Many years ago, Charles Eisendrath, who runs the Knight-Wallace fellowship program at the University of Michigan, told me he had just met a brilliant young man who was reinventing international news coverage.
His name was Eason Jordan, and at that time he was in charge of international news at CNN, which, as you may remember, beat the dung out of the traditional networks with its coverage of the 1991 Gulf War. Jordan then was barely 30; after that his rise was steady, and as of a week ago he was the network’s executive vice-president and chief executive for news.
Then, last week, in a stunning act of complete moral cowardice on the part of the network, he resigned. Why? Because at a panel discussion last month at something called the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, he allegedly said — apparently nobody can prove this — that he believed some journalists who had been killed in the Iraq quagmire had been “targeted” by coalition forces.
That raised eyebrows, and he quickly backed off the remarks, saying he had misspoken. “I never meant to imply U.S. forces acted with ill intent when U.S. forces accidentally killed journalists, and I apologize to anyone who thought I said or believed otherwise,” he told staffers at CNN.
That ought to have ended any controversy, which should have been seen as a tempest in a paper cup on a slow news day. But the real terrorists that this nation should fear then went to work: the right-wing ideologues in our media and government, who are far more dangerous to our country than al Qaeda could ever be, and, yes, you can quote me.
They went to work smearing Jordan (whom I, incidentally, have never met) on various weblogs, which, for those of you who have real lives, are mostly the Internet equivalent of writing on bathroom walls.
This went on until something truly horrifying happened; on Friday, Jordan resigned his job at CNN, where he has worked his entire adult life. He said he didn’t want to “unfairly tarnish” the network because of the controversy. And to CNN’s everlasting shame, they accepted his resignation.
This is as bad as anything that happened in the dark days of McCarthyism, when people’s lives and careers could be destroyed simply because somebody accused them of having attended a Communist Party meeting when they were in college, during the depths of the Great Depression.
Actually, in a way, this is worse. We should know better by now. Yet the cowardly corporate media are so terrorized by the right that they seem to have forgotten what this nation is supposed to stand for. I can’t say for sure, but I have a suspicion that if Ted Turner, the mouth of the South, still owned CNN, he would have torn up Jordan’s resignation, told him to get back to work, and told the weblog scribblers to go kiss his America’s Cup-winning ass. But the news network he invented is now part of the huge AOL-Time-Warner conglomerate, and money and profits are what it’s all about.
What is even more of an outrage is that there doesn’t seem to be sufficient outrage, even in the media community. Howard Kurtz, the normally fairly decent media columnist for The Washington Post, didn’t seem to get it; he seems to partly blame Jordan for not being clear about what he did say. So what? This columnist is on lots of panels, and I usually have no idea exactly what I said a half-hour later. That’s not the point.
What’s even more appalling, Kurtz reports that Jordan was eased out by top executives (surprise, surprise) “who had lost patience with both the controversy and the continued published gossip about Jordan’s personal life after a marital breakup.” Which implies that in the final analysis, it’s once again all about sex.
That bare-bones account might make you think the newsman was into something horrific like child porn, or the carnal knowledge of an Allis-Chalmers combine. What actually seems to have been the case, according to what’s appeared in print, is that he broke up with his wife and was dating the widow of Daniel Pearl.
The real horror is that everyone in the media isn’t screaming at this outrage. The only person I’ve seen telling it like it is? David Gergen, of all people, who has been a press aide to mostly Republican presidents.
“He’s brought down by a single mistake because people beat up on him in the blogosphere?” said an incredulous Gergen, now an editor at U.S. News and World Report. “They went after him because he is a symbol of a network seen as too liberal by some. They saw blood in the water.”
Frankly, anyone who sees CNN as too liberal needs a reality check. Most of its anchors are either pretty little girls or boys. I watched their eyes shine brightly with excitement throughout the early phases of the current Iraq war as they praised the apparent easy victories. (Some of them even got to ride right in the Humvees with the real soldiers themselves! Imagine that!) Then there’s Aaron Brown, who wouldn’t allow Robert Kennedy Jr. on his program to talk about the environment lest he would bash George W. Bush. Yeah, a real leftist cell.
The scandal is that there’s a real double standard in all the media that almost nobody ever acknowledges. If you’re a right-winger, you can say or do virtually anything, no matter how outrageous. Blimp drug addict Rush Limbaugh has been married more times than he’s been dried out. Right-wing talk-show goons like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity regularly slander everyone left of Curtis LeMay.
As Alexander Cockburn notes in the Feb. 21 Nation, Tony Blankley has called for Seymour Hersh, the brilliant investigative reporter, to be jailed or shot for treason. A vicious little creature named Tom Frank says in the New Republic, once a respectable magazine, that when he read an essayist who argued that Iraqis had a right to rebel against occupation, he “wanted John Ashcroft to come busting through the wall with a submachine gun to round everyone up,” after which they’d be taken to Camp X-Ray and tortured by Charles Graner. He also says he wants Arnold Schwarzenegger to punch a liberal soldier in the face.
My human reaction is to hope Tommy Frank finds a girlfriend (or boyfriend, depending) soon. But by allowing this double standard, the media disgraces itself daily, and hourly looks more like the sort of lapdog press that we used to be accustomed to seeing in fascist dictatorships.
Still, Mithras, or whoever the god is who is running the world these days, does have a sense of humor. One of the most obnoxious reporters at White House press conferences was one Jeff Gannon, who worked for Talonnews.com and wasted time at press conferences asking questions designed to make the president look good. He also frequently attacked gays on the Talon Web site.
Oops. Last week it turned out that Gannon is actually one Jim Guckert, and he has another life and career, namely, operating Web sites that appear to be designed to promote male prostitution (HotMilitaryStud.com, etc.). Suddenly, he too, has decided to resign.
Our Homeland Security White House has nothing to say about how someone using a phony name, and who seems to be a gay pimp, got daily White House security clearance. And the beat goes on. No matter how cynical you get, as Lily Tomlin said, you can’t keep up.Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org