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The Flag of the World

-G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

This here blog is a glimpse or two or three at the condition of the 'fortress of our family' through the eyes Timothy Goddard, a Christian writer with an unhealthy interest in politics living in the Puget Sound area.

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Friday, April 11, 2003


Oh, CNN, how could you?

In case you didn't know by now, the last decade of Saddam Hussein's power was, like so many other things, entirely the fault of CNN. Specifically, CNN chief Eason Jordan, whose editorial in this morning's New York Times calls into question not only the credibility of CNN as a medium of accurate reporting, but also the very function of the news media in the information age.

ATLANTA--Over the last dozen years I made 13 trips to Baghdad to lobby the government to keep CNN's Baghdad bureau open and to arrange interviews with Iraqi leaders.

Here is my question: How much power does CNN have?

Each time I visited, I became more distressed by what I saw and heard -- awful things that could not be reported because doing so would have jeopardized the lives of Iraqis, particularly those on our Baghdad staff.

It's simple, really. Does CNN have power? Certainly. Without a doubt, CNN has power over the ideas of its millions of viewers, and, to a certain extent, over governments domestic and foreign. As an organ of media, CNN is one of the serious players, one of the big dogs, one of the major league hitters, and they know it. To feature a story or cause on CNN is to see something done about it. No politician worth their pork-barrel wants his or her indiscretions to appear on CNN for all the world to see and dissect.

For example, in the mid-1990's one of our Iraqi cameramen was abducted. For weeks he was beaten and subjected to electroshock torture in the basement of a secret police headquarters because he refused to confirm the government's ludicrous suspicion that I was the Central Intelligence Agency's Iraq station chief.

It is, after all, the responsibility of CNN, as a legitimate news source, to report such things....All of them, all the time....No exceptions. Unless, of course, you're covering the Butcher of Baghdad, and the dirt you've dug up is so juicy, so good, so downright, alltogether IMPORTANT that you could put him out of a job. Bring world opinion against him. Point out the elephant hiding in plain sight. But no one wants that. Crusades are a thing of the past, and CNN is much too prestigious to dirty its hands. Especially in something that could, Trump forbid, make a difference, because that would just be wrong. CNN's responsibility is to report the news not to make it.

Working for a foreign news organization provided Iraqi citizens no protection. The secret police terrorized Iraqis working for international press services who were courageous enough to try to provide accurate reporting.

Faced with this reality, CNN decided not to provide accurate reporting. It was much more important, after all, to maintain an open office in Baghdad, and report on the things Saddam deemed newsworthy. Better to appease a dictator than be true to the calling of the profession. Better to save your own skin than that of others. Better to keep Hitler happy, and an open wire. Oh, sorry. Did I say Hitler? I meant Saddam.

An aide to Uday once told me why he had no front teeth: henchmen had ripped them out with pliers and told him never to wear dentures, so he would always remember the price to be paid for upsetting his boss. Again, we could not broadcast anything these men said to us.

And so CNN was silent. And the Butcher lived. Until two days ago, when he was given his pink slip by the US Marines. So now CNN can say whatever they want, because there is no dictator to appease, no crumbs to beg for, no desert cammo dungarees to kiss. Congratulations, CNN. Well done. I'm sure you saved a lot of lives.

I felt awful having these stories bottled up inside me. Now that Saddam Hussein's regime is gone, I suspect we will hear many, many more gut-wrenching tales from Iraqis about the decades of torment. At last, these stories can be told freely.

It's about time.
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