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February 7, 2005

Richard Sambrook of the BBC: What Eason Jordan Said in Davos

"This culture of 'closing ranks' coupled with hostile comments about the media from senior politicians and others, has led some in the media community (not necessarily Eason or myself) to believe the military are careless as to whether journalists are killed or not."

New at PressThink (Feb. 10): Blog Storm Troopers or Pack Journalism at its Best?

Richard Sambrook (bio) is Director of BBC World Service and Global News. He was part of the panel discussion at Davos that has become the focus of so much attention from bloggers. See PressThink, Weekend Note on Eason Jordan, for background.

Joining Sambrook on the panel were U.S. Congressman Barney Frank, Abdullah Abdullah, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan, and Eason Jordan, Chief News Executive of CNN. David Gergen of Harvard’s Kennedy School and US News was the moderator. I wrote to Sambrook, told him of the controversy among some bloggers about Jordan’s comments, and asked him what happened on the panel. In particular, I asked whether the original account by Rony Abovitz was accurate. This is his reply in full.

Statement of Richard Sambrook
Director of BBC World Service and Global News

Eason’s comments were a reaction to a statement that journalists killed in Iraq amounted to “collateral damage”. His point was that many of these journalists (and indeed civilians) killed in Iraq were not accidental victims—as suggested by the terms “collateral damage”—but had been “targeted”, for example by snipers.

He clarified this comment to say he did not believe they were targeted because they were journalists, although there are others in the media community who do hold that view (personally, I don’t). They had been deliberately killed as individuals— perhaps because they were mistaken for insurgents, we don’t know. However the distinction he was seeking to make is that being shot by a sniper, or fired at directly is very different from being, for example, accidentally killed by an explosion.

Some in the audience, and Barney Frank on the panel, took him to mean US troops had deliberately set out to kill journalists. That is not what he meant or, in my view, said; and he clarified his comment a number of times to ensure people did not misunderstand him. However, they seem to have done so.

A second point he made, which in my view is extremely important, is that when journalists have been killed by the military in conflict it has been almost impossible to have an open inquiry or any accountability for the death on behalf of families, friends or employers. Very little information is released, we know investigations do take place but the results are not passed on.

This culture of “closing ranks” coupled with hostile comments about the media from senior politicians and others, has led some in the media community (not necessarily Eason or myself) to believe the military are careless as to whether journalists are killed or not and to no longer respect the traditional right to report.

As yet, for example, there has been no adequate explanation for the attack on the media hotel in Baghdad, the Palestine, which killed one Ukrainian Reuters cameraman and one cameraman for Spanish TV in 2003. The US tank commander suggested he had come under sniper fire from the building. That is now clearly not the case; it was well known, including in the Pentagon, that the Palestine was used by the media and yet it was attacked directly and purposely. Why? An absence of explanation unhelpfully feeds suspicion in some quarters.

More than sixty journalists and media workers have been killed in Iraq since march 2003. Reporting from conflict zones appears to be more dangerous than ever. Check these reports from NewsSafety and the Committee to Protect Journalists.

I am leading an international committee of inquiry into the reasons for the major increase in journalist fatalities around the world. It will make recommendations for improving safety and reducing risk and possibly suggest some changes to international law which ensure that when journalists are killed we can get a proper and open investigation and sense of accountability.

Finally, some people say, if it’s so dangerous don’t go. I’m afraid I believe that bearing witness, first hand reporting from wars, is a fundamental duty of news organisations. We need to do all we can to ensure we can continue to bear witness, but to do so without carelessly losing lives.

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…

UPDATE, Feb. 8: Howard Kurtz, who hosts a show on CNN, publishes an account in the Washington Post: Eason Jordan, Quote, Unquote. “CNN News Chief Clarifies His Comments on Iraq.”

What CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan said, or didn’t say, in Davos, Switzerland, last month has become a burgeoning controversy among bloggers and media critics.

In it, Barney Frank is more critical of Jordan and David Gergen is more sympathetic. Read the rest.

Mickey Kaus reacts in Slate (a Washington Post property): “…let’s just say that if a p.r. agent or damage control spinner produced a piece designed to try and save CNN exec Eason Jordan’s job, it would be the piece Kurtz wrote in the Post today.”

Joe Gandelman is critical of Howard Kurtz: “coupled with his delayed reporting on this raging controversy now leaves him looking like his CNN boss’ p.r. person and as if he balked on this story. And parts [sound] like the corporate stories newspapers officially put out when they assign an in-house reporter to report on a dismissed columnist, or to explain a major controversy over an error.”

Jude Nagurney Camwell at the American Street is critical of “those who are hot on Eason’s trail.”

I don’t think Eason Jordan should be professionally crucified for what we can liken to a motherly nature when discussing a delicate matter (out of the public eye, for the most part - the Jan. 27 Davos session was supposed to be off the record).

Those who are hot on Eason’s trail are only those who wish to inflict some political damage on the few in the mainstream media who still possess extreme courage of conviction. This is not a case of Dan Rather using fake documents. This seems to be more of a case where a professional journalist has called, in his own fumbling way, for better judgement and a higher degree of care and liability on the part of U.S. military in choosing their targets.

Read it. Her voice matters.

Jim Geraghty replies to Camwell. (And Camwell replies to Geraghty.) See also his Would Journalists Accept this Stonewalling From Any Other Industry?

“The dog has barked and, without the videotape, the caravan has moved on.” Gerard Van der Leun at American Digest says it’s over and Jordan won.

The New York Sun also chimes in (Feb. 8). Its article has a new fact— this:

The Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens, who covered the panel for his paper, told the Sun that after the panel concluded, Mr. Jordan was surrounded by European and Middle Eastern attendees who warmly congratulated him for his alleged “bravery and candor” in discussing the matter.

Mr. Stephens broke the news of Mr. Jordan’s statements for his paper’s “political diary” blog.

The Wall Street Journal broke the story? If Stephens did break the story then he may also have broken the ground rules set by the World Economic Forum. UPDATE: LeShawn Barber has the text, sent to her by a reader. It raises a lot of questions. First of all, the Journal did violate the rules the WEF is now invoking. But with bloggers running around trying to collect first hand accounts, and journalists who were there saying, “I don’t have detailed notes,” why does Stephens, who obviously had notes, remain silent? With the blog world heating up, why does the Journal’s editorial page not breathe a word? Odd.

Instapundit has links to bloggers’ reactions.

The Forum has now decided not to release a tape or transcript, on the grounds that the session was held under rules preventing participants from being quoted directly. See Sisyphus, here and here; Rebecca MacKinnon’s correspondence with a WEF official.

Mark Jurkowitz in the Boston Globe (Feb. 8):

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a nonprofit organization based in New York, says nine journalists and at least two media support workers have been killed by fire from US forces in Iraq, according to the organization’s Middle East program coordinator, Joel Campagna. Campagna said that the group has not concluded that any deaths resulted from deliberate targeting of journalists but that some cases raised issues of ”fire discipline and indiscriminate fire.”

Stephen Silver: “I have great respect for the blog phenomenon and am proud to be a part of it. And I’ve certainly been known to occasionally criticize—or downright tear apart—examples of bad journalism that have appeared in ‘MSM’ newspapers and magazines. But the blanket denunciations of ‘MSM’ have mushroomed to the point of absurdity.”

Also listen to my On the Media interview about the rise of the term, MSM. And Matt Welch in Reason, Biased about Bias: “The hunt for ideology becomes an ideology.”

Jeff Jarvis:

This is also about the speed of news. Back in the day of the news gatekeepers — now long gone, whether they know it or not — journalists could take their time reporting a story, for news wasn’t news until they said it was. And that wasn’t all bad: It allowed journalists to check facts, call sources, get it right. But news got faster. All in all, that’s good; we’re informed faster… You can’t take your sweet time reporting a story anymore, for the citizens will get ahead of you even without your resources and access.

Blogger Michelle Malkin speaks to Congressman Barney Frank (Feb. 7):

Rep. Frank said Jordan did assert that there was deliberate targeting of journalists by the U.S. military. After Jordan made the statement, Rep. Frank said he immediately “expressed deep skepticism.” Jordan backed off (slightly), Rep. Frank said, “explaining that he wasn’t saying it was the policy of the American military to target journalists, but that there may have been individual cases where they were targeted by younger personnel who were not properly disciplined.”

Captain’s Quarters has a skeptical reply to my post, but adds, “At least Sambrook spoke up, something so many others appear loathe to do.”

Michelle Malkin talks to David Gergen (Feb. 7):

Gergen confirmed that Eason Jordan did in fact initially assert that journalists in Iraq had been targeted by military “on both sides.” Gergen, who has known Jordan for some 20 years, told me Jordan “realized as soon as the words had left his mouth that he had gone too far” and “walked himself back.” Gergen said as soon as he heard the assertion that journalists had been deliberately targeted, “I was startled. It’s contrary to history, which is so far the other way. Our troops have gone out of their way to protect and rescue journalists.”

Posted by Jay Rosen at February 7, 2005 8:59 AM