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Easongate: the Gowing connection


The slander on the U. S. military that Eason Jordan made at Davos, as every blogger knows by now, wasn't a first-time offense. But what's less appreciated is that the thinking behind it didn't originate with Jordan either.

I've been looking through the man's past speeches and interviews—and, well, he's not exactly what you'd call a big-picture thinker.

So, where did the journalists-as-targets meme come from?

The indefatigable Slublog traces it back to Nik Gowing, who contributed a controversial chapter to a book about journalists who've died under fire in Iraq called Dying to Tell the Story.

CNN International's managing director, Chris Cramer  describes the book in his foreword as a "very sad, very traumatic and very important book." (Cramer, by the way, runs the same international division of CNN Jordan did before he was kicked upstairs as news chief.)

But the Gowing-Cramer connection isn't half as intriguing as the Gowing-Jordan one.

Some background: Nik Gowing is the main news anchor (what the Brits call a "presenter") of BBC World—the Beeb's equivalent of CNN International. In the words of his official c.v., "he regularly anchors BBC World live coverage from major international events, including the UN World Sustainability summit in Johannesburg, the German, Dutch and Russian elections, and the India-Pakistan summit in Agra." (I for one will never forget where I was during the UN World Sustainability summit … but I digress.)

Gowing is indisputably a man with a bee in his bonnet—and that bee is the malevolent intent of the U.S. (and Israeli) military.

Here's Gowing, from a lecture at the London School of Economics last May:

I speak for a large number of news organisations, many of whom are not really talking publicly about this at the moment. But you have to understand that my colleagues in the field have every right to be there, whatever the risks. The proliferation of images which I am going to explain to you emerge in the most instantaneous real time, often before the official machinery of government, or the military structure, even knows anything has happened. This creates what I have described as this fundamental and ominous new tension.

What that reveals often leaves our democratically elected governments and leadership under challenge, and often reeling in the way you have just heard from that protest statement. We have a right to be there. But the trouble is that a lot of the military—particularly the American and the Israeli military—do not want us there. And they make it very uncomfortable for us to work. And I think that this—and I am giving you headlines here—is leading to security forces in some instances feeling it is legitimate to target us with deadly force and with impunity.

We heard that figure of 12 journalists shot dead. I don’t know if that is the latest or if it is accurate, but it is about the right figure at the moment. What has happened—particularly the targeting of journalists—has occurred despite the Geneva Convention and the laws of armed conflict. And I think we have to underline that we have deep concerns, particularly regarding the American and the Israeli attitude to this. I am not taking sides here but I am telling you the way it is for many of my colleagues. And not just my British colleagues but international colleagues and particularly colleagues in journalism who are doing great work in a place like Iraq from the Arab world as well. And we are facing a failure to investigate and bring to justice.

If those comments appear to dovetail rather neatly with the ones attributed to Jordan at Davos—including the assertion of 12 journalists shot dead—it's probably because Jordan and Gowing have been palling around at the same international gabfests for years.

In fact, one of them was last year's "We're News, They're Propaganda" session at Davos, which Gowing moderated and at which Jordan spoke. It was during this discussion that Jordan made his rather prophetic comment about finding objectivity and impartiality to be "outdated, tired terms."

But WEF 2004 wasn't by any means Jordan's and Gowing's first conference together. For the past three years, they've been fixtures at another annual event called News Xchange.

This particular exchange between Gowing and Jordan at News Xchange 2002 in Ljubljana, Slovenia (regarding "targeting" of journalists by the Israeli military) is telling:

Gowing: Eason, why do you think you've been targeted specifically, I mean there are Israeli bumper stickers that say 'CNN lies', the Israeli communications minister talked about CNN as being 'evil, biased and unbalanced' you'll be familiar with all these quotes?

Jordan: Absolutely, well the Israeli government is making a mistake if it considers CNN the enemy, CNN is just trying to tell the story of Israel, the story of Palestinian areas in a straightforward way. We're not trying to favour one side over the other we're not going to pull any punches in our reporting but the truth hurts sometimes and it hurts both sides but it's a mistake to target the news media. We've had enormous frustrations in having access to occupied areas of the West Bank and Israeli forces on a number of occasions have shot at CNN personnel and in fact did shoot one CNN correspondent, he was badly wounded. The Israelis say they're actually trying to restrict our access to these areas and they say it's too dangerous for you to be there and my response to that is that it wouldn't be nearly as dangerous if you didn't shoot at us when we're clearly labelled as CNN crews and journalists. And so this must stop, this targeting of the news media both literally and figuratively must come to an end immediately.

The following year, at News Xchange 2003 in Budapest, they crossed paths again. Gowing—again the conference moderator—used the occasion to hype his aforementioned Dying to Tell the Story (just off the presses) and the work of the newly-formed International News Safety Institute.

On this occasion, Jordan was more tempered in his comments, allowing his CNN colleague Chris Cramer to stoke the controversy: "We [journalists] are—whether we like it or not—legitimate targets."

Cramer stopped short of suggesting that friendly forces were doing the targeting, allowing others, including Gowing to provide the appropriate "context."

Gowing (from the book chapter) again:

There is a growing fear in our business that some governments—especially the most militarily sophisticated like the US and Israel—are sanctioning the active targeting of journalists in war zones in order to shut down what we are there to do—to bear witness and report what they are doing.

News Xchange 2004 was last held in November in Vilamoura, Portugal—and featured the same combination of Gowing as moderator and Jordan as panelist in the "INSI Safety Session."

Gowing: Are we and our colleagues everyone's enemy now, with the right to target us and to use deadly force? And … in 94 percent of recorded incidents no one ever faces trial, no one is ever brought to justice. Last year's turbulent and very divided session similar to this at News Xchange was about news-gatherers carrying guns in Iraq and the apparent indifference and impunity of the Pentagon and the Israeli Defence Forces ….

The reality is that at least 8, maybe 10, maybe more journalists in Iraq have been killed by the US military. There are reports that I believe to be true that journalists have been arrested and tortured by US forces. One case that was not talked about here: an Al-Jazeera journalist put in Abu Ghraib and physically and emotionally abused, called a Jazeera boy and forced to eat his shoe and other things. Even now there's an Al-Arabiya journalist in Fallujah who's been in captivity now for a week. The US military has said that he is not guilty of anything and he'll be freed, but we're now 6 or 7 days into his captivity. It's just these actions and the fact that no-one in the US military has been punished or reprimanded for any of these things would indicate that the US military really does not have respect for the journalistic corps in Iraq.

By that point, Jordan was entirely in Gowing's thrall—and fully programmed for the remarks he would make two months later at Davos.

Yes, Jordan is definitely a menace to responsible journalism. But he's only the Mini-Me to Gowing's Dr. Evil.

UPDATE: Slublog notes that Nik Gowing is affiliated with Chatham House—creator of the infamous rule under which the video from Davos is being withheld. We told you he was evil, didn't we? (HT: Captain's Quarters)

UPDATE: Ed Morrisey, The Baron and Powerpundit have further thoughts on Dying to Tell the Story and Gowing's role as Jordan's intellectual Svengali. I believe, however, that it was less Gowing's October 2003 contribution to the book than his May 2004 lecture at the London School of Economics (cited above) that formed the substantive basis for Jordan's comments at Davos, including the "12 journalists shot dead" remark. This latter document deserves the same close analysis as the book chapter. I trust that Captain Ed will soon bring his formidable intellect to the task.

UPDATE: Welcome BiasedBBC readers. There's more on the Eason-Gowing connection here. And of course much on Easongate generally.

Posted by Rodger on February 9, 2005 at 01:11 AM | Permalink


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