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February 14, 2005

Let's Be Honest: We're All A Bunch of "Salivating Morons"

Captain's Quarters digests some of the reaction from the, ahem, legitimate media to Eason Jordan's blog-induced resignation.

Bloggers saw it one way:

For some bloggers - people who publish the sites known as Web logs - it was a declaration that this was just the beginning. Edward Morrissey, a call center manager who lives near Minneapolis and has written extensively about the Jordan controversy, wrote on his blog, Captain's Quarters (captainsquartersblog.com): "The moral of the story: the media can't just cover up the truth and expect to get away with it - and journalists can't just toss around allegations without substantiation and expect people to believe them anymore."

On the other hand, the writer for the Columbia Journalism Review website -- remember, CJR is the venue for Chris Pein's moronic defense of Dan Rather, and criticism of bloggers for daring to publish the truth about the "dodgy documents" supplied by partisan crank Bill Burkett -- has a different take:

Steve Lovelady, a former editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Wall Street Journal and now managing editor of CJR Daily, the Web site of The Columbia Journalism Review, has been among the most outspoken.

"The salivating morons who make up the lynch mob prevail," he lamented online after Mr. Jordan's resignation. He said that Mr. Jordan cared deeply about the reporters he had sent into battle and was "haunted by the fact that not all of them came back."

Of course, this reaction was presaged by the ever-prescient Ace of Spades in a weekend news parody:

[Eason Jordan] says he plans to spend "more time with his family." He also says he's considering co-authoring a book with former NYT Editor-in-Chief Howell Raines and departing CBS News achorman Dan Rather. The book is tentatively titled, Bloggers: Why Do They Hate Us?, and will explore the "root causes" of the blogosphere's disatisfaction with, and rage against, the Western media.

"Hopefully, our book will be a sensitive exploration of the differences that separate bloggers and the legtimate professional media," Mr. Jordan said. "We intend to explore these issues with the characteristic objectivity we're famous for. Our take is that bloggers don't like us because they're all stupid and jealous right-wing mouth-breathers and troglodytic wack-a-doos, but that's just a working premise at this point. We're open to other theories, like that they're simply all mid-functional retards."

Mouth-breathers? Mid-functional retards? Compare to "salivating morons." Close enough for non-government non-work.

Meanwhile, the WSJ's conservative editorialists stand with the MSM:

As for Mr. Jordan, he initially claimed that U.S. forces in Iraq had targeted and killed 12 journalists. Perhaps he intended to offer no further specifics in order to leave an impression of American malfeasance in the minds of his audience, but there is no way of knowing for sure. What we do know is that when fellow panelist Representative Barney Frank pressed Mr. Jordan to be specific, the CNN executive said he did not believe it was deliberate U.S. government policy to target journalists. Pressed further, Mr. Jordan could only offer that "there are people who believe there are people in the military who have it out" for journalists, and cite two examples of non-lethal abuse of journalists by ordinary GIs.

None of this does Mr. Jordan credit. Yet the worst that can reasonably be said about his performance is that he made an indefensible remark from which he ineptly tried to climb down at first prompting. This may have been dumb but it wasn't a journalistic felony.

...

More troubling to us is that Mr. Jordan seems to have "resigned," if in fact he wasn't forced out, for what hardly looks like a hanging offense. It is true that Mr. Jordan has a knack for indefensible remarks, including a 2003 New York Times op-ed in which he admitted that CNN had remained silent about Saddam's atrocities in order to maintain its access in Baghdad. That really was a firing offense. But CNN stood by Mr. Jordan back then--in part, one suspects, because his confession implicated the whole news organization. Now CNN is throwing Mr. Jordan overboard for this much slighter transgression, despite faithful service through his entire adult career.

That may be old-fashioned damage control. But it does not speak well of CNN that it apparently allowed itself to be stampeded by this Internet and talk-show crew. Of course the network must be responsive to its audience and ratings. But it has other obligations, too, chief among them to show the good judgment and sense of proportion that distinguishes professional journalism from the enthusiasms and vendettas of amateurs.

No doubt this point of view will get us described as part of the "mainstream media." But we'll take that as a compliment since we've long believed that these columns do in fact represent the American mainstream. We hope readers buy our newspaper because we make grown-up decisions about what is newsworthy, and what isn't.

A few points:

[Updated Below.]


First of all, those who caution the blogosphere shouldn't become a career-wrecking lynch mob, but instead should simply seek the truth and, ahem, speak Truth to Media Power, are right. It may be a sort of vicious victory to collect "scalps" -- it's at least a sign that the alternative media and its readers and listeners have had some impact -- but more important to all of us should be a change in MSM culture. Not just getting people fired.

Of course, you can't make an omlette without breaking a few Jordans and Rathers.

Second, the WSJ is all wet about Jordan's offense being non-fireable or non-felonious. Reporters are supposed to report verifiable, or at least confirmed, facts. They are not supposed to traffic in ludicrous Al Jazeera level conspiracy theories, whether acting in their official capacity or a semi-official capacity as a CNN representative at a media panel.

Journalists, it have been noted, may be (somewhat) careful about not just making stuff up in their professional, vetted, edited work, but are far looser and willing to speculate when appearing on television and the like. Perhaps the WSJ seeks to protect this double-standard, and doesn't much want its own reporters being put to the fire for a stray remark made at some conservative media panel in the future.

They seem to have an institutional interest in carving out a lower standard of verification in extemporaneous remarks. No one's going to want to see Howard Finemann say on Chris Matthews precisely what he already wrote in his weekly column.

And perhaps there should be a little more latitude allowed in these "what if?" speculation fests we see on cable television. They do, after all, generally make it clear that they are just speculating about possibilities-- what might happen, etc.

But Jordan wasn't just talking up an interesting "what if" scenario. According to all reports, he stated, as a fact, that journalists were being killed and even tortured by US troops in Iraq. He was not engaging in some hypothetical college bullshit session -- "What if it were proven that the military were trying to cow journalists by executing them?" -- he was stating as a fact that he knew such executions had occurred.

Bloggers are denigrated by the media for engaging in all sorts of fanciful theorizing unsupported by fact. We're untrustworthy, they say; unreliable, unschooled in proper journalistic ethics and standards.

Well, for one thing, that's not quite true; most bloggers don't offer facts (though some do, on occasion), but rather simply their opinions on facts proffered by MSM sources. But assume it were true-- if bloggers are unfit to serve in the MSM by dint of our recklessness with allegations and low journalistic standards, how on earth is Eason Jordan excused for his own reckless, evidence-free conspiracy-theorizing? Do they issue you a special license to traffic in such sleazy slanders upon graduating from J-school?

Furthermore, the WSJ admits that Jordan committed a journalistic felony in deliberately suppressing news of Saddam's atrocities in order to keep a bureau open in Baghdad. Well, if that was a fireable offense, he was never fired for it; are there statutes of limitations of journalistic felonies? And, if the WSJ admits that was in fact a felony, doesn't Jordan's continued anti-military and anti-American slanders mark him as repeat offender?

Finally, I think Eason Jordan's career died for the mainstream media's sins. The mainstream media is 1) liberal and 2) unwilling to admit this, so when someone like Eason Jordan puts lie to their claims of objectivity, that man is forced to resign in order to continue the charade of media objectivity.

A different sort of media -- say, one in which there were both liberals and conservatives approximately equaled balanced in reportage and management, or a media with the courage and honesty to admit it reports from the left -- would not necessarily have had to force Jordan to resign.

If the media weren't monolithically liberal, Jordan's remarks would mean much less, as we'd know that for every anti-military 68'er who can't get over Vietnam there was a pro-military conservative who was his counterpart. And that the tension in the media between conflicting ideologies would tend to mitigate any damage that might be caused by any particular person's wild-eyed Al Jazeera demo tapes.

Or, if the media just admitted it was monolithically liberal, Eason Jordan again wouldn't have to be fired, as he would not be an embarassment. He would just be stating what the media admits it tends to believe.

But the media wants to continue the pretense of its objectivity and non-partisanship. And in order to maintain that fascade, they had to get rid of the man who committed a Michael-Kinsley-style gaffe-- having the lack of wisdom to state forthrightly what he really believed.

It wasn't really bloggers who got Eason Jordan fired, nor Rush Limbaugh. We publicized his remarks, yes-- but in the end, it was the media's need to continue perpetuating a deceit on the American people that made him radioactve. The deceit couldn't be maintained properly with Jordan's remarks so widely reported, so he had to be sacrificed for the greater good -- the greater good of protecting the false claims of media nonpartisanship and objectivity.

Immediate Climbdown? The WSJ's venture into liberal media apologism makes much of the alleged fact that Eason Jordan immediately climbed-down from his statement.

But did he? A lot of the accounts of his climb-down simply have him saying that he didn't think it was US policy to execute journalists, but that individual soldiers were taking matters into their own hands, as it were.

Not really the sort of apology I think our troops were looking for.

And Andrew questions whether or not you can really "immediately climd-down" from claims you've been making for a long, long time:

"Actions speak louder than words. The reality is that at least 10 journalists have been killed by the US military, and according to reports I believe to be true journalists have been arrested and tortured by US forces," Mr Jordan told an audience of news executives at the News Xchange conference in Portugal.

Did he "immediatley climb-down" from those remarks he made last November?

Does his January climb-down count as an "immediate" climb-down from the November remarks?

Sorry, WSJ. I understand your desire to circle the wagons to protect the MSM, even an MSM figure you disagree with ideologically. But it's hard to say the man was "misquoted" or "misunderstood" or "immediately retracted" his vicious slanders when he made the exact same claims three months earlier.

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posted by Ace at 01:53 PM

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