Opinion: Media Mangle

When the Price of Access Is Too Steep

It seems like a lifetime ago, but remember the euphoria when Baghdad fell in early 2003?

Well, we all might have felt euphoric, but Eason Jordan, who was then the head of CNN news gathering, was feeling a bit guilty. You see, Jordan had been lobbying Saddam Hussein for years to keep a CNN bureau in Baghdad.

Nothing wrong with that, you might say, and you’d be right.

What was wrong with that was the price Jordan and the CNN executives paid to keep their bureau in the Iraqi capital city: They sold their journalistic souls.

On April 11, 2003, after we had taken Baghdad, conveniently, Jordan wrote a column in The New York Times titled “The News We Kept to Ourselves.” Jordan said many stories went unreported for fear that Iraqis who worked with CNN, or their co-workers, might be put in jeopardy of retaliation by the Iraqi secret police.

Consquently, “awful things … could not be reported because doing so would have jeopardized the lives of Iraqis, particularly those on our Baghdad staff,” Jordan wrote. In short, CNN presented a rosier view of Saddam’s regime than should have been presented.

I wrote a column the next day for The Herald-Sun in Durham in response to Jordan’s admission. In it I asked, “How many Iraqis were tortured, maimed, raped, beheaded, and put in acid baths during the time CNN was soft-selling Saddam’s regime to the world?”

A similar question occurs to me today as I see the news coverage coming out of Gaza in the wake of the increased hostilities between Israel and Hamas. What, I wonder, is not being reported from Gaza because Western news outlets owe their presence there to Palestinian combatants?

Already there are many examples of pro-Hamas and pro-Palestinian reporting by networks and other mainstream media outlets. And keep in mind that pro-Hamas reporting means anti-Israel reporting. CNN, MSNBC, and network reporters have been fixated on the deaths of Palestinian children, all the while ignoring the incontrovertible reality that Hamas is using children as shields, and is using hospitals and schools as storage areas for arms.

On July 28, two Western reporters working in Gaza tweeted that a poorly aimed Hamas rocket had hit one hospital and that Hamas was using another hospital as a headquarters. Those two tweets were taken down almost immediately, with no explanation. After Eason Jordan’s confession, I certainly can think of one.

As I said in my column more than 10 years ago, if the price of being able to remain in a combat zone is to hide the atrocities of the people who control the area in which you are working, then your network, your newspaper, or your cable channel should think about leaving. It’s just not worth it.

Jon Ham (@rivlax) is Vice President of Communications at the John Locke Foundation and publisher of Carolina Journal.