Posted from the U.S
I am reflecting tonight on the current output of Easongate, and if any of this matters. Is any good coming out of this, and what could be a positive outcome that has the result of fixing the world?
So far it has generated a lot of blogging and internet activity, newspaper articles, radio show bits, and even television appearences. Eason Jordan is in some hot water, as is CNN. There is a lot of mudslinging, angry words, and calls for various forms of justice. There is also a lot of media spin going on, with lots of people getting caught in the muck.
A host of people have it out for Eason Jordan, and I wanted to comment on this aspect of Easongate. It is easy to abstract Eason Jordan as an evil media figure, especially for people who only know him as a face on the screen, or a name in the paper. But I actually met the guy, and all of this works a bit different for me.
When you meet someone in the flesh, and can look them in the eye and see that they are human, it is harder to simply call out for their head, as many are doing. I am pushing very hard for accountability, transparency, a sense of fairness and ethics, and continue to challenge him, CNN, and others involved in his protective spin to simply get the unedited videotape out there asap and have him face his own words.
When you meet someone and see them as a fellow human being, you want to believe that they can rise up to their full potential and become something extraordinary. If CNN fires him, and makes an example of him, is the problem really solved? Did Eason invent the concepts of corporate media, shaping the news, pandering to regional audiences, and half-baking stories so that your target markets are primed to hear? There is a deeper problem here, and I am not sure that it all goes away if Eason does.
To me, a successful outcome of Easongate could be a transformation of Eason Jordan himself, of CNN, and perhaps the media in general (a lot to ask for). The words expressed in Davos about accountability, transparency, ethics, being fair, improving the state of the world - are these just words or can they be translated into actions?
"Taking Responsibility For Tough Choices" was the theme of the meeting - it surely applies here. I am holding out a bit longer on what may be an unpopular position, but it is one based on the following:
- Eason Jordan should personally lobby for, and release the videotape of the session where Easongate began.
- CNN should play the video in its unedited format, for all to see, as well as give copies to any other media outlet who wants it.
- Eason, in a way unobstructed by spin, can face his own words and deal with the consequences head on.
- There will be fury about what he said, but the speculation will end. For those of us who were there, we know that what is on the tape does not bode well for him but it should not stop him from releasing it.
- Admit fully any mistakes.
The challenge for Eason is how to both have real integrity on this issue and keep his job. The more spinning and denials, the harder this becomes. Many will say its beyond repair at this point. It would take a fairly radical transformation and reformation to do both, but I believe that it could be possible - very hard, but possible. He could, if he wanted to, lead CNN, and possibly the rest of the mainstream media (by example), into a new era. The globally connected packs of bloggers are an underground force for change, but mainstream media needs to respond to this new pressure. It is possible to only report news that has verifiable facts and data, and it is possible to stop treating the news as a corporate product designed for regional target markets. It is possible for mainstream media to accept and work from a much stricter and honest set of ethical and moral standards. It is possible for CNN to examine the fact that the U.S. has troops on the ground in Iraq - American citizens who are human beings, and that maybe this matters a bit more than their ratings in the Arab world. It is also possible for Eason and CNN to explore the issues in Iraq between combatants and journalists in a very fair, factual, and objective manner.
All of this is possible, but it does sound terribly idealistic and Utopian. Someone like Hugh Hewitt would be much more practical and call for Eason to be fired as soon as the videotape is aired and the final facts are on the table. Eason also has a long trail of issues that is haunting him, so this is not the first problem, but one of many. Soundbites have no time to explore the problems of the human condition - "off with his head" works well in a 10 second clip on TV. Practical reality also has no time and patience to deal with such things. At this point, I have no real answer, only a struggle with what is the right thing that should happen here.
I would take no joy in Eason Jordan losing his job, even if it is the right and just thing to do. None of us should. We all can, have, and probably will make major mistakes in our lifetime. Perhaps not as large and visible as this one, but it will happen. The decision if he should maintain his role as the head of one of the world's largest news organizations is not mine to make, but it likely is in question. Whatever happens to him, imagine if this were happening to a friend. It may be deserved, it may be the right thing, but the outcome would leave you hollow. There should be no joy in seeing a fellow human being fall down. As the drive for accountability builds, it needs to be tempered with a sense of humility.
There should be no free ride here, and no easy way out for him. A complete and wholehearted admission of a mistake is also no guarantee. But it does rebuild a sense of respect.
My final point for now: as we charge forward, we should also tread carefully, especially Eason's counterparts in the media. This discussion, this debate brings no joy, and its outcome is uncertain. I hope that it can be for the good, for all sides, if that is somehow possible.