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February 6, 2005

Eason Jordan's Job is the Political Job in TV News

"...CNN also works like a private network among the powerful, who can shoot mesages to each other (see what trouble I cause?) with headlines. TV news is often used for the propaganda of the word, but so much more effectively it sends the propaganda of the deed."

(Background is PressThink, Weekend Note on Eason Jordan (Feb. 5). See also Richard Sambrook of the BBC: What Eason Jordan Said in Davos (Feb. 7)

We have a poor vocabulary for describing just what an operation like CNN actually is. A 24-hour cable news network, yes. But there are aspects of a sovereign state about it, in “negotiation” with other states and heads of those states.

Sometimes CNN works like a private network among the powerful, who can shoot mesages to each other, (see what trouble I cause?) with headlines. TV news can be used for the propaganda of the word, and often is, but so much more effectively it sends the propaganda of the deed.

So CNN is a lot of things.

Eason Jordan’s job, as I interpret it, is a political post. High pressure one, too. For CNN wants to operate in every country in the world. It needs permission of some kind from each and every prince. Someone has to meet all those princes to open the bureaus. Someone has to explain CNN and its intentions to governments and critics— and paranoids.

It is Eason Jordan who has to “get CNN into Baghdad,” and get his people out of there when they are in danger. It is Jordan who goes to the military with CNN’s complaints. It’s there in his bio, which is listed under anchors and reporters:

He chairs the CNN Editorial Board, is a member of the CNN Executive Committee and provides strategic advice to CNN’s senior management team. Jordan’s global portfolio includes managing CNN’s editorial relationships with international affiliates, governments and major newspapers. He oversees CNN’s World Report Conference and the CNN International Professional Program. Jordan travels the world both as a CNN executive and a working journalist.

Eason Jordan is not the President but the Colin Powell of news at CNN, and his skills have to be diplomatic, as well as strategic. Therefore being diplomatic in what you say, especially in a public forum, is in the essence of his role. He deals with governments in tense situations. Much of what he does never becomes known. It can’t be. (See Jordan’s op-ed about it and Bob Steele, “The Secrets He Kept: Eason Jordan’s moral dilemma.”)

Yet he is listed as a reporter and anchor, officially. Officially, he travels the world as a working journalist. He “represents” CNN newsgathering to the world as a senior statesman.

I have met Jordan, who is a very nice—and interesting—man, extremely gracious for someone in his position. I didn’t have a chance to interview him, which I regret. (I did, however, question Princell Hair, then executive vice president and general manager of CNN’s U.S. operations.)

You could easily picture Jordan as a candidate for office, or let’s say a Senator’s chief of staff. He’s a politician of news— a difficult and necessary job. He’s also the chief diplomatic officer for CNN, which, in certain respects, is a kind of principality among the states: the information states. Sovereign in global video, which can trigger events and end regimes. I said Jordan negotiates with governments. He does not have to beg.

Some of his worldy outlook comes through in an interview he gave to Sarah Sullivan in 2002. There is one part I find fascinating. He describes CNN International as a supra-national player, synthesizing in its offices scattered worldwide a kind of World Journalism or global professionalism in news that, in Jordan’s vision, transcends the bias of any one nation, and certainly of the “base” country. Listen…

The reality is that we are a US-based news channel, but that doesn’t mean we’re American in perspective with our international service. In fact the person who oversees all our international outlets is not an American at all, he’s British, and we hired him from the BBC several years ago. There are more than fifty nationalities of journalists who work at CNN International producing that service. If we were to move CNN’s base to Egypt maybe they’d say we’re Egyptian?you have to be based somewhere.

It’s the people who produce the channel and the people who provide the reporting who are really responsible for it, and those are people from all over the world, the very best journalists and program makers we can find. No matter what CNN International does, as long as CNN’s headquarters is in the United States people are going to say, well, it’s an American service. But the reality is that it’s an international service based in the United States, and we don’t make any apologies about that.

It’s a political job and this is Eason Jordan’s political philosophy. It has global reach. And big implications for a journalism of global voices. But he’s no per-fessor. He has to speak with a diplomat’s tongue, in all situations, and certainly the World Economic Forum is one.

These are facts to keep in mind if there is a tape, and you are interested enough to listen.

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links

I was a guest on NPR’s On the Media this week, talking with host Brooke Gladstone about the rise of the term “MSM,” or mainstream media. Listen here. (It’s 3-4 minutes.)

See also PressThink, Weekend Note on Eason Jordan.

“Before Eason is stoned, are we sure that we are all without sin? Right wing bloggers: are you holding our leaders to the same standard of accountability that we are now holding Eason Jordan?” Rony Abovitz has doubts, newly expressed (Feb. 6). He’s the one who first wrote about Eason’s comments in Davos.

Swarms of bloggers, in a furious feeding frenzy that I have only seen before in sharks, are tasting blood and moving in for the kill. What has now been dubbed “Easongate” by Rebecca MacKinnon has begun to leak into comics, hundreds of blogs, as well as the Washington Times… I just saw on NBC’s Chris Matthews show fellow blogger and political pundit Hugh Hewitt break the story on American television, promising that next week Easongate would blow open as big news. A lynch mob of bloggers is asking for Eason’s head, and it seems that all of the excitement is moving towards a seemingly inevitable conclusion: the deposing of a news media chief disliked by the right, but apparently loved by an Aljazeera audience to whom he is supposedly pandering.

Hugh Hewitt replies: “No one is about to ‘stone’ Eason Jordan —he is catching hell for slandering the good men and women in uniform. That’s all. You can’t blast heroes as killers and walk off the field to cocktail parties in Davos and pretend nothing happened.”

See this by (former CNN-er) Rebecca MacKinnon on CNN’s “American” identity and its commercial nature.

Posted by Jay Rosen at February 6, 2005 12:24 AM