American Pie 24.04.03

Most the shooting may be over, but the sniping continues here over the revelation by CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan that for many years, in a bid to keep an office in Baghdad and to protect its Iraqi staff, the news service downplayed, in fact in many cases ignored, stories of how Saddam Hussein’s regime tortured and killed Iraqis. And even at one time plotted the assassination of the King of Jordan. Many of its critics say that CNN fell down in its journalistic duty. It’s failure to report what it knew – and for which it had the evidence – tarnishes the network’s image. The “Craven News Network” was how the NY Post put it. Some critics suggested that had CNN reported what it knew history might have been different. CNN might have lost its Baghdad bureau, but the whole Arab world might have turned against Hussein years ago – and thousands of lives might have been saved. Defending his stance, the CNN news executive in a memo to the network’s staff, insisted: “Withholding information that would get innocent people killed was the right thing to do, not a journalistic sin.” He added that if he had told the stories sooner, instead of waiting until the war in Iraq was virtually over, “the regime would have tracked down and killed the innocent people who told me those stories”. He went on to point out how many CNN staff, over the years, had been booted or banned from Iraq. “To me it was about one thing and one thing only – saving lives of innocent people. It had nothing to do with access.” In his defence, some papers here have pointed out that in years to come, as more and more networks open bureaux in the world’s trouble spots, the dilemma may get worse, or murkier. It’s a subject which the other networks here, CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox, have all declined to discuss.

Although it never sold more than 15,000 copies (and lately was down to 3,000) the Partisan Review was always regarded as the magazine for American intellectuals. It was the fore-runner of such magazines as the New Republic and the NY Review of Books. Just six months after the death of its founder and editor-in-chief, William Phillips, the 66-year-old quarterly has folded. Said his widow: “After Perestroika, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the breaking down of the Berlin Wall, the magazine lost its purpose.”

Still on the war, did embedding work? Most journalists from the US media seem to agree that it worked moderately well – and especially well for those assigned to units that saw lots of action. Nevertheless, it has raised a new question. Just how involved should a correspondent be in the action? One of the best media stories published here was the account by a Boston Herald reporter Jules Crittenden, who was embedded with the US Army’s 3rd Infantry. He reported that while rolling through Baghdad he spotted three Iraqi soldiers taking aim with rocket-propelled grenades at the very lightly armoured vehicle in which he riding. He quickly drew the attention of the vehicle’s gunner, who promptly blasted the Iraqi soldiers to death. Only afterwards did he try to analyse what he’d done. “Some in our profession might think that, as a reporter and a non-combatant, I was there only to observe. There are I am sure some who will question my ethics.” To which the Boston Herald reporter had this response. “Screw them, they weren’t there.” Nevertheless, there are some who would argue that embedding journalists with fighting units places them in the difficult position of being seen as combatants – and even sometimes, as Crittenden was briefly, of being combatants.

By Jeffrey Blyth

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