NEW YORK - CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan quit Friday amid a furor over remarks he made in Switzerland last month about journalists killed by the U.S. military in Iraq. Jordan said he was quitting to avoid CNN being "unfairly tarnished" by the controversy.
During a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum last month, Jordan said he believed that several journalists who were killed by coalition forces in Iraq had been targeted.
He quickly backed off the remarks, explaining that he meant to distinguish between journalists killed because they were in the wrong place when a bomb fell, for example, and those killed because they were shot at by American forces who mistook them for the enemy.
"I never meant to imply U.S. forces acted with ill intent when U.S. forces accidentally killed journalists, and I apologize to anyone who thought I said or believed otherwise," Jordan said in a memo to fellow staff members at CNN.
But the damage had been done, compounded by the fact that no transcript of his actual remarks has turned up. He was the target of an Internet and Web site campaign that was beginning to rival the one launched against CBS's Dan Rather following the network's ill-fated story last fall about President Bush's military service.
A Web site, Easongate.com, was created and distributed a petition this week calling on CNN to find a transcript and fire Jordan if he said the military had intentionally killed journalists.
The Web site had been preparing Friday to post information to help its supporters contact CNN's advertisers. A message posted on the site after Jordan's resignation said its authors were pleased with the outcome but still want a videotape of the economic forum released.
"To every reader, commentator, e-mailer and blogger that committed to this cause, thank you," a message on the Web site read. "This is a victory for every soldier who has honorably served this nation. To you we devote this victory."
After several management restructurings at CNN, Jordan actually had no current operational responsibility over network programming. But he was CNN's chief fix-it man overseas, arranging coverage in dangerous or hard-to-reach parts of the world.
"I have decided to resign in an effort to prevent CNN from being unfairly tarnished by the controversy over conflicting accounts of my recent remarks regarding the alarming number of journalists killed in Iraq," Jordan said.
"I have devoted my professional life to helping make CNN the most trusted and respected news outlet in the world, and I would never do anything to compromise my work or that of the thousands of talented people it is my honor to work alongside," he said.
Jordan joined CNN in 1982 as an assistant assignment editor on the national news desk. He has won the Emmy, duPont and Peabody journalism awards.
CNN's global newsgathering infrastructure is chiefly the result of Jordan's work, said Jim Walton, chief of the CNN News Group.
"Eason's service to CNN and support of the people at every level of our organization is legend," Walton said. "He leaves us with our gratitude, respect and best wishes."