CNN’s Sins of Omission

by | Apr 12, 2003

I was shocked and disgusted by an op-ed piece I read today in the New York Times. No, it wasn’t by Paul Krugman. It was far more serious: Eason Jordan, chief news executive at CNN, revealing what the headline called “The News We Kept to Ourselves.” The news concerned the atrocities committed by Saddam Hussein’s […]

I was shocked and disgusted by an op-ed piece I read today in the New York Times. No, it wasn’t by Paul Krugman. It was far more serious: Eason Jordan, chief news executive at CNN, revealing what the headline called “The News We Kept to Ourselves.”

The news concerned the atrocities committed by Saddam Hussein’s regime. For example:

“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 [Saddam’s son] 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.”

And these were mild cases. In 13 trips to Baghdad, Jordan heard stories of electroshock torture, beatings and brutal murders. Almost certainly, other journalists, editors and news directors heard them, too. So why weren’t these atrocities reported?

“Doing so,” wrote Jordan, “would have jeopardized the lives of Iraqis, particularly those on our Baghdad staff.”

That explanation just doesn’t wash.

Clearly, there were ways to protect the identities of individual victims of the regime’s brutality. And, clearly, by reporting the stories, CNN might finally have aroused the outrage of the world, which in turn would have brought Saddam’s end closer – either through united, global pressure or through earlier military action.

It appears there is another, more troubling, reason Jordan decided not to report these hideous crimes until the regime was safely out of the way: CNN didn’t want to lose its on-the-ground access to a big story.

Anyone who read Franklin Foer’s excellent piece last October in The New Republic, would not have been shocked at Jordan’s op-ed today. Foer uncovered Saddam’s success at manipulating the U.S. media, especially CNN.

“Like their Soviet-bloc predecessors,” he wrote, “the Iraqis have become masters of the Orwellian pantomime – the state-orchestrated anti-American rally, the state-led tours of alleged chemical weapons sites that turn out to be baby milk factories – that promotes their distorted reality. And the Iraqi regime has found an audience for these displays in an unlikely place: the U.S. media. It’s not because American reporters have an ideological sympathy for Saddam Hussein; broadcasting his propaganda is simply the only way they can continue to work in Iraq.”

As for CNN: Foer wrote six months ago that “nobody has schmoozed the [information] ministry harder than the head of CNN’s News Group, Eason Jordan, who has traveled to Baghdad twelve times since the Gulf war. In part these trips

Ambassador Glassman has had a long career in media. He was host of three weekly public-affairs programs, editor-in-chief and co-owner of Roll Call, the congressional newspaper, and publisher of the Atlantic Monthly and the New Republic. For 11 years, he was both an investment and op-ed columnist for the Washington Post.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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