I originally posted this on my livejournal, 22nd February 2005. There’s a contemporary comment thread there, which I cannot figure out how to import over here.
At the 2005 World Economic Forum, held in Davos, CNN’s chief
news executive Eason Jordan said something in answer to a question. Precisely what he said is unknown, since the WEF is held under the Chatham House Rule: “participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.” No tapes of any session held under the Chatham House Rule can be released, either video or audio.
Eason Jordan was just back from Iraq. A blogger (Rony Abovitz) present at one of the discussions, either ignorant of the Chatham House Rule or deliberately breaking it, wrote: “During one of the discussions about the number of journalists killed in the Iraq War, Eason Jordan asserted that he knew of 12 journalists who had not only been killed by US troops in Iraq, but they had in fact been targeted.”
Eason Jordan had already been the target of a right-wing blogmobbing in April 2003, after an Op-Ed he wrote for the New York Times was distorted and used to smear him. It’s not surprising that he resigned when it was clear this off-the-cuff comment at what should have been an off-the-record meeting was going to be used as fuel for another blogmobbing.
Arguments have blazed up over whether the real scandal is what Eason Jordan said, or what happened to him as a result (though curiously enough, I’ve seen no one arguing that the real scandal is that Rony Abovitz egregiously broke the Chatham House Rule and, quite possibly, the organisers of the WEF and other such groups will consider banning amateurs who can’t keep the rule from such meetings in future). A few people have pointed out (Jeanne at Body and Soul for one) that the real scandal is that US soldiers have been killing journalists in Iraq – and no one in the American MSM seems to care very much.
I found an In Memoriam page that lists 24 journalists, translators, and cameramen who have died in Iraq:
To all war correspondents out there, to all those who cover the horror of mankinds cruelty to mankind, maybe one day the horror which you captured may persuade us that war is a barbaric way to solve our differences. An independent journalist who covers war is a peacemaker. The pursuit of truth can bring grim consequences to those who pursue it. Thanks to those who have been killed in their duty of reporting on the truth and to those imprisoned and tortured.
The 24 names are: Terry Lloyd, Paul Moran, Gaby Rado, Kaveh Golestan, Michael Kelly, Kamaran Abd al-Razaq Muhammad, David Bloom, Julio Anguita Parrado, Christian Liebig, Tariq Ayoub, Taras Protsyuk, Jose Couso, Mario Podesta, Veronica Cabrera, Elizabeth Neuffer, Walid Khalifa Hassan Al-Dulami, Richard Wild, Jeremy Little, Mazin Dana, Mark Fineman, Ahmad Shawkat, Duraid Isa Muhammad, and Ali Abdul Aziz.
Terry Lloyd was driving a van clearly marked TV when he came under fire from a US helicopter. His interpreter, Hussein Othman, was also killed. Fred Nérac, his cameraman, is missing, presumed dead.
Tareq Ayyoub was killed when the US bombed Al-Jazeera’s Baghdad office. Nabil Khoury (U.S. State Department spokesman) said: “My personal view is that it is a mistake, a grave mistake. It is something we all regret. I personally cannot imagine that a country which respects general freedoms can target media establishments.” This wasn’t the first time the US had bombed an Al-Jazeera office, nor is it the only time the US bombed “enemy” media establishments).
Taras Protsyuk was killed when a US tank fired on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, where most international journalists were staying – a fact known to the military command, whether or not the individuals in the tank knew it.
Mazen Dana was killed when two US tanks fired on him while he was filming outside Abu Ghraib prison. “His sound engineer, Nael al-Shyoukhi, said that the pair had spoken to a US soldier near the prison shortly before the shooting. ‘They saw us and they knew about our identities and our mission,’ he said. cite
Mazen Al-Tomaizi was killed when a US helicopter fired on people who had gathered around a Bradley fighting vehicle that had been set ablaze in Baghdad.
Ali Abdul Aziz was killed when US soldiers fired at him in Baghdad. His cameraman, Ali al-Khatib, was also killed in the same incident.
Asaad Kadhim (not listed on the In Memoriam website) was killed when US and Kurdish soldiers fired on him. His driver, Hussein Saleh, was killed in the same incident.
Hamid Rashid Wali (not listed on the In Memoriam website) was killed in a clash between US soldiers and Sadr’s insurgents.
Dhia Najim (not listed on the In Memoriam website) was killed by a US marine sniper in Ramadi.
In August 2004, INSI reported that 51 media workers had been killed in Iraq (by January 2005, when Jordan made his comments, this figure had risen to 62). To give some idea of how high this figure is: “According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 58 journalists died during the Algerian civil war of 1991-1996, while the International Federation of Journalists says 63 journalists died in the Vietnam war.” This death toll isn’t something anyone whose job it is to send journalists and other media workers into war zones, takes lightly, and Eason Jordan’s comments at Davos can easily be understood in that context – just as his painfully honest account of the restrictions required of him when he worked in Iraq, during Saddam Hussein’s regime, could have been easily understood.
There’s been much argument about what “targetting” means in this context. In the sense of the US military deliberately deciding to kill media workers for being media workers, clearly there have been incidents, acknowledged by the US military as such, where this has happened: bombing of TV stations in Belgrade and Baghdad.
In the sense of soldiers shooting at media workers to kill them, whether or not they knew they were shooting at media workers, of course this has happened: several incidents are documented above.
Whether or not some soldiers have shot at media workers to kill them, knowing that they were killing media workers, would be a matter for public investigation. Some incidents, such as the killings of Terry Lloyd, Hussein Othman, Mazen Dana, Ali Abdul Aziz, and Ali al-Khatibm would certainly seem to merit public investigation – something which the Pentagon has persistently refused to provide.
It’s no news to anyone that the US military is apt to kill its allies by mistake – Anthony Swofford, a US veteran of the first Gulf war writes about this: John Simpson famously reported about one incident shortly after it happened, while still bleeding from his injuries. It’s entirely possible that the Pentagon just doesn’t want to admit that the high death-toll among non-embedded journalists in the Iraq war is the result of pure carelessness on their part: they’ve never been very helpful to non-American victims of “friendly fire”, and, notably, all the journalists killed in Iraq by US soldiers were not American.
There’s a list of casualties up to the beginning of November here.
The ongoing scandal is – why isn’t the US military doing more to ensure that US troops don’t kill journalists? Whether it happens by accident or where there is clear intent (as when three Reuters journalists were captured and abused by US soldiers, in a manner very reminiscent of Abu Ghraib) this is something that the US military, and the American public, ought to care about.
What the right-wing blogmob got het up about, though, was not the shame of the US military’s apparent inability to avoid targetting noncombatants, but the fact that Eason Jordan mentioned that this was happening. It was argued that we ought not to care about journalists being killed: they choose to go into lethal situations, and ought to take the risk accordingly. Iraq is a dangerous place to be, since Bush invaded: as the recent Lancet study showed, at least 100 000 people have been killed (many of them “due to aerial attacks by coalition forces, with women and children being frequent victims”) since Bush & Co invaded in March 2003.
Should we care about 12 noncombatants killed by US soldiers when so many noncombatants have been killed by US soldiers? But it doesn’t appear that the rightwing blogmob who targetted Eason Jordan for talking about the 12, actually care any more about the 100 000: most of the rightwing blogmob attacks on the Lancet study consisted of unscientific attempts to decry the study’s methodology, while a few simply denied that the figure could possibly be that high. (A sound analysis of the study’s methodogy can be found here.) Nor does the Lancet study cover noncombatants targeted by US (and UK) cluster bombs, who were only maimed, and not killed.
In part, I think, the right-wing blogmobbing of Eason Jordan was simply caused by a settled dislike of Jordan and via him of CNN, because CNN cannot be relied upon to invariably report in complete sympathy with Bush & Co. (Given that Bush supporters have their own channel, Fox News, this would seem a little selfish on their part; but I suspect the fact that they can switch on one news channel that will tell them what they want to hear and nothing else, makes them more outraged at news channels that report the world somewhat differently. If Fox News is right, the other channels must be wrong – there must be a mass media conspiracy to make Fox News look bad! – and so on.)
But in part, I think, the right-wing blogmobbing was triggered by a wish that noncombatant deaths in Iraq caused by the US invasion shall remain invisible. Until the Lancet study came out, I remember getting abused by some right-wingers when I cited Iraq Body Count – after the Lancet study, many of the right-wingers seemed to flee to IBC, I suppose because 18305 confirmed civilian deaths in Iraq seemed a comforting kind of figure next to 100 000 deaths. (IBC’s response to the Lancet study is here.)
It is difficult to argue that the US invasion of Iraq must have been a good thing, welcomed by “good Iraqis” (as opposed to the growing insurgency), when so many Iraqis have been killed as a direct result. It is much easier if you can bring yourself to ignore these deaths, to claim they couldn’t have happened, or that most of them must have been “insurgents”.
Journalists who report on what’s happening – who are courageous enough to go out into dangerous territory and see for themselves what is going on – deserve more respect than, it appears, the rightwing blogmob is willing to give them.
The dangers that media workers face in Iraq have been an issue from the beginning to the present day. It’s not only important because these people are non-combatants: it’s an issue because media workers are attempting to report accurately on current events. Kill journalists, and you don’t just kill an individual: you kill the story that journalist could have told.
Al-Jazeera has been banned from reporting in Iraq. Abdel Kader Al-Saadi, Al-Arabiya’s reporter in Falluja, was arrested on 11th November and held prisoner by US forces till 23rd November.
It may be that every single media worker killed by US troops died by accident – that the US soldiers who killed them were firing hysterically, in panic, without thought, without judgement, carelessly – any or all of the above. We know this happens. We know noncombatants are killed as a result. Was it the case in every single incident above? No one really knows, because the Pentagon has in most cases declined to investigate, and in no case made its investigation, which just happened to find the US military innocent in all cases, open to the public.
We are expected, it appears, to accept the Pentagon’s word for it that US soldiers only kill noncombatants by accident, and there’s nothing the general public needs to know about why these “accidents” happen – and why they happen so often.
The right-wing blogosphere appears to feel that it’s not only wrong to question the Pentagon’s word on this topic, it’s even wrong to mention the topic – even at a closed discussion where the subject has come up.
What’s the real scandal of the Eason Jordan incident? It’s really not what Jordan said, whatever that was. Nor is it even that Jordan lost his job over it.
Update: this entry is also being discussed over at Obsidian Wings, thanks to Slartibartfast.
I’ve added a new link to the entry about Mazen Dana, found via Suburban Guerrilla.