. . .doesn't seem to agree with folks in the mainstream media. All of a sudden, it seems stupid gaffes aren't the sole property of Republican and otherwise conservative politicians and public figures. Now that those who have portioned out our information on a need-to-know basis all these years find themselves subject to the arbitrary standards they've maintained, they're not so keen on being a part of the "news you can use."David Shaw's piece
in the Media Matters section of today's L.A. Times is all about how Eason Jordan's job should not have been a part of the collateral damage in the blogosphere's aggressive campaign to bust the information trust that has existed throughout living memory. He cites a littany of injustices perpetrated against, not so much Jordan himself, but rather the mainstream media at large, and bewails the fact that the new media doesn't seem to be playing by "the rules." For instance:
"No one seems to know exactly what Jordan said because the discussion was off the record and closed to the public and the sponsors of the conference, in keeping with past practice, have not released either a transcript or videotape of the discussion."
Here, Shaw appears to lament the fact that someone crashed the media party -- an infiltrator who somehow got his hands on a copy of the club rules, and learned the secret handshake and all the codes. That person then proceeded to run all over town telling everyone who was anyone exactly what's going down behind the closed doors and shuttered windows of the clubhouse. A terrible thing, right?
Well, I guess that depends on which club gets the sunshine. After all, when the infiltration occurred at an off-the-record birthday celebration for the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, where Sen. Trent Lott's neck was on the chopping block, it appeared to all the mainstream media world that the blogoshpere was going to shed some much needed light on REAL GOP agenda. I was among the people who thought Lott should step down from his position as majority leader, and I still believe it's a good thing that he did -- even though he did apologize repeatedly and profusely, and would eventually go on to prostitute himself before a national audience on BET.
I just want to know why it is that "off-the-record" means "off-the-record" when journalists gather for discussions on the state of the media, but "off-the-record" means "something to hide" when a few politicians and journalists gather for a birthday tribute to the oldest man to occupy a seat in the Senate, just before his impending retirement. Why is it that the people who serve as supposed guardians of the truth are allowed to hide some truths from public scrutiny? After all, isn't it important that the public have access to information that reveals motives and mindset of those they trust to keep them informed? And, put on a scale, wouldn't that information outweigh any that could possibly be gleaned from jocular remarks, as stupid as they may have been, made with no more malicious intent than to make an old man feel good about his accomplishments?
Shaw goes on the speculate as to what Jordan meant by the remarks that he apparently (though not officially confirmed) made before this discussion panel:
"Except for one brief interview with the Washington Post 12 days after the panel discussion, Jordan has declined comment — in part, I'd bet, because his severance agreement with CNN severely limits what he can say."
Well, Mr. Shaw, that's a pretty safe bet to make, considering the fact that there's no way of settling it. I'd bet my house, car, and first born child in a Texas Hold 'Em game if the cards were never turned over. And, that's essentially what we're dealing with here. Since there is no transcript, nor any way to put the remarks into context without it, there's really no way of knowing precisely why he won't discuss the matter, much less any way to "divine the intent" of the speaker. Shaw adds parenthetically:
"(When I reached him, he said he couldn't speak on the record about anything related to his remarks in Davos.)
What does this little tidbit tell us? Absolutely nothing. What was the point of adding it? Was it just to point out that you have actually spoken to the man off
the record, and that he knows more about the situation than we salivating morons do, and that we should just shut up about it since we don't really know what we're talking about? I haven't spoken to Mr. Shaw on the record, so I can't really say for sure why he threw that part in, but I'd bet
that's the reason.
Then, as if there were a shortage of speculation in his column, Shaw decides to add the ruminations of David Gergen, who moderated the affair:
"David Gergen, the moderator of the Davos panel, says Jordan made his comments in response to suggestions by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) that most of the 54 journalists and media support workers who'd been killed in Iraq had been victims of "collateral damage."
Since three CNN journalists have been among those 54, that comment 'hit a button' with Jordan, Gergen said during a discussion of the issue on PBS' 'The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer.' 'Collateral damage' seems like such a bloodless way to describe the deaths of one's friends and colleagues — and it suggests a purely accidental death.'"
Well, I suppose we just have to take David Gergen at his word -- just like we're supposed to take Eason Jordan at his word, and Mr. Shaw at his. Forgive me if this is a dense question, aren't these the people who are forever beseeching the public to "question everything
?" And, what does it say to prospective journalists studying in j-schools around the world? Are they to take from this the message that one should "question everything -- well, almost everything -- just shut up and find a conservative to hassle, would you?"
More from Gergen:
"Jordan had just returned from Baghdad and was 'very deeply concerned about the safety of journalists on all sides,' Gergen said. 'And he left a very clear impression that journalists on both sides were being targeted, that Iraqi insurgents were targeting American journalists and in a limited number of cases … he left the impression there had been targeting by American troops of journalists….'"
That's just a strange quote in general. First off, he refers to "journalists on all sides," which strikes me as a bit of a revelation in its own right, as it is supposedly a maxim of the profession that journalists don't take sides. So, there's the implication not only that some of the journalists who had been killed were on one side or another. There's also the implication that Jordan wanted to make it clear that regardless of which side the journalists were on, he was concerned for their safety -- which in turn implies that he recognized there were some doubts as to whether or not he would be concerned about one side or the other. Could it be that some of the doubts were reasonable?
Secondly, Gergen seems to want to make it explicit that the concern over the alleged targeting of journalists was "limited" in scope. This strikes me as at least a partial confirmation of the suspicions those of us in the blogosphere have about Jordan's remarks. It's somewhat analogous to a drunk man coming home to his wife after having blown his whole paycheck at the bar and saying, "I swear, I only drank three beers. But, I got caught up in the moment and bought the house a round -- and another, and then more people came in. . ." The "limited number of cases" qualifier serves as nothing more than a minimizing confirmation of the original assertion; an attempt to "walk the dog backward," but only as far as the first fire hydrant.
Also, to pick a nit, I'd like to point out the use of elipses in the quoted passage above. Regular readers may notice that I almost always include elipses in my blog entry headings. It's a sort of artistic (if you want to call it that) statement about how truth is often obscured by their use. One can't help wondering just what is masked by their inclusion in the passage above. But I digress. Gergen goes on:
"Gergen. . .said Jordan realized immediately that he had 'gone way too far. And he immediately began to walk his conversation back,' to make it clear that he was not saying there was an official U.S. policy to 'allow the killing of journalists and that his concern was whether there had been some carelessness and whether, in fact, the Pentagon and others ought to push harder for more care so that other journalists will be protected.'
The thing that stands out in this passage is the use of the qualifier "official." Anyone who has ever paid any attention to politics and media knows that there is a big difference between saying there's "no policy," and saying there's "no official policy." When one says there's no "official policy," the immediate implication is that there's an "unofficial policy." Unofficial policies are much like unwritten rules and gentlemen's agreements. Unless Gergen clarifies this statement, or Jordan actually addresses the issue directly, one can fairly come to the conclusion that the gist of the overall statement is that there is a shadowy, unwritten directive for targeting journalists originating out of the Pentagon. This, of course, would serve as further confirmation of the suspicions of those of us in the blogosphere.
Shaw goes on to quote Ann Cooper as attributing the journalists' deaths less to a policy of "targeting" and more to an overall policy of "negligence or indifference." On the surface, this might seem to be a mitigating statement, but in reality, it's no such thing. A policy of "negligence or indifference" is still a policy of hostility -- only in a more passive-aggressive form. Legally speaking, there's little difference between killing someone with malice and intent, and killing someone through depraved indifference. And, that's precisely what Cooper asserts is taking place. Perhaps she could be called to account on that statement, given the fact that she (apparently) made the comment "on the record."
After all this legerdemain surrounding the "intent" of the Pentagon, and how it factored into the deaths of the "limited number" of "not-officially-targeted" journalists, Shaw seeks to shift the discussion to how Jordan found himself in the position he's in today, and just who is responsible for the injustice:
"But conservative bloggers attacked Jordan — motivated in part by the long-standing right-wing argument that CNN is a liberal network. Although Rep. Frank and Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, who was also present for the Davos discussion — and who, like Frank, is a Democrat — also criticized Jordan, it was the bloggers who did the damage."
Mr. Shaw might want to question whether or not bloggers would have been able to do any real damage to Jordan without the candor of Rep. Frank -- who is known for that very trait -- and Sen. Dodd, known for being one slice of white in a Senator Sandwich, as well as being candid -- albeit to a lesser extent. Without their contemporaneous input, Jordan would have faced much less pressure to resign. They could just as easily have come forward to say that the whole matter was taken out of context, and that people could judge for themselves if the transcript of the discussion panel were released. Obviously, having actually been in attendance, the two men understood that the transcript of the meeting wasn't going to redound to Jordan's credit, and both had come to the conclusion that defending him on the issue could prove troublesome in case the transcript was released later on.
Nevertheless, pinning the damage on conservative bloggers misses the point entirely, and indicates an attempt to both change the subject, and shift the blame. The truth is that the blogosphere was an unloaded weapon on the matter until Sen. Dodd and Rep. Frank supplied the ammunition. Without their forthrightness, Jordan would have suffered little more than a bump on the head -- maybe a shiner. After all, he had survived previous run-ins between his mouth and the blogosphere, and still kept his position. If Mr. Shaw would be as honest as the two liberal Democrats who were in attendance, he'd have to admit that without the facts, conservative bloggers wouldn't have been able to lay a glove on Jordan, much less claim his scalp.