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February 08, 2005

Kurtz Defends Eason; Kaus Destroys Kurtz

Kurtz goes after East Jordan with a wet kiss (registration required).

Kaus goes after Kurtz with a vengeance.

Echoing Dan Rather, Kurtz plays the conservative card:

Kurtz says Jordan's remarks triggered "widespread denunciations ... by conservative bloggers." That's true. But Barney Frank isn't a conservative, and neither is Dodd. (And neither, I'd say, is kausfiles, but we can argue about that offline.) Kurtz's "conservative blogger" paragraph is a dog whistle to WaPo readers telling them "Don't worry. It's just some right-wing Web kooks on the warpath."

The "Collateral Damage" Canard: Eason's big defense goes as follows:

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who attended the World Economic Forum panel at which Jordan spoke, recalled yesterday that Jordan said he knew of 12 journalists who were killed by coalition forces in Iraq. At first, said Frank, "it sounded like he was saying it was official military policy to take out journalists." But Jordan later "modified" his remarks to say some U.S. soldiers did this "maybe knowing they were killing journalists, out of anger. . . . He did say he was talking about cases of deliberate killing," Frank said. Jordan denied that last night, saying he had been responding to Frank's comment that the 63 journalists who have been killed in Iraq were "collateral damage" in the war. "I was trying to make a distinction between 'collateral damage' and people who got killed in other ways," Jordan said last night. "I have never once in my life thought anyone from the U.S. military tried to kill a journalist. Never meant to suggest that. Obviously I wasn't as clear as I should have been on that panel."

That is of course pure bullsh*t. (Hopefully that asterisk will help me get unblocked by the Pentagon.)

Until now, there have only been two sorts of deliberately-caused deaths in war: deliberate targeting of known or beleived enemies, and collateral damage (including friendly fire kills). Eason Jordan is now claiming he merely was attempting to create a third category, a category which isn't quite "deliberate targeting" but isn't quite the "accidental targeting" of collateral damage.

What on earth could this "Third Way" of death in war possibly be?

If a squad of Marines are on patrol in a terrorist-held block, and suddenly a figure pops up and they shoot on that figure and kill it, and then it turns out to be a civilian woman, obviously they both 1) deliberately engaged the target and 2) "scored" a collateral damage kill. The woman's death is collateral damage, as they obviously would not have shot at her had they had complete information about her identity; they shot at her because she surprised them in a threat-heavy environment.

Eason Jordan's ridiculous defense is that he thinks, apparently, that shouldn't be counted as "collateral damage," and that is all he claims he was saying about the deaths of journalists.

But of course when innocents are killed in war, it is generally due to "deliberately targeting" them-- their identity as innocents, however, is not known at the time of the killing. When a bomb is deliberately but erroneously dropped on a home believed to contain terrorists (but actually containing civilians), that is again a case of deliberate (but tragically wrong) targeting, and a case of collateral damage.

There is no "third category" Eason Jordan was trying to establish. There are enough witnesses on record who are quite clear that he was talking about the US deliberately -- and knowingly -- targeting (and torturing!) journalists.

His claim about trying to say the journalists weren't quite deliberately targeted, and yet weren't quite not deliberately targeted, is a bit of after-the-fact spin which Howie Kurtz, desperate to keep his high-profile, high-paying CNN gig, is only to happy to credit as plausible.

David Gergen-- Witness for the Defense? Kurtz also casts David Gergen as a rebuttal witness, although his remarks have previously been interpreted as evidence that Jordan said and meant just what he's reported to have said and meant. See, for example, Michelle Malkin's interview with Gergen:

First, 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."

Gergen mentioned that Jordan had just returned from Iraq and was "caught up in the tension of what was happening there. It's a raw, emotional wound for him."

Gergen said he asked Jordan point blank whether he believed the policy of the U.S. military was to sanction the targeting of journalists. Gergen said Jordan answered no, but then proceeded to speculate about a few incidents involving journalists killed in the Middle East--a discussion which Gergen decided to close down because "the military and the government weren't there to defend themselves."

It seems that Jordan did attempt to "walk back" his Al Jazeera-esque charges, but he then went on to walk back the walkback.

In any event, Gergen still says that Jordan did make the charges, fairly clearly-- even if he then did attempt to kinda-sorta take them back without quite taking them back.

Kurtz takes this narrative as exonerating Jordan-- and the only narrative you should really put stock in:

Two other panelists backed Jordan's account. David Gergen, editor at large at U.S. News & World Report, said he "sort of gasped" when Jordan spoke of journalists being "deliberately killed," but that Jordan "realized, as soon as he said it, he'd gone too far" and "walked it back."

[The other panelist is a BBC reporter, who repeats and endorses Jordan's odd claim of an intermediate stage between deliberate, knowing killing of a target and collateral damage.]

Kurtz concludes with Gergen's "give the guy a break" plea:

Gergen said Jordan had just returned from Baghdad and was still "deeply distraught" over the journalists who have died in Iraq. "This was a guy caught up in the tension of the moment," Gergen said. "He deserves the benefit of the doubt."

Ahhhh... giving one side the last word. A classic.

But that is all Gergen's opinion as to what scorn, or lack thereof, we should hold Jordan in. It says nothing about the actual fact of whether he made these outlandish and near-seditious charges before a foreign audience (consisting of many Arabs and Muslims). What the hell is this statement doing here at all?

Before we decide whether or not to forgive, we first have to establish if there's been a transgression in the first place, and Kurtz' deliberately-deceptive piece tries to make that initial inquiry as difficult for the reader as possible.

So: According to Kurtz, we should forgive his beloved boss, and just skip over trying to figure out if he committed an egregrious journalistic breach in claiming, without evidence, that the US military deliberately and knowingly targets journalists in Iraq.

Reader Richard Sees a Pattern: And suggests that we ought not forget the Tailwind story.

Lawyering Up: It seems to me the word "deliberately" is a bit vague in this situation.

Lawyers differentiate between willful behavior -- i.e., you meant to do what you did; it wasn't a muscle spasm or something done while sleepwalking or having a seizure or something -- and knowing behavior -- i.e., you had full knowledge of what you were doing and the likely consequences of your actions.

Collateral damage kills may be be both non-willful and non-knowing -- i.e., purely accidental -- and willful but non-knowing -- i.e., you intend to target a figure, but you don't know that figure is actually a non-combatant.

True "deliberate" targeting requires both willfullness and knowingness.

Eason Jordan is attempting to slice the baloney very thin by suggesting that one typical case of collateral damage kill -- the willful but non-knowing case -- is actually not collateral damage at all, but some heretofore unnamed category ("collateral damage deliberately inflicted," perhaps?)

Again, this just doesn't make any sense. We have not previously distinguished between purely accidental collateral kills and collateral kills in which the target was intentionally targeted, but without complete knowledge that the target was innocent.

But, much like Clinton's nonsensical legal parsing over whether one can simultaneously be "alone" and "not alone" with someone giving you fellatio, the semantics (while clearly nonsensical as urged by Jordan) get a bit hard to untangle and the hope of the double-talker is that people will just give up trying to follow the discussion at all.

And then of course they will MoveOn (TM).

Howie Kurtz has done the best he could to muddy the issue on behalf of his embattled boss.

Congrats, Howie. Your job, at least at CNN, is safe.


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posted by Ace at 02:59 PM

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