Saddam. Scouring her oeuvre , it is nearly
impossible to find anything on these defining features of the Baathist epoch.

Reading Mr. Jordan now, you get the impression that CNN had no ethical
option other than to soft-pedal. But there were alternatives. CNN could have
abandoned Baghdad. Not only would they have stopped recycling lies, they
could have focused more intently on obtaining the truth about Saddam. They
could have diverted resources to Kurdistan and Jordan (the country), where
recently arrived Iraqis could speak without fear of death. They could have
exploited exile groups with underground contacts.

There’s another reason why Mr. Jordan doesn’t deserve applause. He says
nothing about the lessons of Baghdad. After all, the network still sends
correspondents to such countries as Cuba, Burma and Syria, ruled by dictators
who impose media “guidelines.”

Even if CNN ignores the moral costs of working with such regimes, it
should at least pay attention to the practical costs. These governments only
cooperate with CNN because it suits their short-term interests. They don’t
reward loyalty. It wasn’t surprising, then, that the Information Ministry booted
CNN from Baghdad in the war’s first days. In a way CNN’s absence at this
pivotal moment provides a small measure of justice: The network couldn’t use
its own cameras to cover the fall of a regime that it had treated with such
astonishing respect.


Trading truth for access?

Comment by Jeff Jacoby, The Boston Globe, April 17, 2003

WHEN SADDAM Hussein’s psychopathic son Uday told CNN’s top news
executive, Eason Jordan, that he planned to assassinate his two brothers-in-law
who had defected from Iraq, he wasn’t concerned that Jordan would rush the
explosive scoop onto the air. Uday figured the influential journalist would sit on
the story and say nothing – and he was right. The news didn’t leak, and the
brothers-in-law were murdered soon after.

We know about that conversation, and about CNN’s silence, because Jordan
admitted it last week. In a New York Times column titled ‘The news we kept to
ourselves,’ he confessed that CNN habitually suppressed stories of torture,
mutilation, and other atrocities – “things that could not be reported because
doing so would have jeopardized the lives of Iraqis, particularly those on our
Baghdad staff.”

Jordan’s disclosure triggered a storm of criticism, and no wonder. It is
scandalous that a network calling itself ‘the most trusted name in news’ would
sanitize the truth about a dictatorship it claimed to be covering objectively. And
the scandal is compounded by Jordan’s lack of contrition. He makes no apology
for downplaying the horrors of Saddam’s regime. If CNN hadn’t done so, he
says, innocent people would have died.

But as Franklin Foer reported in The New Republic last October, CNN didn’t
bury stories only out of fear. It bent over backward to remain on good terms
with Saddam’s Ministry of Information, which controlled the all-important visas
needed to stay in Iraq. “Nobody has schmoozed the ministry harder,” Foer
wrote, “than the head of CNN’s News Group, Eason Jordan, who has traveled
to Baghdad 12 times since the Gulf War.”

What seems to have emerged from those meetings was a policy of going along
to get along. CNN’s stories frequently echoed the Baath Party spin, deferentially
covering its agitprop or toadying to Saddam. (“It’s … a vote of defiance against
the United States …. This really is a huge show of support!” – CNN’s Jane Arraf
on Saddam’s 100 percent ‘election’ victory last fall.)

Rarely was there an unvarnished look at the regime’s cruelty and deceit.
That, Jordan now admits, was ‘the news we kept to ourselves.’

But CNN wasn’t the only offender, and it doesn’t just happen in Iraq.

News organizations boast that they cover even the toughest beats without fear
or favor. Sometimes it’s true. But sometimes journalists choose to censor
themselves instead – to toe a vicious regime’s line, to soft-pedal its
ruthlessness. They may do it to save their skin or to ingratiate themselves with
the dictator or to protect the bragging rights that come with access to a big
story. Whatever the excuse, the results are the same: The public is cheated,
the news is corrupted, and a despot is strengthened.

Don’t take my word for it. Listen to Thomas Friedman, who described in his
1989 bestseller ‘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.” 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.”

No ‘major breaking’ news story was ever suppressed because journalists were
too intimidated to report it, Friedman insisted. But behind that fig leaf, he
conceded a shameful truth:

“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 written
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 then an even more damning admission:

“The truth is,” Friedman wrote, “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.”

There are moral costs to doing business with thugs and totalitarians. Reporters
who forget that accuracy, not access, is the bedrock of their profession can too
easily find themselves paying those costs – trading off truth for a coveted
interview or visa, turning a blind eye to dissent, treating barbaric criminals with
deference. Or saying nothing when the dictator’s son says he is planning a
double assassination.

When ‘the name of the game’ becomes ‘keeping on good terms’ with the
world’s most evil men, journalism turns into something awfully hard to
distinguish from collaboration. It didn’t start with Eason Jordan, and it didn’t
end in Baghdad.

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