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"We're not reading Iraqi propaganda; we're reporting as an independent news organization."

    Eason Jordan

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October 25, 2002

BOB GARFIELD: After journalists were expelled from Iraq on Thursday, CNN head of news-gathering Eason Jordan, called the move "a Draconian measure that will sharply curtail the world's knowledge about what is happening in Iraq. Iraq is often displeased with CNN," says Jordan, "but especially this week when the network reported from the scene of that extraordinary protest in Baghdad."

EASON JORDAN: The big beef was that we reported that gunfire was used to disperse the demonstrators which is absolutely irrefutable fact, but the Iraqi government sometimes denies the facts and refuses to acknowledge the truth.

BOB GARFIELD: Well what kind of weird conversation is it with the Iraqi officials that you're having when you're holding up a, a piece of videotape and saying this is black and they're saying no, no that's white. It's bizarre!

EASON JORDAN: Well there are a lot of bizarre things in Iraq, and unfortunately the Iraqi officials refuse to look at the videotape because they said they didn't care what it showed or what was heard on the tape because the reality -the Iraqi reality - was very different from the actual facts.

BOB GARFIELD: I'm sure you have seen Franklin Foer's article in The New Republic which charges that the Western press is appeasing the Iraqi regime in order to maintain its visas -- to be there reporting should a war ultimately break out. What's your take on that?

EASON JORDAN: The writer clearly doesn't have a clear understanding of the realities on the ground because CNN has demonstrated again and again that it has a spine; that it's prepared to be forthright; is forthright in its reporting. We wouldn't have a team in northern Iraq right now if we didn't want to upset the Saddam Hussein regime. We wouldn't report on the demonstration if we didn't want to upset the Saddam Hussein regime. We wouldn't have been thrown out of Iraq already 5 times over the last several years if we were there to please the Saddam Hussein regime. So the story was lopsided, unfair and chose to ignore facts that would refute the premise of the article.

BOB GARFIELD: Well what is the calculus? In the New Republic article he cites the coverage of Saddam Hussein's birthday by CNN which he deemed to be not a huge news event. Are you tossing bones to Saddam Hussein in order to be there when, when it really matters?

EASON JORDAN: No. I don't think that's the case at all. Now, there is Iraqi propaganda that is news! I mean there is propaganda from a lot of governments around the world that is newsworthy and we should report on those things. Saddam Hussein's birthday is a big deal in that country. We're not reading Iraqi propaganda; we're reporting as an independent news organization.

BOB GARFIELD: Back in '91 CNN and Peter Arnett in particular were heavily criticized, mostly by civilians, for reporting from within Baghdad during the U.S. attack in ways that they'd consider to be utter propaganda and to-- out of context and not reflecting the overall reality of Saddam Hussein' regime. Have you analyzed what you can get access to without appearing to be just a propaganda tool for Saddam?

EASON JORDAN: Well absolutely. I mean we work very hard to report forthrightly, to report fairly and to report accurately and if we ever determine we cannot do that, then we would not want to be there; but we do think that some light is better than no light whatsoever. I think that the world, the American people will be shortchanged if foreign journalists are kicked out, because even in Peter Arnett's case there were things that he reported on -- and this is a long time ago now -- but things he reported on that I don't think would have been reported at all had he not been there. We feel committed to our Baghdad presence. We've had a bureau there for 12 years with occasional interruptions when we've been thrown out, but we're not there to please the Iraqi government -- we're not there to displease the Iraqi government -- we're just there to do our job.

BOB GARFIELD: Let's say there's an -- a second Gulf War. Is that the mother of all stories? Do you have to be there? Are there-- decisions you'll make on the margins to be s-- as certain as you possibly can that you will have a presence there?

EASON JORDAN: We'd very much like to be there if there's a second war; but-- we are not going to make journalistic compromises in an effort to make that happen, being mindful that in wartime there is censorship on all sides, and we're prepared to deal with a certain amount of censorship as long as it's not-- extreme, ridiculous censorship where -- which we've actually seen a number of cases in previous conflicts -- not just with Iraq. But-- sure! We want to be there, but it's --we don't want to be there come hell or high water. We want to be there if we can be there and operate as a responsible news organization.

BOB GARFIELD: Very well. Eason Jordan, thank you very much.

EASON JORDAN: Okay, thank you.

BOB GARFIELD: Eason Jordan is the chief news executive and news-gathering president for CNN News Group. He joined us from CNN studios in Atlanta. [MUSIC]

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