CNN Withholds Information About Iraq

And now the most telling two minutes in television, the latest from the wartime grapevine:

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Executive Decisions
A senior CNN executive is acknowledging today that his network deliberately withheld what it knew about the horrors of Saddam Hussein's Iraq to protect its own personnel and CNN's access to the country. Eason Jordan, CNN's chief news executive, writes in The New York Times that he learned "awful things" during 13 trips to Baghdad. He went there, he said, "To lobby the government to keep CNN's Baghdad bureau open and to arrange interviews with Iraqi leaders." So, for example, when Saddam's son Uday told him he planned to assassinate two of his brothers-in-law who had defected to neighboring Jordan and to kill Jordan's King Hussein CNN could not report that because it might have gotten CNN's translator killed. So CNN did not report it, though it did warn King Hussein, who dismissed the information. The two brothers-in-law later went back to Iraq, and were promptly murdered. But CNN's bureau stayed open.

Answering Accusations
And from that bureau came such reports as one from CNN's Nic Robertson last Oct. 14 as Iraqis were about to go to the polls to vote in a curious referendum in which Saddam Hussein, the only candidate on the ballot, would get 100 percent of the vote. CNN's Robertson said, "Iraqi reverence for Saddam Hussein is rarely more expressive than when their leader calls a referendum." Eleven days later, on a New York radio station, Jordan answered the charge that CNN had been soft on Saddam to stay in Baghdad. He insisted that he and CNN "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."

Reporters' Regret?
There may be even more comments on Iraq some journalists may wish they could take back. NBC's voluble Chris Mathews, for example, said before the war that it would "join the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, Desert One, Beirut and Somalia in the history of military catastrophe." As National Review notes, NBC analyst Gen. Barry McCaffrey said that in a battle for Baghdad "we could take, bluntly, a couple to 3,000 casualties." The New York Times' Nicholas Kristoff wrote, "Iraqis hate the U.S. government even more than they hate Saddam."  And Richard Cohen of the Washington Post derided the insistence by U.S. officials that their war plan was "brilliant and on schedule." Wrote Cohen, "As anyone can see, and as some field commanders keep saying, it is neither."