April 14, 2003
Mr. Eason Jordan, chief news executive at CNN, published in the New York Times a truly rare article last Friday: an op-ed capable of genuinely shocking even world-weary cynics in a jaded world. He announced that, over the last dozen years: "I made 13 trips to Baghdad to lobby the government to keep CNN's Baghdad bureau open and to arrange interviews with Iraqi leaders. Each time I visited, I became more distressed by what I saw and heard awful things that could not be reported because doing so would have jeopardized the lives of Iraqis, particularly those on our Baghdad staff."
He went on to catalogue in horrid detail the abuses of Saddam's torture and murder machine. He wrote that Saddam's eldest son Uday "told me in 1995 that he intended to assassinate his two brothers-in-law who had defected and also ... King Hussein of Jordan." The CNN news executive tipped off the king, but not the brothers-in-law, who were subsequently murdered.
In one of his most revealing statements, Mr. Jordan wrote that: "I came to know several Iraqi officials well enough that they confided in me that Saddam Hussein was a maniac who had to be removed." He concluded by writing that "I felt awful having these stories bottled up inside me ... At last, these stories can be told freely."
Where to begin? First, as the chief news executive of the only truly worldwide television news network, Mr. Jordan was literally the one man in the entire world in a position to "unbottle" those awful truths. Moreover, those awful truths were not only newsworthy, but would have been history-making had they been reported. One can only imagine the impact on the U.N. debate of last winter if CNN had headlined that several Iraqi officials had told CNN that "Saddam Hussein was a maniac who had to be removed."Instead, the world got CNN reports balanced carefully we know now, thanks to Mr. Jordan between the truth and the requirements of Saddam's propaganda office.
So deeply had Mr. Jordan morally compromised himself and CNN that Uday the psychopath felt comfortable confiding his highest-visibility murder plans to Mr. Jordan. His secrets were safe with CNN. What a scoop they missed: "Son of Saddam Hussein plans to murder King of Jordan." Indeed, the entire Arab world might have turned on Saddam years ago if that story had been reported. But, of course, if CNN had reported that story, it would not have been able to keep open its Baghdad bureau and thus would have lost the profitable competitive advantage it maintained over rival news outlets.
For the last twelve years, CNN has provided the West with the dominant news image of Saddam's Iraq. It was the jewel in the crown of CNN's international reportingreputation. But, now we know, from the unwitting pen of CNN's morally obtuse chief news executive, that it was always a false image CNN was broadcasting. The hard news was kept secret. The propaganda flowed like wine. CNN was running a straight propaganda-for-profits deal with Saddam. Until CNN brings in honest news executives, no prudent viewer should trust CNN'scurrent and future reporting from other foreign capitals.