"They Come for Oil, Not to Protect Us from Saddam" -- 04/15/2003 CyberAlert
2. Media Moving On, NBC Grumbles About Bush's "Massive" Tax Cut
3. CNN's Jordan Defends Self; CNN Refuses to Let U.S. Use Its News
4. "Easy" Victory vindicates War Foes, Statue Toppling Ridiculed
Corrections: The April 14 CyberAlert spelled Bill Kristol's last name both correctly and incorrectly. It is Kristol, not Kristal. The same issue stated that Tom Brokaw will appear on Tuesday's (tonight's) Tonight Show on NBC. That is incorrect. Brokaw is scheduled to appear on tonight's Late Show with David Letterman on CBS. Chris Matthews is scheduled to appear on tonight's Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
Mixed messages from Tikrit and Baghdad. ABC's Jim Sciutto highlighted a man in Tikrit who complained that he's "been a slave to Saddam for 25 years," and celebrated how "today is my first day of freedom." But Sciutto also found a man who insisted that "Saddam Hussein is better than George Bush." CBS's Allen Pizzey arrived in Tikrit and saw "sullen" people threatening violence: "What had been called Saddam's last bastion is nearly deserted and unlike in other liberated towns, residents who remained here are sullen. 'This will be like occupied Palestine,' the young man warns. 'There will be bloodbaths.'"
In contrast, on the NBC Nightly News Tom Aspell traveled to Tikrit and observed that "today on the streets a few timid civilians, more curious than hostile."
In Baghdad, ABC's Dan Harris stressed how "there are now daily protests" against the U.S. "in front of the hotel where the media and the military have set up temporary headquarters." Harris showcased one doctor who charged: "They come for oil, not to protect us from Saddam. Saddam is their agent. It's a big game."
But on the CBS Evening News, Dan Rather in Baghdad noted that "one of the hallmarks of Baghdad these days are the wild and woolly swings in public of mood. It can flip in a second" with the very same people praising America one day denouncing the U.S. the next.
On Monday's World News Tonight, Jim Sciutto in Tikrit found that "many residents said they were glad to see Saddam Hussein gone. 'I've been a slave to Saddam for 25 years,' said this man. 'Today is my first day of freedom.'"
Checking in from Baghdad, Dan Harris saw a city in turmoil because of ongoing looting: "Chaos breeds resentment. Many feel the Americans should be doing more. There are now daily protests in front of the hotel where the media and the military have set up temporary headquarters."
Looking at a hospital in Saddam City, Harris relayed a complaint: "Doctor Ahmad Nasser says the Marines have refused to protect the hospital."
But on CBS, while Dan Rather saw in Baghdad "little of the euphoria seen last week," he observed a very temperamental public. Standing in front of a chanting crowd, Rather asserted:
A sure sign the broadcast networks are moving on from the war: On Monday's NBC Nightly News Campbell Brown referred to President Bush's "massive" tax cut, a tax cut that a new poll "shows Americans have little enthusiasm for."
Ah, back to the good old pre-war days of undermining any attempt to reduce the amount of people's money taken by the government.
Brown's shot at the tax cut came after anchor Tom Brokaw noted that a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 71 percent approve of Bush's performance while 23 percent disapprove.
Campbell Brown reported that the public sees the nation moving in the right direction over wrong direction by 62 to 22 percent. But, she warned, Bush's biggest hurdle to re-election will be the weak economy. "The President's answer," she relayed, "an economic plan built on a massive $726 billion tax cut that the poll shows Americans have little enthusiasm for. 43 percent said Congress should pass the tax cut to stimulate the economy, but 49 percent said they opposed it because of the deficit and unknown war costs. Senate Democrats, and some Republicans, have teamed up to slice the tax cut to less than half of what the President has proposed, $350 billion."
If in the face of such media hostility more than four in ten still support the tax cut, that's pretty good.
Another sign the war is over for the media: The cable networks spent much of Tuesday morning focused on the Laci Peterson case.
CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan sent a memo to his staff on Monday reacting to criticism of him for withholding from CNN viewers information he had about Saddam Hussein's brutality, a confession he made in a Friday New York Times op-ed. "Withholding information that would get innocent people killed was the right thing to do, not a journalistic sin," Jordan insisted in the memo reported in Tuesday's Washington Post by Lisa de Moraes.
Jordan wrote: "Some critics say if I had told my Iraq horror stories sooner, I would have saved thousands of lives." Jordan countered: "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."
But specific, powerful anecdotes detailing the kinds of incidents which Jordan knew about -- fingernails and teeth pulled out, kidnapings, murder for saying the wrong thing, assassination efforts against leaders of other nations -- were not part of pre-war coverage on any network.
Meanwhile, Monday night on FNC the Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes declared that given what he knew, "CNN presented for years a distorted, false picture of Iraq."
Brit Hume marveled, as taken down by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "Well, one thing that's interesting in context with that election, because of the things that Eason Jordan wrote in the piece in the New York Times on Friday was that he had even been confided in by senior Iraqi officials who told him that Saddam Hussein was a bad guy and he really had to go. So, at that point, one would think Eason Jordan, at least, knew that the vote could, would probably, had been at least 10,998,998 to 2, or something, that there were people in there that didn't love him, and that, so the straight-faced coverage of the election, which CNN now, they're not the only news organization that was a little straight-faced about that election, but for them to do it knowing what executives knew, it strikes me as something to behold, isn't it?"
Jeffrey Birnbaum, Washington Bureau Chief for Time-Warner owned Fortune magazine, agreed and chided Jordan: "Yeah, it seems completely wrong that CNN or any news organization would work so hard to have a bureau in a foreign capital only to suppress the information that, not just the bureau, but the top news-gathering executive knows about that country."
Plus, in the midst of all of this, OpinionJournal.com's "Best of the Web" column (www.opinionjournal.com/best) noticed that CNN refused to have its news included in the U.S. government's new TV channel for Iraq, insisting it's an "independent" news operation. In the April 11 Washington Post, Mike Allen reported deep in story about the launch of the channel: "CNN declined to have its newscasts included. 'As an independent, global news organization, we did not think it was appropriate to participate in a U.S. government transmission,' spokeswoman Christa Robinson said." See the article as posted on www.washingtonpost.com.
And "Best of the Web" author James Taranto picked up the gem that four years ago Jordan complained about how the U.S. government was an impediment to CNN getting a bureau in Baghdad. From the May 7, 1999 Atlanta Business Chronicle:
Below is an excerpt from de Moraes' story, an excerpt from an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by Franklin Foer following up on his earlier New Republic story on how many media outlets, including CNN, traded truth for access to Baghdad, plus a link to a New York Post column on Jordan.
An excerpt from the story in the April 15 Washington Post by Lisa de Moraes, picking up after the section relaying the Jordan quotes listed above:
....Jordan denied that CNN withheld vital information from the public to maintain a 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 3 of this Iraq war."
In his memo, Jordan detailed the CNN reporters and anchors who have been booted or banned from Iraq, including Baghdad bureau chief Jane Arraf, who was barred in response to her reporting on a public protest demanding to know what happened to Iraqis who vanished after being abducted by Iraqi secret police. Also on the list were Christiane Amanpour, Wolf Blitzer, Aaron Brown, Brent Sadler, Nic Robertson, Rym Brahimi, Sheila MacVicar, Ben Wedeman and Richard Roth.
Jordan yesterday told The TV Column that he's "surprised and disappointed" by the criticism.
"To me it was about one thing and one thing only -- saving lives of innocent people. It had nothing to do with access....Anybody who thinks it's more than that is absolutely wrong. I don't know anybody who would report a story that would get somebody killed."
With regard to cynicism among critics that he had decided to report nothing about the atrocities while making trips to Iraq to lobby the government to keep CNN's Baghdad bureau open and to arrange interviews with Iraqi leaders, Jordan told The TV Column, "It should be noted that news execs from every TV network in this country went themselves to Baghdad to argue their case."
As of last week, it was safe to write about the information he'd collected because the Hussein regime was over, Jordan said.
"I have no doubt whatsoever that in every case at least one person would have been killed for every piece, if I had disclosed earlier."
In his staff memo, Jordan said he chose to write the op-ed piece "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."
END of Excerpt
Read the de Moraes story in full.
Following up on his October New Republic story, Frankin Foer penned a fresh piece for Monday's Wall Street Journal op-ed page, "CNN's Access of Evil." For an excerpt of the most interesting portions of the very illuminating 3,500 word article in the October 28, 2002 edition of the New Republic by its associate editor, refer to the October 18, 2002 CyberAlert.
Read the entire original Foer piece as posted on www.tnr.com.
An excerpt from Foer's April 14 Wall Street Journal op-ed:
....Of course, Mr. Jordan may feel he deserves a pinch of credit for coming clean like this. But this admission shouldn't get him any ethical journalism trophies. For a long time, CNN denied that its coverage skimped on truth. While I researched a story on CNN's Iraq coverage for the New Republic last October, Mr. Jordan told me flatly that his network gave "a full picture of the regime." In our conversation, he challenged me to find instances of CNN neglecting stories about Saddam's horrors. If only I'd had his Times op-ed!
Would that this were an outbreak of honesty, however belated. But it isn't. If it were, Mr. Jordan wouldn't be portraying CNN as Saddam's victim. He'd be apologizing for its cooperation with Iraq's erstwhile information ministry -- and admitting that CNN policy hinders truthful coverage of dictatorships. For CNN, the highest prize is "access," to score live camera feeds from a story's epicenter. Dictatorships understand this hunger, and also that it provides blackmail opportunities. In exchange for CNN bureaus, dictatorships require adherence to their own rules of reportage. They create conditions where CNN -- and other U.S. media -- can do little more than toe the regime's line.
The Iraq example is the telling one. Information Minister Mohammad Said al-Sahhaf has turned into an international joke, but the operation of his ministry was a model of totalitarian efficiency. The ministry compiled dossiers on U.S. journalists. It refused to issue visas to anyone potentially hostile -- which meant that it didn't issue visas to reporters who strayed from al-Sahhaf's talking points. CNN correspondents Wolf Blitzer, Christiane Amanpour and Richard Roth, to name a few, were banned for critical reporting. It didn't take much to get on this list. A reporter who referred to "Saddam" (not "President Saddam Hussein") was shut out for "disrespect." If you didn't cover agitprop, like Saddam's 100% victory in October's referendum, the ministry made it clear that you were out....
With so little prospect for reporting the truth, you'd think that CNN and other networks would have stopped sending correspondents into Iraq. But the opposite occurred. Each time the regime threatened to pull the plug, network execs set out to assiduously reassure them. Mr. Jordan made 13 of these trips.
To be fair, CNN was not the only organization to play this game. But as the network of record, soi-disant, they have a longer trail than most. It makes rich reading to return to transcripts and compare the CNN version of Iraq with the reality that has emerged. For nearly a decade, the network gave credulous treatment to orchestrated anti-U.S. protests. When Saddam won his most recent "election," CNN's Baghdad reporter Jane Arraf treated the event as meaningful: "The point is that this really is a huge show of support" and "a vote of defiance against the United States." After Saddam granted amnesty to prisoners in October, she reported, this "really does diffuse one of the strongest criticisms over the past decades of Iraq's human-rights records."
For long stretches, Ms. Arraf was American TV's only Baghdad correspondent. Her work was often filled with such parrotings of the Baathist line. On the Gulf War's 10th anniversary, she told viewers, "At 63, [Saddam] mocks rumors he is ill. Not just standing tall but building up. As soon as the dust settled from the Gulf War, and the bodies were buried, Iraq began rebuilding." She said little about human-rights violations, violent oppression, or festering resentment towards Saddam....
Reading Mr. Jordan now, you get the impression that CNN had no ethical option other than to soft-pedal. But there were alternatives. CNN could have abandoned Baghdad. Not only would they have stopped recycling lies, they could have focused more intently on obtaining the truth about Saddam. They could have diverted resources to Kurdistan and Jordan (the country), where recently arrived Iraqis could speak without fear of death. They could have exploited exile groups with underground contacts.
There's another reason why Mr. Jordan doesn't deserve applause. He says nothing about the lessons of Baghdad. After all, the network still sends correspondents to such countries as Cuba, Burma and Syria, ruled by dictators who impose media "guidelines."...
END of Excerpt
Saturday's New York Post carried an op-ed by editorial writer Eric Fettmann, "Craven News Network," in which he argued:
Read the April 12, 2003 CyberAlert item on this subject, complete with an excerpt from Jordan's op-ed.
Read the April 14, 2003 CyberAlert item with comments about it made on Fox News Sunday.
Whoppers of the day. Instead of celebrating the liberation of Iraq and the new freedom of its people, columnist/liberal activist Arianna Huffington wouldn't accede to HBO host Bill Maher's plea that even those, like him, who opposed the war now "enjoy" the moment of freedom for Iraqis. Instead, Huffington claimed that the U.S. victory provides "the very proof that those of us who opposed the war were right, in the fact that it was so easy."
On Friday's Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO, she also ridiculed those who compare the toppling of the Saddam Hussein statue with the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, suggesting that "is like comparing the kids of American Idol to the next coming, second coming of the Beatles. It's just ridiculous."
MRC analyst Patrick Gregory took down the relevant portion of the April 11 HBO show:
Maher: "I had several of my conservative friends, you are not among them Doug [McIntyre of KABC Radio] but you could have been, who said 'Are you gonna,' this week they said 'Are you gonna give it up for Bush now?' And let me give you my answer, and see what you think. I said 'No, not quite.' I mean I'm not ready to say that Prince Hal has turned into Henry VI, because as we were talking about in the satellite [earlier segment], I mean the jury is still way, way, way, way out on this. It may turn out as Mr. Khalid was indicating that we will wind up paying with a lot of our freedom for the Iraqi freedom that's going on right now. Okay, however I think it's sad that we are so partisan in this country that the half of the people, and I am certainly among them, who were against this war, can't enjoy the freedom that the Iraqis are having; they can't even enjoy this moment. And it seems to me that they're doing the same things that I found so disgusting when Clinton was President, which is working backwards from the premise 'I hate the President, now I'll find out whatever he's doing is wrong.' That's what was so crummy about the Clinton years, wasn't it?"
After audience applause, Maher continued: "That we, that people did that, they were like 'Bill Clinton is evil, we have to find out how to get him.' I mean, can't we give it up?"
At that point McIntyre cut her off, but she soon got to finish her illogical point: "The truth of the matter is that, let me just finish the thought I started. We got in there, and we were supposed to take on this Nazi right that was threatening Western civilization, and we proved to those of us who didn't want to go in that really he was not threatening Western civilization. He was a tyrant and there are many tyrants in the Middle East, and the fact that now there are people comparing what happened then, the toppling of the statue with the toppling of the Berlin Wall is like comparing the kids of American Idol to the next coming, second coming of the Beatles. It's just ridiculous."
What's ridiculous is that Huffington once passed herself off as a conservative.
HBO's site for Real Time with Bill Maher, which airs Friday nights at 11:30pm EDT/PDT is posted at www.hbo.com.
> Tonight, Tuesday, on CBS's Late Show with David Letterman: Tom Brokaw. Tonight on NBC's Tonight Show with Jay Leno: Chris Matthews.
-- Brent Baker