Shoot the Press: Responding to the Eason Jordan Controversy

Media | Building/Consensus | International
Should we care about what happens in a global forum planning the future of the world? Would we care more if our actions, or inactions, affect larger events?


Ah, the gathering of the global elites. Four years ago, Michael Kinsley wrote that the World Economic Forum in Davos was “a forum for self-important people to show off and/or to experience status anxiety” (His piece s lost to history, so that’s Timothy Noah indirectly quoting Kinsley. In 2002 Noah made it a pet reporting assignment to whirl around D.C. finding wonks who were “Too Busy for Davos”.) If anything, Davos is supposed to be non-controversial.

I caught on C-SPAN a couple of weeks ago, with Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Bono et al were holding court. Bono stole the show as usual, talking about preventable diseases in Africa: “People tell me… ‘love your cause, man!’ Well this is not a cause… this is an emergency.” (a stump speech he’s used before). It all sounded good, but I wasn’t taking notes. I didn’t expect anything new or revealing to come out of the open sessions.

Lucky for us, at least one of the closed sessions, “Will Democracy Survive the Media?” was spilled out into the public on January 28th. Though not lucky for one of the forum participants, Eason Jordan, who was until he resigned last Friday, the CNN chief news executive. During the forum Jordan had made the statement that not all of the journalists who died in Iraq were the result of “collateral damage”; some were “targeted.” What he said and what he meant were tough to tell as the transcripts were not made public.

This wouldn’t have interested me personally, though Dan Kennedy of the Boston Phoenix raised this point online on February 9th:

What’s disturbing about this is that two members of Congress who were on hand when Jordan made his remarks – Representative Barney Frank and Senator Chris Dodd – clearly believed that Jordan had accused American soldiers of targeting reporters. Read their comments. They come across as barely mollified by Jordan’s efforts to undo the damage.

Conservatives, as you can imagine, have been going berserk. And in this case, why shouldn’t they? (And why shouldn’t liberals – and not just Frank and Dodd.)”

Hmm. Why shouldn’t I, as a liberal, go berserk? Let’s think.


I found two different types of reactions, roughly categorized around left-brain/right-brain. I’ll use the “bad apples” idiom to compare them.

There’s the holistic/emotional reaction (i.e., “going berserk” as Kennedy said) “How dare you accuse this tree of giving bad apples! You are calling into question this entire orchard!”

On the other hand, there is the rational/dispassionate “If there are bad apples, where are they, how come we are not investigating them?”

Both of these reactions are equally valid in public discourse– I could quote Amy Gutmann in Democracy and Disagreement if I had time.

Rational Approach

The very man I have elected four times to represent me in the United States House of Representatives, Barney Frank, was on the same panel with Eason Jordan. His first reaction, by his account, was on the emotional side. Frank was never in the military, and did not vote for the Iraq war. But he does know to stand up for American soldiers. He also knows to check his passion and pursue the rational approach (see Howard Kurtz) Had I been following the issue, I would have been confident that Frank was already pursuing this, so there was little use to my making any noise on the Internet.

The first public airing from Rony Abovitz focused on the rational approach as well: “Clear up this mess, use your power and authority as elected leaders, and make transparent what really happened.”

Jim Geraghty in the National Review Online echoed this line as well in a February 9th post:

I’m starting to think some bloggers A) want to “get” Jordan the way it was widely perceived that the blogs “got” Dan Rather and B) use this event to promote their blog and get media appearances, writing gigs, etc. … All of this is putting the cart before the horse. Job one is: Just what did Jordan say?

Emotional Approarch

Geraghty’s charge may have been leveled at the gang which established the “Easongate” website. Here’s how one of its authors defined their motivations on February 10th, in response to Geraghty:

(1) to defend our troops from slanderous charges; (2) to hold the media accountable for their biases; (3) to help fight the battles of this war on the ‘information front.’ The War on Terror is not only fought in the trenches, we are fighting media bias against American culture and Western civilization. Our terrorist enemy has mastered manipulating the media to promote them in a neutral light and the Coalition in a negative light.

Edward Morrissey of Captain’s Quarters wrote an open letter demanding public hearings

to establish once and for all whether the U.S. military has a policy of assassinating and torturing journalists, in Iraq or anywhere else, and correct the terrible damage Mr. Jordan may have inflicted on our image abroad.

If I look at these logically, they don’t hold up, which may explain why a lot of non-emotional political observers didn’t pick up on them, either. For example:

  1. troops have been slandered — inductive fallacy
  2. the media is biased — inductive fallacy or tautology, you pick
  3. media is being manipulated by “our terrorist enemy” — no facts to support this
  4. check whether U.S. military has policy of assassinating journlists — strawman, it does not.
  5. “terrible damage … may have inflicted on our image abroad” — unproven. Geraghty checked in with MEMRI on Febrauary 9th and found that this story was completely missed in the Middle East press.

But I can see how these– at least the first two– can be informed by an appeal to emotion. If there’s a slur against specific (and unnamed) soldiers, does that fault them all? Maybe that’s how one thinks when one’s a soldier. That I suppose is part of the discipline. It’s part of emotionally identifying with the greater unit. And that seems to be in general the conservative mindset in U.S.A. It’s a valid way of thinking, and I have to work harder to appreciate it. But when it comes down to making policy and investigating cases, we have to depend on logic and rationality. Let’s look now at the cold hard facts.


Where did Jordan get the number 12? The emotional crowd already made up their mind that it was inconceivable. Yet out there on the blogs, on February 3rd, Zed Pobre had analyzed the data off of information from and indepedently reviewed the accounts of deaths of journalists, using information from Reporters Without Borders. The number he determined was the number of deaths not caused by collateral damage? Twelve.

When Rony returned to this U.S., he added a new post to the forum blog, citing Zed’s research matter-of-factly. He also echoed Zed’s point that no one in the entire CNN news organization took the trouble to figure out how to back up their boss’s statement– and that’s truly a shame. The entire CNN organization was reporting the war, without really knowing it.

And neither did anyone brief Rep. Frank before he spoke to Michelle Malkin on the 7th. Somebody should have gotten it to Frank– he has a district of 600,000 people, most of whom would help him out if they could. The ideal person would have been someone alert to the news of the blogosphere– someone who should have caught Rony’s post referenced on the webcred linklog on the 2nd, might have somehow tracked down Zeb’s post on the 3rd, and then could have called his Congressmen’s staff members, whose numbers he has in his cellphone.

I can think of at least one person who fits that bill:


I was so turned off by the vitriol, that I didn’t get involved in researching the story (I had other priorities). I’ll have to pay more attention next time, the next time they round up a posse to shoot the press.

Postscript Monday Night: The Times this morning wrote a pretty thorough article summarizing the whole affair. Jeff Jarvis lost his lunch over the Times, but that’s to be expected. Rebecca Blood sides with the Times, and more importantly, with reason, which is why I side with her. I always admire, though don’t always side with, Jack Shafer, who announced that he would have fired Eason Jordan. I also think Jay Rosen is sensible, though I’m still trying to fit this all in with his old vision of public journalism. I said hello to the very-much-in-demand Rony Abovitz; the next commenter hailed him as a “Great American.” Also, regarding the Civilities aspect here, I was hoping to have a conversation with who else but the David “blogs-are-for-conversations” Weinberger over at his JOHO blog. We’ll see.