Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Eason Jordan and the Truth 

Well, CNN news executive Eason Jordan is rightfully being lambasted for a supremely bone-headed and unfounded accusation of US forces "targeting" journalists that has been attributed to him at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Predictably, the blogosphere is waiting for the MSM to catch up. I've not written on this as so many others seem to have it well in hand, but there is an aspect to this whole story to which I haven't seen a lot of attention paid.

Despite others' conjecture, I do not think the alleged comment (which I believe was made, based upon eye witness accounts and prior similar comments by Mr. Jordan) was done neither out of knee-jerk anti-Americanism nor calculated courting of foreign markets. However, while I believe Mr. Jordan was quite sincere in his beliefs that does not necessarily mean that I believe the claims have much merit of basis in reality. Rather, the root of these beliefs lie in both a marked detatchment from reality as well as an arrogance and inflated sense of self-importance.

Some sharing Mr. Jordan's beliefs have pointed out that more journalists have been killed in Iraq than in previous wars, offering this as evidence that there must be some concerted effort being made to "target" journalists. I won't try to disprove these claims at this time (too lazy to Google), but simply point out logical holes in this position. First, there is a higher density of journalists covering the Iraq campaign than ever before. Throw a rock you'll likely hit someone associated with some news organization. But secondly, the major difference in Iraq is that this is the first time I believe that journalists have regularly tried to cover the fighting from in front of the US troops. Better get ready to put it on your scrolling banners, folks, but if you stand in front of someone shooting you are more likely to be hit than if you stand behind them. To ignore that journalists, either due to competitive pressures or out of a sense of purpose, are positioning themselves in more dangerous locations than ever is to ignore the reality of the very nature of war. After all, if journalists believe their own story that US forces have killed hundreds of thousands of civilians why should it require intentional targeting to kill journalists positioned in even more dangerous position?

In the end, though, it comes down to arrogance and inflated self-importance. How many times have we heard that US forces are not doing enough to protect journalists? As if being a journalist should impart some magical aura that bends bullets' paths, allowing the the sanctified to trod unscathed amongst the carnage to conduct his holy duty of conveying the Truth. The reality is that combat forces in battle work to eliminate threats. Presented with multiple threats it is the responsibility of commanders to prioritize these threats based both upon the severity of the threat and the potential for success. What arrogance it is to believe that US commanders and troops facing gun-toting terrorists and camera-laden journalists would waste any time at all worrying about the journalists. It is much more logical to conclude that journalists are largely falling victim to a "kill them all and let God sort them out" sort of thinking. And, as I said before, depending upon the proximity of the journalist to the action the decision that results in that journalist's death may not be all that wrong.

Because, to the Eason Jordans of the world, it is more important for the individual soldier to take the time and attention and care to distinguish that nine of the men facing him have guns and one has a camera and for him to take care in directing his fire in order to kill one man but not another who is within a few degrees of arc than it is for that soldier to protect himself, his squad, his company and sector. Because, to the Eason Jordans of the world, that reporter is more important than that soldier, his squad, his company and everyone in the entire sector. Because, to the Eason Jordans of the world, that journalist is Truth. So, if that reporter is killed it must have been an intentional effort to suppress the Truth.

It is this sense of self-importance that is taught in the journalism schools. It is this sense of self-importance that tells the journalist that he should be able to stand wherever he wants and should remain unscathed, because he is Truth. In reality, the only thing that distinguishes that journalist from any other random Joe in the area is his ability to effectively communicate (possibly) and access to the means to amplify his voice above others. What the Eason Jordans of the world are missing, though, is that the blog revolution is largely taking away the second distinction, allowing those who really can effectively communicate to do so. There is no monopoly on the Truth. The journalist is really just another guy with a notebook and if his bosses don't want him killed the best advice is not to whine about the people shooting but to first make sure he gets out of the way of the bullets. Because, from a perspective of responsibility, I think that the Eason Jordans of the world, by teaching journalists they are as important as Truth itself and then pushing them to get ever more dynamic, on scene reports, deserve a much larger share than the soldiers who are doing nothing more than should have been expected by placing ordnance on target.

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