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Tuesday, February 15, 2005

What the Davos tape still won't tell us about Eason Jordan's ouster

Further to my previous musings about the proximate cause(s) of Eason Jordan's departure from CNN:

I agree with, for example, Patterico (as one among many) that we know very little about the real reasons that CNN ousted Eason Jordan.  And I also agree with him (and many others) that it would be very interesting and useful were the videotape to be made available.

But I'm not at all sure that the videotape would provide a definitive answer. In fact, if the question being asked is "Why did CNN axe Jordan?" rather than "What did Jordan actually say at Davos?" it's quite likely that the videotape, by itself, would not answer that question.

The tape hasn't been released to the public. Was it seen, though, by anyone in CNN's management structure? If the answer to that question is yes, then the tape — and the actual words spoken in and tone of Jordan's remarks (and "walking back" from them, as claimed by David Gergen) — may indeed have been a key decisionmaking factor in Jordan's ouster. If the answer is instead that CNN's execs acted without having seen the tape either, then they were just speculating along with the rest of us about what it might show, and what inferences might reasonably be drawn from Jordan's failure to call for its release.

As I wrote earlier, I believe it's altogether likely, even probable, that the blog swarm around Jordan's Davos comments was one proximate cause of his ouster. But there may have been many others — and perhaps others that were far more significant than either the blog swarm or the videotape's contents in the minds of the CNN execs who actually swung the axe.

For example, Howard Kurtz' WaPo article suggests that there was concern among CNN's management about lingering gossip regarding Jordan's personal romantic life. If so, and if that was indeed another proximate cause, then that perhaps ought to be more troubling to Jordan's defenders and sympathists than the "blogospheric scalp-taking frenzy." (I say "perhaps" because I don't know, and am not interested in, the details of Jordan's romantic life; I can imagine a set of circumstances in which what would otherwise have been a purely personal matter could have become a legitimate, nonprurient concern of CNN's management.) Howard Kurtz is no fool, but he's treading a tightrope — blessed with extraordinary inside access, cursed with the fact that it comes through being on CNN's payroll himself. Was Kurtz hinting through the mysteriously edited references to the "gossip about Jordan's personal life" that this was indeed a big, big factor — perhaps a bigger factor than either the Davos remarks or their aftermath?

Likewise, the blogosphere has documented Jordan's past pattern of making remarks similar to, and as outrageous as, those reported from Davos. We don't know whether those past episodes weakened the camel's back, so to speak, nor if so, how much. The preexisting state of the camel's spine would be useful information if one truly wants to know whether the blog swarm was an anvil, the proverbial "last straw," or simply one of the last among many other sufficient straws.

Look, too, at the timing of Jordan's resignation — early on a Friday evening. Was that deliberate, trying to drop the decision into one of the rhythmic lulls of the weekly news cycle? Could be. But it's equally consistent with a week-long internal argument inside CNN management over how to deal with the problem. Perhaps it was an argument that escalated into a late-afternoon shouting match, or an ultimatum unmet. "By God, you'll either apologize on-camera or you're outta here, buddy!" "Well by God I won't, and f--k you and the horse you rode in on, you fascist!" "Oh yeah? Well you have fifteen minutes to compose your 'resignation letter,' Mister Ex-Executive!"

You giggle? Hey, such things happen in boardrooms as well as in marriages. And if there was indeed a knock-down, drag-out personality-and-principles clash — one that escalated a "we'll tough it out (but he's got to clean up his act)" situation into simply "he's outta here" — you'd nevertheless expect the sort of bland press release that CNN and Jordan in fact issued.

The "blogospheric scalp-taking" explanation for Jordan's ouster is the obvious and convenient one — easily understood through a few clicks on hyperlinks — and perhaps it therefore makes a nice kernel around which to foment a devoutly desired backlash. Even if, in the view of the CNN execs who made the decision, there were other, more significant causes, the cynic in me wonders whether those same execs are perfectly happy for the right hemisphere of the blogosphere — us Bible-thumping knuckle-draggers — to take the rap. Thus the goat (in the unblinking internal assessment of the CNN execs) is turned for public purposes into a martyred sacrificial lamb (in the eyes of his sympathizers and defenders). Was that intentional? If so, was it a primary goal or a mere bit of lagniappe?

But in my wildest, most hopeful fantasies, I imagine a group of enlightened CNN executives saying to one another, "You know, whether these bloggers are right or not, we need to be ahead of them on the curve. Making statements like Jordan's at Davos, even under the most charitable interpretation of them, suggests a lack of management judgment, and the way he responded to this tempest demonstrates a lack of journalistic ethics. This guy's snap instinct and his considered reaction were both to go in the wrong direction. He's just not the guy to be leading our network forward when we're facing sagging ratings and lost credibility anyway. This is no time to act like we're CBS News and no time for half-measures and more warnings. Let's get proactive here; we need a visionary and a paragon of ethics and transparency in this slot, and Eason Jordan's clearly not that guy."

Discretionary employment decisions being what they are, and corporate execs having the multiple motivations for concealment that they do, I doubt we'll ever have answers to any of these questions — videotape or no. That prospect leaves me and many others unsatisfied, of course. But in the big picture, the long-term picture, I'm less troubled than I might otherwise be. Whether the blog swarm was the only proximate cause of Jordan's ouster, or the most significant of several, or a minor one, the net result will be that folks in positions like Jordan's are going to feel more accountable and less bulletproof in the future. Even if I have gnawing questions, I still chalk that result — not Jordan's ousting as such — up in the "win" column for the blogosphere.

Posted by Beldar at 09:04 AM in Mainstream Media, Weblogs | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to What the Davos tape still won't tell us about Eason Jordan's ouster and sent a trackback ping are listed here:


(1) recon made the following comment | Feb 15, 2005 11:04:29 AM | Permalink

As noted in another comment of the morning, perhaps the fact that Milbloggers were activating indicated that this was a battle just getting under way and one which CNN simply could not win.

That tape must have scared the crap out of them.

(2) Skeej made the following comment | Feb 15, 2005 12:24:13 PM | Permalink

Bravo Zulu, Beldar.


(3) carol herman made the following comment | Feb 15, 2005 3:28:26 PM | Permalink

A win for Jordan, too. I'm sure he wasn't in the executive suite alone with screaming executives. He had the benefit of his LAWYER and HIS AGENT. And, he got plenty of money slapped on the table to keep him in happy, and quiet retirement. Me thinks if there's a wounded soul in this picture "who might shed a few words of light," it's the ex-Mrs. Eason Jordan. You know why? The widow Pearl seems to be jacking herself up to an anti-Semite. Daniel's lost more than his head, here. Shows ya that some men aren't careful when they unholster themselves and shoot. And, Eason Jordan went easy on Daniel's killers while he slimed the American Military. (Maybe, this is the "post-Vietnam syndrome" ... where the score against those few citizen spitters gets most Americans, to this day, riled up. ???) Anyway, I'm glad you're all over this subject, shedding wisdom around. Nothing beats good arguments, ya know.

(4) DRJ made the following comment | Feb 15, 2005 11:06:53 PM | Permalink

Here's my two cents:
1. I don't know the "real reason" why Eason Jordan left CNN, but we have to look at the evidence and in this case the only evidence we have is the timing of his firing and/or resignation. Jordan is out at CNN right after the Davos' meeting. Common sense says his statements at Davos are connected to why he's leaving CNN.
2. Re: the WaPo article by Howard Kurtz and the relevance of Marianne Pearl. Could Marianne Pearl's relationship (if any) with Eason Jordan be misdirection by Kurtz or even CNN? If I were in the MSM, I would hate that the blogs uncovered Jordan's statements, and I would hate even more that Jordan resigned as a result. The Marianne Pearl story seems like a leak to divert attention from "a blog victory in the MSM war".

(5) Praxis7 made the following comment | Feb 15, 2005 11:19:53 PM | Permalink

Excellent analysis of the EJ/CNN matter. However, I can't shake the feeling that there may be more to this matter than meets the eye right now. CNN may well simply be protecting themselves from a blog-induced drubbing about Jordan's remarks and were able to rid themselves of a marginal employee at the same time.

However, (speculation mode on) CNN is first and foremost a business. A business whose greatest and probably only revenue growth opportunities lie outside the US. Assume for a moment that the Jordan remark was but the tip of a an iceberg. An iceberg consisting of a carefully planned business development strategy in Europe and the Arab regions that subtlety, but clearly, positions CNN as the premier global anti-Bush/American news and information system.

A bit of a stretch you say? But then just what is CNN's plan to grow revenue? They have to play to their strength - global news and information, and one of their non-American "customer's" strongest marketable attributes is that they are rabid consumers of anti-Bush/American "news". So, CNN ingratiates themselves with the Eurabian anti-American crowd by positioning CNN with media officials in those areas by making clear just how much CNN thinks like they do and therefore will deliver the product they want. Jordan's real mistake as far as CNN managment was concerned was not really what he said, but where he said it.

Therefore, had the Jordan fiasco not been aborted post-haste, the opportunity for CNN's business plan to be discovered and reviewed by blogs, other MSM elements, and the American public as a whole would increase. That would be a disaster of biblical proportions for CNN.

Cynical perhaps, but CNN made nice with Saddam in a situation with far less long term revenue ramifications didn't they?

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