‘All the News That’s Fit to Print’ didn’t get printed

“Eason-gate” shows that mainstream media better take notice of bloggers, pajamas and all.

You’ve heard of Jayson Blair. You have most definitely heard of Dan Rather, as well as his notorious lack of professionalism concerning President George W. Bush. But have you heard of Eason Jordan recently?

Jordan, the former chief news executive at CNN, was at the World Economic Forum last month in Davos, Switzerland, and, while it’s unclear exactly what he said, it’s fairly certain he accused the U.S. military of targeting and killing journalists – this means assassinating, folks – in Iraq.

Again, we can’t be certain of exactly what Jordan said. The panel he spoke at was not televised. But I’m assuming, for two reasons, however he worded it, he accused U.S. forces of something approximating assassination.

First, there is a video tape. There has been a multitude of calls for that tape’s release. But this multitude does not include Jordan or CNN. If it did, I would bet we’d have seen it by now.

Because Jordan and CNN refuse to make such a request, I assume the tape must be pretty bad. That might be a harsh assumption, but Jordan’s right not to incriminate himself is no help here.

Also, the reactions of Sens. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., and Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., all of whom were present, corroborate my assumption. That’s hearsay, but again, this isn’t a courtroom.

The facts as we know them: 63 journalists have been killed in Iraq, and the Campaign to Protect Journalists thinks 12 deaths resulted from U.S. fire but does not think any were “targeted.”

To be fair, Jordan oversaw coverage in high-risk areas, such as Iraq. The deaths and the safety of his people likely weigh heavily on Jordan’s mind.

CNN has attempted to deal with the issue saying, “Mr. Jordan emphatically does not believe that the U.S. military intended to kill journalists and believes these accidents to be cases of ‘mistaken identity.’ “

Jordan has also said as much.

Backing up, have you heard anything about this? Don’t worry; because of the national media’s inexplicable near noncoverage of the issue, many haven’t.

This is so bad on so many levels.

Before Jordan’s firing, a Lexis Nexis search of major newspapers showed four U.S. news stories on the subject and one opinion. Only one story and the opinion came from one of the big four newspapers: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times.

Instead, the furor of bloggers and talk radio drove the issue and caused to resign.

The Minnesota Daily is a college paper, and one of its functions is to allow unique and sometimes extreme arguments to find a place on its editorial page. Nonetheless, as that page’s editor, I would not print Jordan’s charge.

A person in Jordan’s position cannot go around accusing anyone, much less U.S. soldiers, without support. A protest organizer can (I’m still not a fan of it), without consequences to his work. The chief news executive of a major news organization cannot.

Last fall in The Guardian, he accused the U.S. military of torturing journalists. As best I can tell, he has never supported this allegation, either.

Jordan should have been canned as a result of his actions alone. It should not have taken the furor to oust him. More importantly, this story (“Major news executive slanders military”) deserved coverage in all major papers.

This latter mistake brings the challenges mainstream media face from bloggers to the fore.

I’m not a fan of blogs. I prefer mainstream media for two reasons. I don’t think blogs are as credibile, day in and day out, as major news sources. As a matter of numbers, bloggers cannot compete with a newspaper’s staff. Furthermore, what consequence does a blogger have for making an error? When a blogger has to quit after making a glaring error (such as Rather or Jordan), we can talk about his or her credibility.

Bloggers are unabashedly biased. Their blogs are full of opinion, almost as much as the piece you’re reading now. Admittedly, mainstream media are not perfect in this area. Reading The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, you sometimes wonder if they’re covering the same world. But, they at least seek objectivity. Their reporters try to limit news to facts and relevant, balanced perspectives on the facts.

I’ve just named what I think are the blogosphere’s main weaknesses, but it has two huge strengths. Bloggers break news incredibly quickly. By their vast numbers and even wider attention to different sources of information, they turn the immense resource that is the Internet into a real benefit to the public.

Thus far, mainstream media’s response to bloggers has been to patronize them, referring to them by what they can wear while working (pajamas are often mentioned) and insinuating that they are maybe a sandwich short of a picnic (“obsessed” is the euphemism).

Mainstream media need to affirm their superiority by outperforming the blogosphere. And when they do get beat to a story, even if that story is embarrassing to one of their members, they simply have to play catch-up.

I’m not a huge blog reader. But this mess has taught me I need to pay attention to this form of media, like it or not.

Tim Burnett is the Editorials & Opinions editor. He welcomes comments at [email protected]