Friday, February 18, 2005

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Regarding Eason Jordan

There's been a lot of chest-thumping in the blogosphere -- and a lot of hand-wringing in the mediasphere -- about Eason Jordan's resignation from CNN.

Most of this debate is on whether Jordan's blog-fueled exit is good or bad. For me, there's another question -- did the blogosphere really force him out?

I ask this after reading Ed Morrissey's timeline of Jordangate in the Weekly Standard. Assuming that Morrissey's account is accurate, then the media heat on Jordan was never particularly strong -- and it was dying down the day before he left CNN. Consider this section of Morrissey's article:

On Thursday, February 10, two national news organizations finally covered the story, but only to declare it overblown. The New York Times posted a wire-service story late in the evening to its Thursday edition, while the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by Bret Stephens. While he acknowledged that Jordan had used "defamatory innuendo," Stephens wound up decrying the bloggers:

There is an Web site, on which more than 1,000 petitioners demand that Mr. Jordan release a transcript of his remarks--made recently in Davos--by Feb. 15 or, in the manner of Saddam Hussein, face serious consequences. Sean Hannity and the usual Internet suspects have all weighed in. So has Michelle Malkin, who sits suspended somewhere between meltdown and release.

There's a reason the hounds are baying. Already they have feasted on the juicy entrails of Dan Rather. Mr. Jordan, whose previous offenses (other than the general tenor of CNN coverage) include a New York Times op-ed explaining why access is a more important news value than truth, was bound to be their next target. And if Mr. Jordan has now made a defamatory and unsubstantiated allegation against U.S. forces, well then . . . open the gates.

The strange and unexpected turn from the Journal signaled what should have been the end of the story, at least as far as the national media were concerned. The controversy seemed about to fade off the media's radar screens altogether--until Jordan suddenly resigned his position at CNN around 6:00 p.m. on Friday, February 11. (emphasis added)

In a blog post on the same topic, Morrissey again complains about the lack of media attention to this story:

Not only did the blogswarm find damning information which the national media could have used all along, but we repeatedly sent the information in e-mails to key people in the media. Instead of acknowledging that function and assimilating the information, the media has circled the wagons around the myth that Eason Jordan simply committed a slip of the tongue at Davos, rather than the documented string of slanders and ethical lapses stretching over more than a decade.

So Morrissey acknowledges that the story was starting to lose steam the day before Jordan left, and that the mainstream media seemed disinclined to pursue the story any further. If the MSM was either not paying much attention or playing down the scandal, why did Jordan choose to resign when he did?

There are three possibilities:

1) The mobilized blogosphere is now so powerful that it no longer needs media attention to affect real change;

2) Jordan knew he would be toast if the videotaped version of his Davos remarks went public, knew the tape would eventually get out, and so chose to leave before things got really ugly;

3) Jordan resigned for reasons mostly unrelated to his Davos comments, but the blog stuff provided good cover for CNN to push him out.

I just don't think (1) is true -- if it is, it certainly violates the argument that Henry Farrell and I have made about when blogs are influential. (2) might be correct -- see Rebecca MacKinnon on this point -- but based on what both Stephens and David Gergen have said, I'm dubious about the tape being that damaging. [But Morrissey points out that what he said at Davos fits a larger pattern--ed. Yes, but Morrissey also laments the fact that this was not reported in the MSM beyond the original Guardian story from last November.]

Which leads me to (3). It's telling that Katherine Q. Seelye's New York Times account observes, "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." And, as Mickey Kaus points out, Howard Kurtz's first-draft version of what happened provided an alternative explanation. Check out this Keith Olbermann post as well.

Unlike Michelle Malkin, I haven't called anyone to check out this hypothesis -- this is only me spitballing. But something ain't right here.

I'm curious what others think -- and I'm particularly curious what the higher-ups at CNN think.

posted by Dan on 02.18.05 at 05:21 PM


"defamatory innuendo?!"

posted by: Achillea on 02.18.05 at 05:21 PM [permalink]

I'd be interested to know how many of Jordan's defenders in the mainstream media are personal friends of his.

I'm guessing the answer to that question is, "a lot." What we think of as the "mainstream media" -- excluding bloggers but also excluding the vast majority of print publications like local newspapers and general interest magazines -- is a pretty small fraternity, and Eason Jordan had been part of it for a long time.

posted by: Zathras on 02.18.05 at 05:21 PM [permalink]

I wonder if Jordan was already under fire internally for losing so much (at least U.S. domestic) market share to other networks, particularly Fox. It was also unlucky for him that members of the U.S. government, and not just fellow journalists, were witness to his words and the reactions to them. I suspect those two factors were more powerful than the influence of either the attacking bloggers, on the one hand, or the circled wagons of his media buddies, on the other. So I'd vote for (3).

posted by: Joel on 02.18.05 at 05:21 PM [permalink]

Another possibility is that CNN was getting pressure from non-media sources, perhaps hinting about reductions in their access to the Bush administration.

That would happen behind the scenes (and thus would be invisible to outsiders), and need not track the intensity of media coverage.

posted by: Jon H on 02.18.05 at 05:21 PM [permalink]

Pay no attention to the naked gay conservative male prostitute sitting in the middle of the family values white house living room.

posted by: ai on 02.18.05 at 05:21 PM [permalink]

I think if "Captain Ed" Morrissey had less at stake than his own grandiose opinion of himself and his influence, his verison would be much more credible.

posted by: mark on 02.18.05 at 05:21 PM [permalink]

Mark is right. The 4th possibility not listed above is that Morrissey is just trying to milk a few extra days out of the controversy, along the lines of "why didn't he acknowledge ME in his resignation statement?" It's also laughable to see Morrissey talk about a MSM when his stuff gets featured by Taranto on Opinionjournal about every 2nd day. It's like the devastation amongst his ilk at Fahrenheit 9/11 not getting an Oscar nomination -- how to fill space till the next pseudo-controversy comes along.

posted by: P O'Neill on 02.18.05 at 05:21 PM [permalink]

What is so hard to understand? I took it for granted that the bloggers and the other members of the new media would ultimately be victorious. Was it only the bloggers? Of course not. Ever hear of Rush Limbaugh or Laura Laura Ingram? The Old Media are still very powerful in the short run. The can, for instance, release a damaging story concerning a candidate on the Friday before the election that may severely impact the race. But in the long run, if they are accurate with their accusations---the new media have the odds on their side. Their audience is indeed smaller, but it is comprised of the more intelligent and influential of our fellow citizens.

CNN is also losing significant market share to Fox News. This admittedly made it easier for the network to get rid of Jordan. The man is no longer perceived as a superstar by his bosses.

posted by: David Thomson on 02.18.05 at 05:21 PM [permalink]

Fourth (or is it fifth?) possible reason: the unnamed "rogue elements" within the US military sent Eason a message (guesses anyone: a severed ear? a bullet? an albino monk?)--you're next on our LIST!

Where are the paranoid conspiracy theorists when you need'em?

posted by: Kelli on 02.18.05 at 05:21 PM [permalink]

It dawns on me why Daniel Drezner fails to fully comprehend the influence of the blogging community: he mistakenly feels humbled by his own blog’s relatively low number of visitors and posters. The New York Times has a far larger audience. Once again, it’s a matter of who is visiting! Their numbers may be small, but they are among the best read and most knowledgeable people on this planet.

posted by: David Thomson on 02.18.05 at 05:21 PM [permalink]

Or the good Captain might have had been under some stress -- while probably not enough to qualify for a David Gergen carte blanche to use a forum of world leaders to slander U.S. troops on the battlefield -- perhaps sufficient stress that commenters might cut the guy a little slack. Here's the
first reason, second, third, and fourth.

As for the topic at hand, I would say that "but for" the bloggers, Eason Jordan would still be in position at CNN. However, I don't believe he was fired due to CNN's caving in under pressure from the blogs or Fox News or National Review Online. That doesn't mean the blogs didn't "add their light to the sum of light" provided by reason number 2 -- the Davos tape was bad, but not that bad.

[I have this Miracle on 34th Street image of the CNN/Time-Warner execs played by William Frawley, the cigar chomping political boss, anxiously watching his pal, the judge played by Gene Lockhart, flash forward to headlines such as "Judge Rules There is No Santa Claus" only instead, the news footage is Eason Jordan's Davos harangue coupled with fawning Al Jazeera-types asking for his autograph, looped endlessly on Fox News and MSNBC, ala Monica's ropeline or Howard Dean's scream. Ouch!]

But since we probably won't see the video and the concensus MSM spin is that whatever he said, he "walked it back," I vote for number 3 as the actual cause -- other issues whether related or not to Davos. Similar to a referee's makeup call for his earlier bad judgment, it was the right call for other reasons.

Good luck on getting a straight answer from CNN; they may have learned some lessons from this but my guess is transparency isn't one of them -- unless of course there's a book deal in it.

posted by: capitano on 02.18.05 at 05:21 PM [permalink]

“Finally, as Dan (Drezner) points out, Eason Jordan's resignation looks suspiciously like it had nothing to do with the blog storm over his remarks. It's not clear what really happened there.”

---Kevin Drum

I get a kick out of Kevin Drum’s fatuous remarks. Why does he doubt the importance of the blogging community? The reason is that Drum, in his heart of hearts, realizes that we are demolishing liberalism in the United States. The moment that he acknowledges our power---it might push him over the edge. Drum might have to be strapped down in straight jacket and sent to the nearest looney bin.

posted by: David Thomson on 02.18.05 at 05:21 PM [permalink]

I need to clarify my above comments. Kevin Drum is definitely a member of the blogging community. However, he is a liberal---and the conservatives are winning the war. Drum is mostly speaking to the liberal true believers. The conservatives are converting the so-called swing voters and those who prefer to describe themselves as ideologically middle-of-the-road.

posted by: David Thomson on 02.18.05 at 05:21 PM [permalink]

I thought at the time, and continue to believe, that CNN canned Jordan once politicians (including Sen. Dodd and Rep. Frank) started making public statements about Jordan's comments and there were suggestions that Congress should investigate. Congress doesn't have to wait for the NYT or the WSJ to proclaim a story relevant before calling for hearings on the underlying truth (or lack thereof) of Jordan's accusations, and such hearings would probably have been devastaing for CNN.

So, if that is correct, by gaining the attention of significant politicians without having to go through the MSM, the bloggers did cause the result.

posted by: Thom on 02.18.05 at 05:21 PM [permalink]


I agree with David Thompson's comment. The key is in the power of the "long tail" as described by Hewitt in his new book, "Blog."

We are entering an era as great as Martin Luther's time when the control of information was wrested away from the Pope and the Catholic Church (Read MSM). There are now alternative sources of information that clearly expose the biases of the MSM and "selected" or lack of coverage of the news of the day.

I borrowed from the title of Dan's paper on blogs and added to it.

An Anthology of Essays

WWIV - The War Against Islamofascisim
A War of Ideas, Ideologies, Cultures, Religon, and Good vs. Evil

This war will not be won on the ground. This war will be won when the enemy and its supporters realize this ideology of hate, repression of free will and thought is doomed to failure like its predecessors of Fascisim, Nazism, and Communism.

We will win this war. The free will of men and women will always overcome those who seek to repress it - As Good always triumph over Evil. The sooner we as a people unite both left and right and wipe this Evil from the face of the earth, the fewer lives will be lost in this struggle.

While we are crushing the enemy on the ground, the enemy is winning the propaganda war. To win this war we must "out" the lies that our enemy is using to subjugate the people by fear, repression and torture. We must flood all mediums of communication with the truth. We must nuture the people in forming their own independent forms of news of the day.

For once the truth be known, the power of the "Big Lie" to control quickly fades away and there can be no more "Final Solutions."

Blessed be for the Net and the Blogosphere. The ultimate weapon against this Evil.


THE POWER AND POLITICS OF BLOGS - Blessed Be for the Internet and the Blogosphere


Link Here

posted by: Ron Wright on 02.18.05 at 05:21 PM [permalink]

Wow, I just found an article (via by Iain Duncan Smith and he completely agrees with me:

“You would also expect this electronic revolution to be good for the Democrats, but the American left's relationship with the internet has been disastrous. The internet has sunk a knife into Bill Clinton's moderate Democratic party. Mainstream business people were Clinton's principal funders, simultaneously approving and driving his centrism. But the Democrats' new paymasters are the 600,000 computer users who, in 2004, supported Howard Dean's bid for his party's presidential nomination. Dean energised an unrepresentative group of voters with a stridently anti-war message. Electronic money powered Dean's campaign, and all of the other contenders for the Democratic crown soon pandered to his base.”,3604,1417983,00.html

Poor Kevin Drum. It must be awful to be on the (I must be sucking up to the idiotic Hegelians) wrong side of history.

posted by: David Thomson on 02.18.05 at 05:21 PM [permalink]

and the conservatives are winning the war

David, which war are you talking about? Do you really see yourself as being at "war" with the left?

posted by: Stu on 02.18.05 at 05:21 PM [permalink]

-Of course blogs spurred the ousting of Jordan. Would he have resigned at this time if he hadnt made those statements? There is no reason to think so. Would anyone ever have known he made them if blogs werent involved. Certainly not. Hence, the blogosphere was the mechanism for his ousting. Not the sole cause, certainly, but the catalyst. Logically there is little doubt.
-Who cares? Buehner's Law says at least 40% of blogging is devoted to metablogging, and also that this is annoying.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 02.18.05 at 05:21 PM [permalink]

Clearly the tape is worse than the rumor.

By February 9 Barney Frank was satisfied that the matter was resolved and Chris Dodd never made a big fuss about it. To think that congresscritters would hold CNN's feet to the fire at the risk of eternal negative coverage is naive. So it wasn't going to come out through congressional investigation.

TimeWarner/CNN may have gotten a copy from WEF and realized what they had on their hands and offered Jordan a golden handshake. This explains the Friday evening release of the resignation to minimize coverage.

Another reason they may have wanted Jordan gone was the threat of a class action suit by members of the military. This would have kept the matter in front of the public generating continuing negative publicity regardless of the outcome and might ultimately lead to the release of the tape through pre trial discovery. TW/CNN's legal staff may have compared the cost of defence to the cost of a golden handshake for Jordan and spied a no-brainer.

posted by: Richard Heddleson on 02.18.05 at 05:21 PM [permalink]

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