Eason Jordan resigned last night as CNN's chief news executive in an effort to quell a burgeoning controversy over his remarks about U.S. soldiers killing journalists in Iraq.
Even as he said he had misspoken at an international conference in suggesting that coalition troops had "targeted" a dozen journalists and insisted he never believed that, Jordan was being pounded hourly by bloggers, liberals as well as conservatives, who provided the rocket fuel for a story that otherwise might have fizzled.
Eason Jordan said he was resigning so that CNN wouldn't be "unfairly tarnished."
Jordan, 44, said in a statement yesterday that he was quitting after 23 years at the network "to prevent CNN from being unfairly tarnished by the controversy over conflicting accounts of my recent remarks regarding the alarming number of journalists killed in Iraq. . . . I never meant to imply U.S. forces acted with ill intent when U.S. forces accidentally killed journalists, and I apologize to anyone who thought I said or believed otherwise."
No definitive account of what Jordan said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 27 has been made public, including the forum's videotape of the off-the-record session. Two Democrats who were there, Rep. Barney Frank (Mass.) and Sen. Christopher Dodd (Conn.), criticized Jordan's remarks. Others in attendance, including U.S. News & World Report editor at large David Gergen and BBC executive Richard Sambrook, said Jordan had clarified his remarks.
New York University professor and blogger Jay Rosen said bloggers "made a lot of noise" about the Jordan flap. "But there was basic reporting going on -- finding the people who were there, getting them to make statements, comparing one account to another -- along with accusations and conspiracy thinking and the politics of paranoia and attacks on the MSM, or mainstream media."
Journalist and blogger Jeff Jarvis said Jordan, like CBS News's Dan Rather after his flawed story about President Bush's military service, failed to acknowledge his mistake. "He could have said, 'Oops, I did something stupid, I'm sorry.' Instead he came out with obfuscating statements and now he's quit in shame."
Glenn Reynolds, who writes as InstaPundit, said "it was the stonewalling, the lame response" that sealed Jordan's fate. "And although there are some people calling it 'another scalp for the blogosphere,' it was really a case of Jordan taking his own scalp."
In a memo to the staff, CNN News Group President Jim Walton praised Jordan: "The regard in which he is held by people from every walk of life in virtually every corner of the world has added incalculably to our ability to cover such historic events as the Gulf War and the war in Iraq, the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, the crackdown in Tiananmen Square and the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon."
Several CNN staffers say Jordan was eased out by top executives who had lost patience with both the controversy and the continuing published gossip about Jordan's personal life after a marital breakup. Jordan's authority already had been greatly reduced after a management shakeup.
At the forum, Frank has said, Jordan seemed to be suggesting "it was official military policy to take out journalists." Jordan later "modified" his remarks to say some U.S. soldiers did this "maybe knowing they were killing journalists, out of anger," Frank said.
In an interview this week, Jordan said he had been responding to Frank's comment that the 63 journalists killed in Iraq were "collateral damage." "I was trying to make a distinction between 'collateral damage' and people who got killed in other ways," he said. Jordan cited such 2003 incidents as the U.S. shelling of Baghdad's Palestine Hotel, a haven for foreign journalists, in which two cameramen were killed, and the fatal shooting of a cameraman outside Abu Ghraib prison.
Blogs operated by National Review Online, radio talk-show host Hugh Hewitt and commentator Michelle Malkin were among those that began slamming Jordan last week after a Davos attendee posted an online account, but the establishment press was slow to pick up on the controversy. The Washington Post and Boston Globe published stories Tuesday and the Miami Herald ran one Thursday. Also on Thursday, Wall Street Journal editorial board member Bret Stephens, who was at Davos, published an account accusing Jordan of "defamatory innuendo," and the Associated Press moved a story. As of yesterday, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and USA Today had not carried a staff-written story, and the CBS, NBC and ABC nightly news programs had not reported the matter. It was discussed on several talk shows on Fox News, MSNBC and CNBC but not on CNN.
Gergen said Jordan's resignation was "really sad" since he had quickly backed off his initial comments. "This is too high a price to pay for someone who has given so much of himself over 20 years. And he's brought down over a single mistake because people beat up on him in the blogosphere? They went after him because he is a symbol of a network seen as too liberal by some. They saw blood in the water."
In his statement, Jordan said: "I have great admiration and respect for the men and women of the U.S. armed forces, with whom I have worked closely and been embedded in Baghdad, Tikrit, and Mosul" and other places. "As for my colleagues at CNN, I am enormously proud to have worked with you, risking my life in the trenches with you."
He touched off a furor with a New York Times op-ed piece in April 2003, saying CNN had withheld information about some of Saddam Hussein's abuses out of concern for its Iraqi employees in Baghdad. This sparked criticism that the network was collaborating with a murderer's regime to maintain its access. Jordan wrote that Hussein's son Uday had told him in 1995 of plans to assassinate two of his brothers-in-law and the man giving them asylum, King Hussein of Jordan. The CNN executive said he had warned the king; the brothers-in-law were later killed.
Howard Kurtz hosts CNN's weekly media program.