News Network chief news executive Eason Jordan's recent admission that
he withheld information about how Iraqi officials intimidated and tortured
Iraqis who had helped CNN over the past decade has opened up a heated
debate about journalism ethics.
Jordan wrote about the situation in an op-ed. In
the article, Jordan said that he traveled to the Iraqi capital 13 times
to talk government officials into keeping the CNN bureau there open
and to arrange interviews with Iraqi leaders.
CNN withheld information about torture in Iraq
"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 wrote.
In one example, CNN's Iraqi cameraman was abducted, beaten and subjected
to electroshock torture in the basement of a secret police headquarters
because he refused answer what Jordan called "ludicrous" questions.
The CNN executive said that if his network reported on the cameraman's
torture, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's henchmen would have killed the
man and may have gone after his family and co-workers.
Jordan also wrote that Saddam's oldest son, Uday Hussein, told him in
1995 that he intended to assassinate King Hussein of Jordan and two
brothers-in-law who had defected to Jordan. The CNN chief told the king,
who dismissed the threat, but the two brothers-in-law returned to Iraq
and were later assassinated.
The right decision?
Jordan's admissions drew criticism from commentators, both liberal and
On CNN's rival, the more conservative Fox News Channel, columnist Charles
Krauthammer said, "It's a classic example of selling your soul
for the story. He clearly gave up truth for access."
Franklin Foer, associate editor of the more liberal New Republic magazine,
said he was suspicious of Jordan's "outbreak of honesty" and
suggested he should apologize for CNN's cooperation with Iraq's Information
Ministry and admit "that CNN policy hinders truthful coverage of
Responding to critics, Jordan sent a memo to his staff defending his
actions: "CNN kept pushing for access in Iraq, while never compromising
its journalistic standards in doing so," he wrote.
"Withholding information that would get innocent people killed
was the right thing to do, not a journalistic sin."
Sympathy for CNN's dilemma
Some news directors are sympathetic to Jordan's dilemma. "If we
thought that we were endangering somebody we had hired to help us to
report, that would be something that we would weigh very heavily,"
Michele Grant, the British Broadcasting Company's director of development
in the United States, said.
Alex S. Jones, director of Harvard University's Shorenstein Center on
the Press, Politics and Public Policy, said Jordan was not the only
news chief to make such difficult decisions. "I think every news
organization has to make those kinds of calls from time to time,"
op-ed - (n.) short for opposite editorial,
a page of special features usually opposite the editorial page of a
newspaper and containing personal opinions and essays
dictatorship - (n.) autocratic rule,
control, or leadership; a form of government in which absolute power
is concentrated in a dictator or a small group.