Jewish World Review April 21, 2003 / 19 Nisan, 5763
Trading truth for access?
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
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. . . . I felt awful
having these stories bottled up inside me."
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
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 emerged from those meetings, it seems, 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
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 best seller "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." He explained, for
example, how Syria's agents dealt with one journalist they didn't like:
He was found with a bullet in his head and his writing hand mutilated
with acid. Earlier, 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 writen 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
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.
Like this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
Jeff Jacoby is a Boston Globe columnist. Comment by clicking here.
04/14/03: Kerry's abortion litmus test
04/11/03: Meanwhile, in Cuba, the tyranny goes on
04/07/03: Explaining the war to a six-year-old
03/31/03: Empowering a terroristocracy in the name of 'peace'?
03/27/03: America the liberator
03/10/03: THE UNITED NATIONS, RIP
03/10/03: Changing the definition of marriage
03/07/03: Liberate Iraq -- even with unclean hands
03/03/03: Why talk radio tilts right
02/21/03: A boost for Saddam
02/10/03: On outing Kerry
02/06/03: The neverending voyage
02/03/03: This hasn't been a 'rush to war'
01/31/03: Killing the terror regimes
01/29/03: How not to win the war
01/24/03: The UN's moral irrelevance
01/22/03: Musings, random and otherwise
01/17/03: The Sharpton hypocrisy
01/13/03: The fig leaf of 'diversity'
01/10/03: Israeli restraint makes terrorism more likely
01/02/03: The double standard on political hate speech
12/30/02: Good for the spirit, good for the body
12/23/02: The college president who owes a greater duty to a fugitive serial killer than the public or to the law
12/20/02: The death penalty by the numbers
12/16/02: Yes, Virginia, there is (still) a liberal media bias
12/03/02: On the brink of regime change --- in Iran
11/27/02: Light's victory over darkness
11/25/02: A 'Republican' lesson from a Democratic convention
11/22/02: The slippery senator
11/18/02: The campus 'diversity' fraud
11/14/02: MURDER AT A KIBBUTZ
11/01/02: Saddam's shop of horrors
10/24/02: Musings, random and otherwise
10/17/02: Jimma's ignoble prize
10/14/02: New Jersey's bigot laureate
10/11/02: Today it is libs who are most likely to demand the silencing of speech they disapprove of
10/04/02: Learning English from Day 1
09/30/02: The world will follow us to war
09/27/02: The face of antisemitism
09/20/02: Starving time in Zimbabwe
09/14/02: Against moral confusion / 9-12-2002
09/03/02: With 'eternal friends' like these
08/30/02: Enriching survivors was a costly mistake
08/26/02: John Kerry's absent passion
08/23/02: Bonnie, get your gun
08/19/02: A screenwriter's remorse
07/29/02: The real abortion extremists
07/26/02: Another round of Kemp-Roth
07/19/02: Jews among Arabs, Arabs among Jews
07/15/02: Musings, random and otherwise
07/12/02: The new civil rights champions
07/03/02: Riding the rails
07/01/02: The prerequisite to peace
06/24/02: Frisking AlGore
06/17/02: Offense, not defense, is the key to homeland security
06/14/02: Looking at the horror
06/07/02: The cost of a death-penalty moratorium
06/03/02: Executing 'children,' and other death-penalty myths
05/29/02: A real threat?
05/24/02: The message in Arafat's headdress
05/20/02: (Mis)playing the popularity card
05/10/02: Outspoken, Muslim -- and moderate
05/10/02: The heroes in Castro's jails
05/06/02: The disappearing history term paper
05/03/02: Musings, random and otherwise
04/29/02: The canary in Europe's mine
04/15/02: Powell's crazy mission
04/12/02: The slavery reparations hustle
04/08/02: Peace at any price = war
03/26/02: Decency matters most, Caleb
03/22/02: The U.S. embargo and Cuba's future
03/19/02: The keepers of Cuba's conscience
03/15/02: A walk in Havana
02/26/02: Buchanan's lament
02/12/02: What 'peace' means to Arafat
02/08/02: STEVEN EMERSON AND THE NPR BLACKLIST
02/05/02: Antismoking: Who pays?
02/01/02: Turn the Saudis
01/25/02: Making MLK cry
01/21/02: Ted to tax cut: Drop dead
01/18/02: Musings random and otherwise
01/14/02: An ultimatum to Saudi Arabia
01/11/02: Friendship, Saudi-style
01/07/02: Shakedown at Harvard
01/04/02: More guns, more safety
01/02/02: Smears and slanders from the Left
12/28/01: Congress gives to others -- and itself
12/24/01: The littlest peacemakers
12/20/01: How to condemn terror
12/18/01: Greenland once was
12/14/01: Parents who never said ''no''
12/11/01: Wit and (economic) wisdom
12/07/01: THE PALESTINIANS' MYTH
12/04/01: The war against Israel goes on
11/30/01: Tribunals, motorcycles -- and freedom
11/19/01: Friendship and the House of Saud
11/12/01: The Justice Department's unjust monopoly
11/09/01: Muslim, but not extremist
11/02/01: Too good for Oprah
10/29/01: Journalism and the 'neutrality fetish'
10/26/01: Derail these subsidies
10/22/01: Good and evil in the New York Times
10/15/01: Rush Limbaugh's ear
10/08/01: With allies like these
10/01/01: An unpardonable act
09/28/01: THE CENSORS ARE COMING! THE CENSORS ARE COMING!
09/25/01: Speaking out against terror
09/21/01: What the terrorists saw
09/17/01: Calling evil by its name
09/13/01: Our enemies mean what they say
09/04/01: The real bigots
08/31/01: Shrugging at genocide
08/28/01: Big Brother's privacy -- or ours?
08/24/01: The mufti's message of hate
08/21/01: Remembering the 'Wall of Shame'
08/16/01: If I were the editor ...
08/14/01: If I were the Transportation Czar ...
08/10/01: Import quotas 'steel' from us all
08/07/01: Is gay "marriage" a threat?
08/03/01: A colorblind nominee
07/27/01: Eminent-domain tortures
07/24/01: On protecting the flag ... and drivers ... and immigrants
07/20/01: Dying for better mileage
07/17/01: Why Americans would rather drive
07/13/01: Do these cabbies look like bigots?
07/10/01: 'Defeated in the bedroom'
07/06/01: Who's white? Who's Hispanic? Who cares?
07/02/01: Big(oted) man on campus
06/29/01: Still appeasing China's dictators
06/21/01: Cuban liberty: A test for Bush
06/19/01: The feeble 'arguments' against capital punishment
06/12/01: What energy crisis?
06/08/01: A jewel in the crown of self-government
05/31/01: The settlement myth
05/25/01: An award JFK would have liked
05/22/01: No Internet taxes? No problem
05/18/01: Heather has five mommies (and a daddy)
05/15/01: An execution, not a lynching
05/11/01: Losing the common tongue
05/08/01: Olympics 2008: Say no to Beijing
05/04/01: Do welfare mothers a kindness: Make them work
05/01/01: Another man's child
04/24/01: Sharon should have said no
04/02/01: The Inhumane Society
03/30/01: To have a friend, Caleb, be a friend
03/27/01: Is Chief Wahoo racist?
03/22/01: Ending the Clinton appeasement
03/20/01: They're coming for you
03/16/01: Kennedy v. Kennedy
03/13/01: We should see McVeigh die
03/09/01: The Taliban's wrecking job
03/07/01: The No. 1 reason to cut taxes
03/02/01: A Harvard candidate's silence on free speech
02/27/01: A lesson from Birmingham jail
02/20/01: How Jimmy Carter got his good name back
02/15/01: Cashing in on the presidency
02/09/01: The debt for slavery -- and for freedom
02/06/01: The reparations calculation
02/01/01: The freedom not to say 'amen'
01/29/01: Chavez's 'hypocrisy': Take a closer look
01/26/01: Good-bye, good riddance
01/23/01: When everything changed (mostly for the better)
01/19/01: The real zealots
01/16/01: Pardon Clinton?
01/11/01: The fanaticism of Linda Chavez
01/09/01: When Jerusalem was divided
01/05/01 THEY NEVER FORGOT THEE, O JERUSALEM
12/29/00 Liberal hate speech, 2000
12/15/00Does the Constitution expect poor children be condemned to lousy government schools?
12/08/00 Powell is wrong man to run State Department
12/05/00 The 'MCAS' teens give each other
12/01/00 Turning his back on the Vietnamese -- again
11/23/00 Why were the Pilgrims thankful?
11/21/00 The fruit of this 'peace process' is war
11/13/00 Unleashing the lawyers
11/17/00 Gore's mark on history
40 reasons to say NO to Gore
© 2002, Boston Globe