Problems, great and small, with the Wall Street Journal’s Easongate editorial

There are some serious problems with the Wall Street Journal’s editorial, The Jordan Kerfuffle, today. The editorial, according to Hugh Hewitt and Captain Ed, was written by Bret Stephens, which itself raises important issues, including the propriety of the author of a signed op-ed piece defending his own work in an unsigned editorial on behalf of the newspaper. Here are some of the other problems:

(1) Major point: the WSJ mischaracterizes Jordan’s comments:

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.

Comment: The characterization of Jordan’s comments as “an indefensible remark” ignores the rest of Jordan’s similar statements. These include (1) his October 10, 2002 accusation that the Israeli military was targeting journalists, debunked at Captain’s Quarters; (2) his November 19, 2004 accusation of the US military torturing or killing journalists in the UK Guardian; and (3) at the Davos meeting itself, Jordan repeated his accusation several times. Take a look at Rony Abovitz’s eyewitness account, confirmed by many others at Easongate:

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. He repeated the assertion a few times, which seemed to win favor in parts of the audience (the anti-US crowd) and cause great strain on others.

Due to the nature of the forum, I was able to directly challenge Eason, asking if he had any objective and clear evidence to backup these claims, because if what he said was true, it would make Abu Ghraib look like a walk in the park. David Gergen was also clearly disturbed and shocked by the allegation that the U.S. would target journalists, foreign or U.S. He had always seen the U.S. military as the providers of safety and rescue for all reporters…..

To be fair (and balanced), Eason did backpedal and make a number of statements claiming that he really did not know if what he said was true, and that he did not himself believe it. But when pressed by others, he seemed to waver back and forth between what might have been his beliefs and the realization that he had created a kind of public mess.

Clearly, Jordan made the same or similar statements in the past, and even at Davos, according to Abovitz, Jordan made the claim several times. By the time he “ineptly tried to climb down,” there was a large chorus at the conference echoing Jordan’s original comments. Jordan has said on at least three documented occasions that the American or Israeli militaries target journalists, and have engaged in torturing or killing them, most recently at Davos on January 27, 2005, where he repeated the assertion “a few times.” That is not the definition of “an indefensible remark.”

(2) Minor point: do firing offenses have a statute of limitations?

Here’s a further excerpt from the editorial:

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.

Comment: Do firing offenses mellow with age, like a fine Bordeaux? The Wall Street Journal had nothing to say about Eason Jordan’s confessional NYT op-ed of April 13, 2003, though it published a piece critical of Jordan on April 14, called “CNN’s Access of Evil,” by Franklin Foer of the New Republic (available via search for $2.95). (In his piece, Mr Foer provides some documented examples of CNN’s slanting the news to please Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, a topic we’ve also addressed here and here.)

Our point is the following: if Eason Jordan had committed a firing offense in the past, and was further embroiling his employer in unwanted controversy, what is the Journal’s problem with CNN getting rid of such a troublesome employee now?

(3) Minor point: why is the WSJ mischaracterizing the Forum of Young Global Leaders?

From the editorial:

[W]e were not inclined to write further about the episode after our first report. For this we have since been accused of conspiring on Mr. Jordan’s behalf. One Web accusation is that Mr. Stephens is — with 2,000 others — a fellow of the World Economic Forum, thereby implying a collusive relationship with Mr. Jordan, who sits on one of the WEF’s boards. If this is a “conflict of interest,” the phrase has ceased to mean anything at all.

Comment: We originated this issue a few days ago, along with Ed Morrissey, and don’t want to rehash what is a minor point in the overall drama. Nonetheless, the Journal’s treatment seems to be a deliberate shading of the facts. Being a Young Global Leader — go to the website — is not just being a “fellow of the World Economic Forum.” The WEF characterizes the Young Global Leaders as follows:

The Forum of Young Global Leaders is a newly formed, unique, multi-stakeholder community of the world’s most extraordinary leaders who are 40 years old or younger and who are ready to dedicate a part of their time and energy to jointly work towards a better future. Each year we identify 200-300 exceptional individuals, drawn from every region in the world and from a myriad of disciplines and sectors. Together, they form a powerful international community which can dramatically impact the global future.

and

Every year, thousands of possible candidates are proposed and assessed according to rigorous admission criteria. Only the very best candidates are selected and all efforts are extended to create a truly representative body. Reflecting the diversity of stakeholders, the Young Global Leaders include leaders from the worlds of politics, business, society, learning, arts and culture in each of the seven geographic regions.

The Young Global Leaders organization is not small beer. 50-60 Americans are chosen annually to be part of this elite global group (here is the 2005 list of inductees). By comparison, 32 Americans are chosen annually to be Rhodes Scholars.

We can’t help but wonder what accounts for the Wall Street Journal’s minimalist and misleading description of this elite group.

A final thought

“An indefensible remark” is often enough to get a person fired. Jimmy the Greek and many others have found that out. The issue in the case of Eason Jordan is not one indefensible remark, as the Journal says, but a series of similar remarks made publicly over a period of years. In presenting a defense, it is wise to acknowledge the evidence on the other side. In this very odd editorial, the Wall Street Journal does not do so.

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