CNN and tyrants: access at all costs
We’ve devoted a good deal of time here at Useful Stooges to Ted Turner, the founder of CNN who’s made billions through capitalism but has a very soft spot for Communism. This is a dude who’s insisted that North Korea is peaceable and called Fidel Castro a “great guy.” He owns over two dozen homes and is America’s second-largest landowner, but he demands that the ordinary proles should tackle global warming by reducing their carbon footprints. As for Islamic terrorism, he’s explained that 9/11 happened “because there are a lot of people living in abject poverty out there who don’t have any hope for a better life.”
He’s often spoken of CNN as if it were his child. Well, in this case, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. The received wisdom is that of the three major cable-news operations, Fox News is conservative and MSNBC liberal, while CNN is in the middle, serving up objective, balanced reporting and treating both sides fairly.
When it comes to oppressive regimes — the type that shutter opposition media and imprison honest journalists — CNN’s policy has routinely been to retain access at all costs. Back in 1991, during the first Gulf War, CNN’s Peter Arnett was the only Western TV reporter in Baghdad, and, as such, according to Newsweek, provided “rare glimpses from inside Iraq,” even as he “provoked criticism that he and his network [were] being used as a conduit for Iraqi propaganda.” Arnett denied the charges vehemently: “Are we conduits for propaganda? It’s information….[The Iraqis] aren’t requiring me to report information; I’m not told what to write. I feel that what we are doing is giving a view which is not complete but is helpful, hopefully, for Americans and [people] elsewhere.”
CNN’s access-at-any-price policy gained widespread attention again after 9/11, when many critics pointed to CNN’s unique ability to keep its reporters in Baghdad and attributed it — correctly — to the network’s systematic refusal to report on the dark side of Saddam’s regime. In a 2003 New York Times op-ed, “The News We Kept to Ourselves,” CNN news exec Eason Jordan admitted that on 13 trips to Baghdad over the previous dozen years, he’d seen and heard “awful things” that his network hadn’t reported. But instead of acknowledging that CNN had stayed mum to retain access, he took the line that it had stayed silent to protect “the lives of Iraqis, particularly those on our Baghdad staff.”
In the op-ed, Jordan told of an Iraqi CNN cameraman who’d been arrested and tortured by the secret police; he recalled the time Saddam Hussein’s son Uday confided in him plans to kill two of his relatives; and he noted that henchmen had once pulled an aide’s front teeth with pliers just to keep him in line. But CNN reported on none of these things. “I felt awful having these stories bottled up inside me,” Jordan claimed. But it was his decision to maintain CNN’s presence in Iraq nonetheless — resulting in reportage that every single day whitewashed the reality of life under Saddam.
When the U.S. and its allies did finally invade Iraq, CNN continued to be reluctant to criticize Saddam’s regime — though it didn’t hesitate to go after the American government and military, and (especially) after news operations that weren’t so cozy with Saddam’s regime. The network’s own Christiane Amanpour actually smeared Fox News as being the Bush administration’s “foot soldiers” — in response to which Fox issued the statement saying, “It’s better to be viewed as a foot soldier for Bush than a spokeswoman for al-Qaeda.”