Alan Sondheim on Tue, 15 Feb 2005 02:40:12 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> blogging and truth (fwd) and the rest of it

I recently reviewed a book on news blogging, and the following, as with 
much on the Net, seems to indicate corrosion already setting in. - Alan

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 14 Feb 2005 08:29:08 -0000
From: J Armitage <j.armitage@UNN.AC.UK>
Reply-To: Interdisciplinary academic study of Cyber Society
Subject: [CSL]: Bloggers as News Media Trophy Hunters

February 14, 2005

Bloggers as News Media Trophy Hunters


The New York Times

This article was reported by Katharine Q. Seelye, Jacques Steinberg and
David F. Gallagher.

With the resignation Friday of a top news executive from CNN, bloggers have
laid claim to a prominent media career for the second time in five months.

In September, conservative bloggers exposed flaws in a report by Dan Rather;
he subsequently announced that on March 9 he would step down as anchor of
the "CBS Evening News." On Friday, after nearly two weeks of intensifying
pressure on the Internet, Eason Jordan, the chief news executive at CNN,
abruptly resigned after being besieged by the online community. Morever,
last week liberal bloggers forced a sketchily credentialed White House
reporter to quit his post.

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
( <> ): "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."

Mr. Jordan, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in
late January, apparently said, according to various witnesses, that he
believed the United States military had aimed at journalists and killed 12
of them. There is some uncertainty over his precise language and the forum,
which videotaped the conference, has not released the tape. When he quit
Friday night, Mr. Jordan said in a statement that, "I never meant to imply
U.S. forces acted with ill intent when U.S. forces accidentally killed

Some of those most familiar with Mr. Jordan's situation emphasized, in
interviews over the weekend, that his resignation should not be read solely
as a function of the heat that CNN had been receiving on the Internet, where
thousands of messages, many of them from conservatives, had been posted.

Nonetheless, within days of his purported statement, many blog sites were
swamped with outraged assertions that he was slandering American troops. In
an e-mail message yesterday, Mr. Jordan declined to be interviewed.

But while the bloggers are feeling empowered, some in their ranks are openly
questioning where they are headed. One was Jeff Jarvis, the head of the
Internet arm of Advance Publications, who publishes a blog at <> . Mr. Jarvis said bloggers should
keep their real target in mind. "I wish our goal were not taking off heads
but digging up truth," he cautioned.

At the same time, some in the traditional media are growing alarmed as they
watch careers being destroyed by what they see as the growing power of
rampant, unedited dialogue.

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."

Some on line were simply trying to make sense of what happened. "Have we
entered an era where our lives can be destroyed by a pack of wolves hacking
at their keyboards with no oversight, no editors, and no accountability?"
asked a blogger named Mark Coffey, 36, who says he works as an analyst in
Austin, Tex. "Or does it mean that we've entered a brave new world where the
MSM has become irrelevant," he asked, using blogger shorthand for mainstream

His own conclusion is that the mainstream media "is being held to account as
never before by the strong force of individual citizens who won't settle for
sloppy research and inflammatory comments without foundation, particularly
from those with a wide national reach, such as Rather and Eason."

It was a businessman attending the forum in Davos who put Mr. Jordan's
comments on the map with a Jan. 28 posting. Rony Abovitz, 34, of Hollywood,
Fla., the co-founder of a medical technology company, was invited to Davos
and was asked to write for the forum's first-ever blog, his first blogging
effort. In an interview yesterday, he said that he had challenged Mr.
Jordan's assertion that the United States was taking aim at journalists and
asked for evidence.

Mr. Abovitz asked some of the journalists at the event if they were going to
write about Mr. Jordan's comments and concluded that they were not because
journalists wanted to protect their own. There was also some confusion about
whether they could, because the session was officially "off the record."

Mr. Abovitz said the remarks bothered him, and at 2:21 a.m. local time, he
posted his write-up on the forum's official blog (
<> ) under the headline "Do U.S. Troops Target
Journalists in Iraq?"

He did not think it would get much attention. But Mr. Jordan's comments
zipped around the Web and fired up the conservative bloggers, who saw the
remarks attributed to Mr. Jordan as evidence of a liberal bias of the big
American news media.

"I think he was attacked because of what he represented as much as what he
said," said David Gergen, who moderated the panel at Davos and who has
served in the White House for administrations of both parties. He said he
was troubled by the attacks on Mr. Jordan and said that his resignation was
a mark of the increasing degree to which the news media were being drawn
into the nation's culture wars.

While over the years Mr. Jordan had helped vault CNN to some of its most
celebrated triumphs - it was largely through his diplomatic efforts that CNN
was able to broadcast the first live footage from the first Gulf War, in
1991 - he also drew criticism. In one case, he wrote an article
<>  for the Op-Ed page
of The New York Times in April 2003, saying that CNN had essentially
suppressed news of brutalities so the network could maintain access and
protect its people in Iraq.

Through the latest uproar, the substance of Mr. Jordan's initial assertion
about the military targeting journalists was largely lost. Those who worked
closely with Mr. Jordan at CNN, as well as on behalf of other news
organizations, said he was aggressive and passionate about making life safer
for journalists working in Iraq.

Ann Cooper, executive director for the Committee to Protect Journalists,
said that 36 journalists, plus 18 translators who worked for journalists,
had been killed in Iraq since 2003. Of those 54, she said, at least nine
died as a result of American fire.

"From our standpoint, journalists are not being targeted by the U.S.
military in Iraq," Ms. Cooper said. "But there certainly are cases where an
atmosphere of what, at best, you can call indifference has led to deaths and
other problems for journalists."

As an example, Ms. Cooper cited the shelling by American troops of the
Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, well known as the residence of journalists, in
April 2003, killing two journalists. .

But the notion that journalists are "targeted" by the military did not first
emerge with Mr. Jordan at Davos. Nik Gowing, a presenter, or anchor, for the
BBC, has advanced the theory in writings and speeches that because the media
can now convey instantaneously what is happening in a war zone, military
commanders may find journalists a hindrance. The Pentagon has dismissed such

In any case, on Feb. 2, Rebecca MacKinnon, who worked under Mr. Jordan when
she was a producer and bureau chief at CNN, and organized the blog from
Davos, contacted him after seeing that conservative blogs had picked up on
his remarks.

"I e-mailed him and said the same people who were after Rather appear to be
after you," said Ms. MacKinnon, now a research fellow at the Berkman Center
for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School.

Later that evening, she posted a response from Mr. Jordan, who wrote that on
the panel he had meant to say that when journalists are aimed at and shot,
as opposed to being killed by wayward bombs, "such a killing is a tragic
case of mistaken identity, not a case of 'collateral damage.' "

At about the same time, CNN became aware that trouble was brewing online,
and in the wake of Mr. Rather's downfall, it tried to try to head off the
storm. When he returned to Florida on Feb. 2 from the conference, Mr.
Abovitz said he had messages from Mr. Jordan and from CNN. He sent an
inquiry back to CNN but said he did not get a response.

Also that day, CNN's public information division sent an unsolicited e-mail
message to many of those who were writing about the controversy. Someone at
CNN apparently posted the same statement on several blogs.

The message, which was unsigned, read: "Many blogs have taken Mr. Jordan's
remarks out of context. Eason Jordan does not believe the U.S. military is
trying to kill journalists. Mr. Jordan simply pointed out the facts: While
the majority of journalists killed in Iraq have been slain at the hands of
insurgents, the Pentagon has also noted that the U.S. military on occasion
has killed people who turned out to be journalists. The Pentagon has
apologized for those actions."

Christa Robinson, senior vice president for public relations for CNN, said
that CNN sent the statement to those who sent e-mail messages to CNN or had
written about Mr. Jordan online. Asked if the network was consciously
seeking to head off the protracted criticism that devoured Mr. Rather last
fall, Ms. Robinson said that the network was acknowledging the speed with
which news now travels.

Mr. Morrissey of Captain's Quarters said he was surprised to receive the
message. "I'm sure that what they were trying to do was get people to stop
talking about it," he said.

The only way for the network to really clear up the controversy, he and
others said, would have been to push for the release of the videotape of Mr.
Jordan's remarks.

Ms. Robinson of CNN said that the network had no transcript of the session
or a videotape because the conference organizers said that they considered
the session off the record. She said that the content of Mr. Jordan's
remarks was not in dispute, but that assertion has not satisfied those
critics on the Internet who contend Mr. Jordan and CNN have something to

The online attack of Mr. Jordan, particularly among conservative
commentators, appeared to gain momentum when they were seized on by other
conservative outlets. A report on the National Review Web site was followed
by editorials in The Washington Times and The Wall Street Journal, as well
as by a column in The New York Post by Michelle Malkin (a contributor for
Fox News, CNN's rival).

Mr. Abovitz, who started it all, said he hoped bloggers could develop
loftier goals than destroying people's careers. "If you're going to do this
open-source journalism, it should have a higher purpose," he said. "At times
it did seem like an angry mob, and an angry mob using high technology,
that's not good."

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