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Notes and observations on the press, politics, culture, technology, and more. To sign up for e-mail delivery, click here. To send an e-mail to Dan Kennedy, click here. For bio, published work, and links to other blogs, visit www.dankennedy.net. For information on Dan Kennedy's book, Little People: Learning to See the World Through My Daughter's Eyes (Rodale, October 2003), click here.

Friday, April 18, 2003

Liberation abroad, repression at home. Even as the liberation of Iraq continues, we're a long way from liberation in this country when it comes to gay men and lesbians.

Two pieces in today's New York Times illustrate that the silliness -- actually, it's quite a bit worse than silliness -- continues. Christopher Marquis reports on the secrecy that lesbian and gay couples in the military must engage in so that they can stay clear of the ridiculous "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

And Erica Goode finds that the government is making it increasingly difficult for scientists who study AIDS to win grants if their applications use "provocative" phrases such as "anal sex" and "sex workers." You really can't make this stuff up.

By the way, this week's Phoenix features an article by Kristen Lombardi on the legal struggle for same-sex marriage in Massachusetts -- a case before the Supreme Judicial Court that could be decided within the next few months.

posted at 9:12 AM | link

Big Dig II. So, is there any truth to the rumor that the White House has hired former Big Dig chief Jim Kerasiotes to make sure that Bechtel stays on time and on budget in Iraq?

posted at 9:12 AM | link

A loan for lean times. It looks like at least some state officials are finally coming to their senses. The Boston Globe's Rick Klein reports that legislators are thinking about borrowing money in order to get through a temporary fiscal crisis rather than to continue to inflict pain on those who depend on government services.

There's a lot of blather right now about the legislature's refusal to go along with Governor Mitt Romney's reforms. No doubt some of the reforms that Romney has proposed are worthy. So are the ones being pushed by a few reformist Democrats (getting rid of the Governor's Council and the Quinn bill for starters), described in a column today by the Globe's Scot Lehigh.

No one, though, thinks these reforms will add up to more than a pittance. Yes, the ones that make sense should be enacted. But real human needs should not be held hostage to them, either.

posted at 9:11 AM | link

You don't say? "Madonna's Real Art: Getting Attention." From today's New York Times. (With apologies to James Taranto.)

posted at 9:10 AM | link

The absolute last way you would ever want to blow a perfectly good day. Spend an afternoon with Jose Canseco. And pay for the privilege.

posted at 9:09 AM | link

Media Log on CNN. As of right now, I'm scheduled to appear on CNN's Reliable Sources on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. to discuss the Eason Jordan situation with host Howard Kurtz. I'm told Jordan will be there, too.

posted at 9:07 AM | link

Thursday, April 17, 2003

Unfair to CNN's Jordan. Reader KH writes that the Washington Post editorial page -- and, thus, Media Log -- was unfair to CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan on Tuesday.

KH asks me to look again at this section of the Post editorial:

If the network had also told its viewers that Mr. Jordan dealt with an Iraqi official whose teeth had been pried out for upsetting his boss, Uday Hussein, then those watching the electoral story might have felt differently about that report, about the election result and about a regime that terrified its citizens into proclaiming their unanimous support.

Next, KH quotes this passage from Jordan's memo to the CNN staff, a copy of which Jordan had sent to Media Log and which I ran in full in the very item that KH takes issue with:

When an Iraqi official, Abbas al-Janabi, defected after his teeth were yanked out with pliers by Uday Saddam Hussein's henchmen, I worked to ensure the defector gave his first TV interview to CNN. He did.

KH asks: "[D]o you see the contradiction here?" Well, yes. Media Log is glad to set the record straight, and awaits word on when the Post will do the same.

Meanwhile, Boston Globe columnists Ellen Goodman and Jeff Jacoby let Jordan have it today.

posted at 7:45 AM | link

Partisan Review and the varieties of Trotskyism. Media Log is way too unlettered to have anything intelligent to say about the demise of the legendary Partisan Review, which has been defunded by Boston University chancellor John Silber. (When you're ripe, it's time to go, eh, Dr. Silber?)

But this assessment in Slate, by Sam Tanenhaus, is smart and entertaining. I'll leave it to others to judge whether he also happens to be right.

posted at 7:45 AM | link

New in this week's Phoenix. This week I take a look at whether the media's renewed commitment to foreign-news coverage will survive the transition from the shooting war in Iraq to the much more difficult effort to rebuild the country.

Also, I write about Boston Herald reporter Jules Crittenden's astounding account about helping to kill Iraqi soldiers who were trying to kill him and the American troops with whom he was embedded.

posted at 7:44 AM | link

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

More questions for CNN's Jordan. Not all the news coming out of CNN is bad these days. The wretched Crossfire is getting bumped to the dead zone to make way for Paula Zahn, and Aaron Brown is still employed, buzz to the contrary notwithstanding. (The headline on Media Whores Online: "Rumors Swirl that Brown too Competent for CNN.")

But the controversy that has engulfed chief news executive Eason Jordan hasn't died down quite yet. Nor should it.

If you haven't read Peter Collins's commentary in yesterday's Washington Times yet, well, hop to it. I'm a day late to this particular car crash, but Collins is devastating. He describes working at CNN in 1993 and being upbraided for showing insufficient on-air enthusiasm regarding some lie-filled blather from Saddam Hussein at a time when Jordan and CNN's then-president, Tom Johnson, were trying to line up an interview with Saddam.

I suspect this would have gotten more attention if it were not for the fact that Collins's account is essentially uncorroborated, and that it was published in the lightly regarded WashTimes. But what motives would Collins have to make this stuff up?

Also, Hub Blogger Jay Fitzgerald has absolutely nailed Jordan on a detail that appears to have eluded everyone else, including Media Log. Jordan, in his op-ed in the New York Times last Friday, wrote about a Kuwaiti woman who was tortured and murdered for the crime of giving an interview to CNN -- one of several horrific stories Jordan sat on until now, citing the need to protect CNN's people in Iraq.

But wait. As Fitzgerald notes, Kuwait was liberated 12 years ago. Why did Jordan believe he needed to remain silent all these years? Fitzgerald's conclusion: "They sold their souls for access."

posted at 8:11 AM | link

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Eason Jordan defends his choice. CNN's Eason Jordan has written to Media Log to offer his side in the controversy over the op-ed piece that he wrote for the New York Times last Friday. Jordan writes:


While we probably will agree to disagree on some things about CNN's history in Iraq, I wanted you to know my side of the story. I shared this note with my CNN colleagues yesterday:

Since my op-ed piece in the New York Times Friday stirred a controversy, I want to share my thoughts with you about it. In the op-ed, I described how the Iraqi regime intimidated, tortured, and killed people who helped CNN over the years. It was a tough piece to write. But I felt strongly the stories needed to be told as soon as telling them would not automatically result in the killing of innocent colleagues, friends, and acquaintances -- most of them Iraqis.

Some critics complain that the op-ed piece proves CNN withheld vital information from the public and kowtowed to the Saddam Hussein regime to maintain a CNN reporting presence in Iraq. That is nonsense. No news organization in the world had a more contentious relationship with the Iraqi regime than CNN. The Iraqi leadership was so displeased with CNN's Iraq reporting, CNN was expelled from Iraq six times -- five times in previous years and one more time on day three of this Iraq war. Those expulsions lasted as long as six months at a time. CNN's Baghdad bureau chief, Jane Arraf, was banned from the country in response to her reporting on an unprecedented public protest demanding to know what happened to Iraqis who vanished years earlier after being abducted by Iraqi secret police. Christiane Amanpour, Wolf Blitzer, Aaron Brown, Brent Sadler, Nic Robertson, Rym Brahimi, Sheila MacVicar, Ben Wedeman, and Richard Roth were among the other CNN correspondents and anchors banned from Iraq. If CNN were trying to kowtow and maintain its Baghdad presence at any cost, would CNN's reporting have produced a contentious relationship, expulsions, and bannings? No. CNN kept pushing for access in Iraq, while never compromising its journalistic standards in doing so. Withholding information that would get innocent people killed was the right thing to do, not a journalistic sin.

Did CNN report on the brutality of the regime? Yes, as best we could, mostly from outside Iraq, where people in the know could speak more freely than people inside Iraq. In Saddam's Iraq, no one was foolish enough to speak on camera or on the record about the brutality of the regime because anyone doing so would be effectively signing his or her death warrant. So we reported on Iraq's human rights record from outside Iraq and featured many interviews with Iraqi defectors who described the regime's brutality in graphic detail. When an Iraqi official, Abbas al-Janabi, defected after his teeth were yanked out with pliers by Uday Saddam Hussein's henchmen, I worked to ensure the defector gave his first TV interview to CNN. He did. I also personally asked Tariq Aziz in a live TV interview during one of our World Report Conferences to defend his country's dreadful human rights record. Other CNNers over the years also put tough questions to Iraqi officials.

Some critics say if I had told my Iraq horror stories sooner, I would have saved thousands of lives. How they come to that conclusion, I don't know. Iraq's human rights record and the brutality of the Saddam Hussein regime were well known before I wrote my op-ed piece. The only sure thing that would have happened if I told those stories sooner is the regime would have tracked down and killed the innocent people who told me those stories. Critics say I could have told the stories without identifying Iraqis by name. But the Iraqi secret police surely knew everyone I met in Iraq and would have had no trouble identifying who told me the stories. No doubt those people would be dead today if I spoke sooner.

A number of people have told me CNN should have closed its Baghdad bureau, helped everyone who told me the horror stories flee Iraq, with me thereafter telling those stories publicly long before now. While that is a noble thought, doing so was not a viable option. Iraqis (and their families) who told me those stories in some cases could not, and in other cases would not, leave their country simply for the sake of CNN being able to share their stories with the world. Incidentally, there are countless such horror stories in Iraq. I knew just a few of them. We will hear many more of them in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

Knowing the personal stories I knew about the brutality of the regime, I had three options:

1. Never repeat such horror stories.

2. Tell the stories sooner and, as a result, see innocent people killed.

3. Tell the stories after the downfall of the Saddam Hussein regime.

I chose option three and could never imagine doing anything else.

I chose to write the NY Times op-ed to provide a record of one person's experiences with the brutality of the Iraqi regime and to ensure we maintain CNN's long record of reporting on atrocities around the world, even if in these cases we could do so only years later to protect the lives of innocent people.


Jordan has obviously been anguished over this for some time. But I think a serious issue remains: by Jordan's own admission, CNN's reporting was compromised over the past decade because its top news executive knew terrible things about the regime of Saddam Hussein that he could not say.

What should he have done differently? Here's one possibility: he simply should have pulled CNN out of Iraq and explained that the regime was not allowing the network to report on the country fully and honestly.

At a time when Fox News and MSNBC have been all but marching into battle on behalf of the White House, CNN has been a sober and serious alternative. Unfortunately, we now know that CNN's reporting on Iraq has been compromised all along. Yes, CNN and the Iraqi government had contentious relations, and I don't doubt that CNN was as tough on the regime as Jordan dared. But at a certain point, ethics dictate that you seriously consider walking away.

The Washington Post today has a tough editorial on the choice Jordan made. Its conclusion is worth pondering:

It is difficult to make judgments in retrospect, but some CNN reporting did seem deliberately unprovocative, given the true nature of the regime. An election last autumn, which Saddam Hussein won with 100 percent of the votes, was interpreted as a "message of defiance to U.S. President George Bush," for example. If the network had also told its viewers that Mr. Jordan dealt with an Iraqi official whose teeth had been pried out for upsetting his boss, Uday Hussein, then those watching the electoral story might have felt differently about that report, about the election result and about a regime that terrified its citizens into proclaiming their unanimous support.

Justified or not, that is the perception that CNN is now going to have to overcome.

posted at 11:25 AM | link

Another view on CNN's Jordan. Alex Jones, director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy, at Harvard's Kennedy School, makes a case for going slow on the matter of CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan, who confessed in last Friday's New York Times to covering up shocking acts by the Iraqi government in order to protect his own people.

"I think he stays. I think he made choices that every news organization has to make in a tough situation," Jones tells Media Log. And though he adds, "What I question is whether the access that he was essentially making that bargain for was at too dear a price," he also says: "I certainly wouldn't fire him for this. This is an anguishing situation."

Perhaps Jones's most salient point is that though Jordan is the first news executive to speak out about the unholy alliances that were made in order to keep reporters in Iraq, he may by no means be the last.

"We're going to have to hear from other news organizations, it seems to me," says Jones. "I would be very reluctant to cast the first stone." Noting that news organizations will bend to maintain access, Jones says, "It may be that he bent too far, but I've got a feeling that everybody is bent. That goes with being in a terrible place."

I'm too appalled by Jordan's actions to agree with Jones, but I certainly agree with him on this: let's have full disclosure from every major news executive who had to negotiate issues of access with the regime of Saddam Hussein, especially in the years following the Gulf War.

It might very well make for a fascinating and disturbing story.

posted at 7:50 AM | link

Where is Salam? "Salam Pax," the Baghdad resident whose blog, "Where Is Raed?", made for some of the most gripping reading of the war, has not been heard from since March 24. Here's hoping he'll surface soon.

posted at 7:50 AM | link

The war must really be winding down. The Boston Herald is bringing Jules Crittenden home and expanding the "Inside Track" to two pages, complete with new headshots of Tracksters Gayle Fee and Laura Raposa. You don't really get the effect from the online version, but here it is anyway.

posted at 7:50 AM | link

They're laughing at you. Your stock portfolio is down 90 percent, but be of good cheer: the CEOs of the companies you've invested in are still living the good life. They're giving you the finger, and the Boston Globe's Beth Healy has the details.

posted at 7:49 AM | link

Monday, April 14, 2003

Foer's revenge. Franklin Foer, who was attacked by CNN last fall after writing a piece for the New Republic on how the network toadied to Saddam Hussein, responds today on OpinionJournal.com to CNN news chief Eason Jordan's shocking admissions in last Friday's New York Times.

Jordan described covering up his knowledge of terrible human-rights abuses in order to protect his own people in Iraq and to guarantee continued access.

As Foer observes, "Leaving ... might have been preferable to staying under these conditions." Those are words worth contemplating as Jordan and his superiors contemplate his future at CNN as well.

posted at 8:03 AM | link

Life, death, and objectivity. Here are a few of Roget's synonyms for objectivity: "detachment," "disinterest," "dispassion," "fairness," and "impartiality." In journalism, fairness and impartiality are good; but detachment and dispassion are more suitable for a certified public accountant than for someone who's trying to bring a story home in all of its vivid truth.

The Boston Herald's embedded reporter, Jules Crittenden, described the limits of objectivity in an astounding account for the Sunday paper, recounting how he called out Iraqi positions as his unit rolled through Baghdad, thus helping to kill three Iraqi soldiers. He writes:

Some in our profession might think as a reporter and non-combatant, I was there only to observe. Now that I have assisted in the deaths of three human beings in the war I was sent to cover, I'm sure there are some people who will question my ethics, my objectivity, etc. I'll keep the argument short. Screw them, they weren't there. But they are welcome to join me next time if they care to test their professionalism.

Crittenden's account comes closer than anything I've read in this three-week war to making me feel as though I were there, and experiencing for myself the abject fear and its close cousin, exhiliration, that define combat.

But of course, this isn't objectivity -- a bogus concept in any case -- or, for that matter, a fair, comprehensive view of what's going on in Iraq. The reality is that Crittenden's account illustrates the strengths and weaknesses of the embed program.

The strength, of course, is that it gives us a close-up look and otherwise-unattainable insight into what it's like for American soldiers to fight this war. The weakness is that the embeds' accounts necessarily become the story of the war as seen through the eyes of American soldiers.

No reporter is going to be "objective" about those who are protecting his or her life. And Crittenden's assistance in killing Iraqi troops who were trying to kill him is perfectly understandable. Who among us wouldn't do exactly the same thing? But it also -- as Crittenden acknowledges -- calls into serious question the role of journalists as non-combatants, thus turning reporters into legitimate targets for those against whom we are fighting.

Overall, the embed program has a been a real plus. But as Crittenden shows, there are hazards to it as well. He deserves credit for describing those hazards so honestly.

posted at 7:51 AM | link

A broken people. One of the reasons I opposed this war was the certainty of massive civilian casualties, something that has indeed come to pass despite what were apparently our best efforts to keep such tragedies to a minimum.

This story by Ian Fisher in today's New York Times about a mother who couldn't bring herself to tell her husband about the death of their three daughters is heart-wrenching. Even if we succeed in helping the Iraqis build a better society, this family will never have a chance to enjoy it.

Yet I am struck, too, by how psychologically damaged Iraq has been left by 30 years of Baath Party rule. In yesterday's Boston Globe, reporter Thanassis Cambanis quoted a mother as saying:

It's true Saddam used to take our sons and torture them. But how can I say whether this is worth our liberation? I still don't know what's going to happen.

Think about the complete loss of dignity that would lead someone to say so humiliating, so degrading. These are people who have been completely stripped of their humanity. Such are the effects of totalitarianism.

posted at 7:49 AM | link


Dan Kennedy is senior writer and media critic for the Boston Phoenix.

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