One of the most powerful executives in the cable news business, CNN’s Eason Jordan, was brought down after he spoke out of school during a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in January. In a rare moment of candor, Jordan reportedly said that the US military had targeted a dozen journalists who had been killed in Iraq. The comments quickly ignited a firestorm on the Internet, fueled by right-wing bloggers, that led to Jordan’s recanting, apologizing and ultimately resigning after twenty-three years at the network, “in an effort to prevent CNN from being unfairly tarnished by the controversy.”
But the real controversy here should not be over Jordan’s comments. The controversy ought to be over the unconscionable silence in the United States about the military’s repeated killing of journalists in Iraq.
Consider the events of April 8, 2003. Early that morning, Al Jazeera correspondent Tareq Ayyoub was reporting from the network’s Baghdad bureau. He was providing an eyewitness account of a fierce battle between US and Iraqi forces along the banks of the Tigris. As he stood on the roof of the building, a US warplane swooped in and fired a rocket at Al Jazeera’s office. Ayyoub was killed instantly. US Central Command released a statement claiming, “Coalition forces came under significant enemy fire from the building where the Al-Jazeera journalists were working.” No evidence was ever produced to bolster this claim. Al Jazeera, which gave the US military its coordinates weeks before the invasion began, says it received assurances a day before Ayyoub’s death that the network would not be attacked.
At noon on April 8, a US Abrams tank fired at the Palestine Hotel, home and office to more than 100 unembedded international journalists operating in Baghdad at the time. The shell smashed into the fifteenth-floor Reuters office, killing two cameramen, Reuters’s Taras Protsyuk and José Couso of Spain’s Telecinco. The United States again claimed that its forces had come under enemy fire and were acting in self-defense. This claim was contradicted by scores of journalists who were in the hotel and by a French TV crew that filmed the attack. In its report on the incident, the Committee to Protect Journalists asserted that “Pentagon officials, as well as commanders on the ground in Baghdad, knew that the Palestine Hotel was full of international journalists.”
In a chilling statement at the end of that day in Iraq, then-Pentagon spokesperson Victoria Clarke spelled out the Pentagon’s policy on journalists not embedded with US troops. She warned them that Baghdad “is not a safe place. You should not be there.”
Eason Jordan’s comment was hardly a radical declaration. He was expressing a common view among news organizations around the world. “We have had three deaths, and they were all non-embedded, non-coalition nationals and they were all at the hands of the US military, and the reaction of the US authorities in each case was that they were somehow justified,” David Schlesinger, Reuters’s global managing editor, said in November. “What is the US’s position on nonembeds? Are nonembedded journalists fair game?” One of the BBC’s top news anchors, Nik Gowing, said recently that he was “speak[ing] for a large number of news organizations, many of whom are not really talking publicly about this at the moment,” when he made this statement about the dangers facing reporters in Iraq: “The trouble is that a lot of the military–particularly the American…military–do not want us there. And they make it very uncomfortable for us to work. And I think that this…is leading to security forces in some instances feeling it is legitimate to target us with deadly force and with impunity.”