Agam's Gecko
Wednesday, February 16, 2005
Last week I passed along a small tip which might have been news for those who don't pay much attention to blogworld, but which probably like most of my stuff, would have raised no more than a "ho-hum" from folks who do. I refer to the recurring foot-in-mouth posture which is evidently favoured by the former "chief news executive" of "the most trusted source in news." The event at which CNN's Eason Jordan re-enacted this favoured pose of his, was a small and intimate meeting known as the World Economic Forum, where he appeared on a discussion panel with other news execs, foreign ministers and US congress critters before a large audience. The whole shebang was videotaped, and the proceedings were absolutely off the record. It happens all the time...
Excuse me, sir (or as they say over here in Thai-glish, "Execute me, sir..."). Would you care to comment on this highly controversial issue? It would be completely off the record of course, absolute confidentiality, your words won't leave this room. Just a moment while I pin the mike to your lapel, and would you mind turning this way a bit toward the TV cameras? What's that? Oh don't worry, those are just a large audience of European and Middle Eastern journalists over there, they won't say a word -- they promised. Everything said here is very much guaranteed to be in absolute confidence and totally off the record. Here, let me adjust your microphone a little.
Sorry. My imagination's been doing all sorts of contortions, trying to figure out how it all might have worked. Here is the original account link again, so you don't have to scroll down to find it.

When I mentioned this last week, it was already old news in blogland -- about as old as the 'al Qaeda in Iraq' group threatens to behead plastic action figure caper. But while the legacy media did (well, a couple of them did) acknowledge the hoax-like nature of Cody's ordeal, it was almost a uniform wall of silence from them on the more newsworthy of the stories (do US service people in Iraq assassinate journalists, or don't they?). But just three days later, Mr. Jordan was an ex-chief news executive at CNN, or in newsman's parlance, toast. Why did he resign so suddenly, when none of the big, bad, mean bloggers were even asking for such? (At least, none of the ones I read were demanding anything of the sort) Every writer I had seen on the subject who were critical of Jordan's behaviour, were asking nothing more than release of the Davos video tape so that the truth would become clear (amid so many contradictory accounts). Nobody was jumping up and down going, "Resign immediately!" Some of them might have been jumping up and down, but they were going, "Release the tape!"

For whatever reason, it was preferable for Jordan to abruptly quit his position, than to do the logical thing in the situation: ask the WEF people to release the tape (no other panel participant objected to this), or at least a transcript of the relevant portion. Rather than to stand on principle and defend his own integrity with this readily available evidence, Jordan chose to slink away with a late Friday afternoon resignation that nobody asked for (except perhaps for CNN itself). What was actually said at the forum remains buried, and Jordan keeps alive the idea that he was unfairly hounded from his job by an angry mob of Bushitler's stormtroopers brandishing torches and pitchforks.

The second sissy of our title turned out to be even more of a disappointment. One almost expects that a blow-dried and manicured corporate news executive might have such tendencies, but one would hope that a bona fide radical anarchist revolutionary who was actually in "The Sixties" and was a decorated war hero in Vietnam and taught his bomb-making skills to cadres of the Weather Underground (back in the days when urban terrorists were, y'know, kind of cute and heroic all at the same time), would at least make the effort to keep up appearances. All the moreso if the revolutionary in question is an authentic, AK-47 totin' gen-yoo-wine Native American radical anarchist in a beret fergodsakes! I'm expecting Che Bloody Guevara when I tuned in to C-SPAN this past weekend for the Ward Churchill Variety Hour.

What a disappointment. Looking forward to just a taste of that ole time radical passion, some thundering righteous oratory from a true revolutionary of the sort that makes the ruling class oppressors shiver in their boots, and inspires the committed vanguard on to victory -- but all I got to see was a 6'5" plastic Che-like action figure complete with all the accessories, and his assorted sidekicks. Except for the AK though, I guess those aren't presently de rigeur on campus at University of Colorado. I was quite worried for this People's Liberationary Warrior, appearing in such a public and vulnerable way to stake out his free speech rights, but I needn't have been.

There must have been some extremely efficient revolutionary screening of the audience for, apart a couple of mild-mannered exceptions, the auditorium seemed to possess but a single mind -- one that was devoted to their vocal worship of this freedom-fightin' messiah. Indeed, it was much like an old-time revivalist meeting. After every nugget of anti-American wisdom disgorged from the action figure's internal voice mechanism, the war-whoops and yells instantly filled the hall, in case any stowaway nay-sayer might be present and foolishly thinking of expressing any foolish ideas. In fact I felt quite privileged to witness what I surmised to be the traditional warrior cries of the Keetoowah Nation, which is the sovereign to which this warrior-chief affirms his allegiance. Unfortunately, I guess the Keetoowahs couldn't make it to the revival, because the assemblage was almost uniformly, er, unbrown.

Anyway, the whole point of all this was to defend Ward's right of free speech. Which was, of course, never in any doubt -- only whether students in a college half a continent away should be required to pay for Ward's wisdom in their steep student fees. I mean really, those pampered New England oppressor-apprentices of the technocratic corps not only didn't care to listen to such gems of wisdom ranging from, "US out of North America!" and "US off the planet!" to "More 9/11's may well be necessary!" -- they didn't care to pay him for it! The gall of those fascists, eh? Trampling an indigenous tribal leader's revolutionary free speech rights by such wanton repression. I guess that's where the idea that free speech doesn't come free, must originate.

But now I'm so confused. Churchill's Variety Hour was a display of a two-dimensional stereotype come alive with delusions of messianic grandeur, before a congregation gripped by the revolutionary transcendental bliss of his presence, forming a perfect mutual feedback system. So why all the comically stereotyped bodyguards ringing the podium? This was a worship service with Ward as the High Priest (if not the Saviour himself), so who were they protecting him from? As for free speech, the exchange of ideas and opinions during the question and answer section certainly contained restrictions, and it basically went like this: If you praised Ward and expressed suitably radical thoughts while asking him a softball question, you had the floor for as long as the congregation would indulge you (this indulgence ran out only once). If you had a hard question or, Great Spirit forbid, any sort of criticism, he would make a speech on the back of your question and then tell you to sit down and shut up while the congregation launched into whoops of praise.

The big, bad revolutionary appeared to actually be hollow -- just like a Hasbro action figure with eight pre-recorded voice tracks. He stood on the high principle of free speech, from which vantage point he monopolised the agenda without any evident inclination to tolerate contending viewpoints, as few as they were. Frankly, I don't see what all the fuss is about with this guy. Besides the recent revelations showing him to be fake in about five different ways (more on that later), this highly controlled event revealed him to be little more than a big, swaggering sissy.

If there was ever an instance which demonstrates that most of the traditional news media don't understand blogspace (bear with me, I'm testing out alternatives to blogosphere), Easongate is it. They might eventually get it (a few traditional journalists do, to be fair), but the flurry of media stories which followed the resignation shows that they have a long way to go. The picture they strive to paint is one of a mean-spirited gang of right-wing extremists hunting for mainstream media scalps. This group succeeded in taking down Dan Rather over his presentation of forged documents aimed at discrediting President Bush, and rushing them out early enough to influence the outcome of the election. Now these heartless people, having heard the on scene reports from Davos, saw blood in the water from another prominent media figure's self inflicted wound, and circled in for the kill.

It may yet take more of these before the "newspaper of record" and "most trusted source in news" and all the rest, understand that they don't get to say anymore what's newsworthy and what isn't. They have stopped being the gatekeepers of information, and if they ignore a story the chances are that the public will still find out about it, talk about it, wonder why the New York Times isn't covering it, and eventually lose some of the trust they might have had that their media is serving them honestly. And that's really what is happening when a bunch of weblogs are talking about something that the major media are ignoring -- it simply means that the story is out, the public is talking about it in a different media, and trying to move the story along by themselves without the vast resources of CNN or Washington Post. The goal is still to find out what's true and what isn't, but if the media establisment isn't interested in contributing to that search, then they should get out of the way and refrain from whining too loudly when they get caught with their pants down.

The astounding thing about this case, and something that should make many of these trusted news sources feel collectively sheepish (but, no surprise, isn't having that effect at all), is this: Last weekend, a very large number of people read in their trusted newspapers, or watched on their trusted networks, that one of the most powerful people in the media industry had abruptly resigned over a scandal that these same trusted newspapers and networks had not even told them about in the first place!

While these organisations sat quietly on the story waiting for it to blow over, those mean old blogsharks such as Michelle Malkin and La Shawn Barber were not demanding Jordan's job at all. They were trying to find the truth of who said what, tracking down people who were present, finding out who controlled the video record, is there a transcript, and so on. Michelle managed to get interviews with David Gergen who moderated the panel discussion, with Congressman Barney Frank who was on the panel, with Senator Chris Dodd who was in the audience (and was also shocked by Jordan's inflamatory accusations), and others. Messrs Frank and Dodd are not generally known to involve themselves with frothing at the mouth, right-wing lynchmobs -- both, of course, being Democrats. The weblogs doing this legwork are a part of the public square, where people were talking, and at the same time trying to get to the bottom of things. A few other blog authors decided to pool their writing on the subject into a single weblog, and Easongate came to be. Somebody dug out the Eason Jordan op-ed piece in the NYT from April 11, 2003, wherein he admitted that CNN had been covering up Saddam Hussein's egregious atrocities since 1991, in order to maintain their access to Baghdad. There were more examples coming to light, of this guy making unsubstantiated charges against the US military, and nobody ever asking any questions.

If he knew that American soldiers were targeting journalists for assassination and kidnapping others to be held in Abu Ghraib prison where they were extensively tortured, then why aren't we seeing these investigative stories on CNN? Why not get Wolf Blitzer on the case and do a big expose, instead of just mumbling about these horrific accusations matter-of-factly to Portuguese journalists, or at big international meetings which are "off the record" and coincidentally well attended by appreciative European and Arab journalists? It smells an awful lot like pandering to well-known anti-American bias in these groups, when he felt like he had his ass covered. There seemed to be a definite pattern here while this earlier stuff bubbled to the surface in the context of the Davos remarks, and yet during these two weeks I had not read one single blogger calling outright for his resignation. But what if one had? No different from Joe Blow next door saying it over the back fence (except that a lot more people can overhear). Just a concerned member of the general public speaking his mind to the public in general.

But in fact no, I didn't hear this from anyone. People didn't want his head, they wanted the truth. And most of the participants' statements gathered after the event turned out to back up the original account by Rony Abovitz, rather than what Jordan claims he said. Abovitz is a non-blogging businessman who was attending the WEF, and had never blogged anything in his life before writing up the article. Former CNN bureau chief Rebecca McKinnon had set up the Forum Blog as an experiment for these sorts of conferences, and she was present for the panel discussion with her former boss. She also writes her own blog as "a recovering TV reporter".

All these people and many more besides, had made some contribution toward opening up this can of worms, while the establishment was trying feverishly to hide all the can openers. I wonder who it was that originally coined the phrase, "Who's watching the watchers?" If the media is proud of its status as The Fourth Estate, tasked with keeping a watchful eye on governments, corporations and all manner of powerful institutions, steadfast and always ready to poke and prod the elites until they get their story, and always, always, always ready with, "We demand on behalf of the public's right to know!" -- then what happens when they don't? Only the public is in a position to say to the mainstream media, "We demand that you demand answers on this, on behalf of our right to know!" And that is precisely what is beginning to happen. Gradually the old guard will catch on to the new dynamic, or be left out on the sideline.

The blogzone is not a bug in the information environment, it's a feature. Eventually those who dislike the heat of being a watcher being watched, will migrate to cooler rooms and leave the kitchen to those who like hot stoves. And the media at large will be a whole lot better for it, I just bet. Meanwhile the New York Times finally discovers this story more than two weeks late, gives it a title equating bloggers with "news media trophy hunters" (take a look at Michelle and La Shawn's pages again to keep that in perspective), and quoting a former newspaper editor with the charming phrase, "The salivating morons who make up the lynch mob prevail." Ouch, not. I wager he knows that even the last word of that masterpiece is inaccurate (though the anger is as plain as day). When the Davos tape is released, which all participants seem in favour of except Mr. Jordan, then we can think about how some persistent weblog authors prevailed over journalistic stonewalling, but not before. Leaking of the tape would also do just fine to settle the matter. But nobody has prevailed at this point, because the truth is just as hidden as it was before. All that happened is either: a.) Somebody decided the publicized videotape would be worse than giving up his job, or b.) His employer decided to cut its own losses.

BREAKING!! via iowahawk -- Swiss correspondent locates the elusive Eason Jordan videotape, in dumpster behind George Soros' ski chalet in Lucerne. Rush transcript available

I thought I'd make myself a little bit useful yesterday, and went through my Saturday night videotape of C-SPAN -- the one which captured the memorable Ward Churchill Variety Hour -- and look more carefully at how he dealt with the uncomfortable free speech of others.

In case you've forgotten already, Churchill is a Native American... oh, wait...Professor of Ethnic Studies in Colorado. He is a longstanding member of the American Indian movement... oh wait... and a dedicated revolutionary anarchist with the attendant high standards of humanitarian ideals...oh wait... and of course the rigorous standards one expects from academe... oh, wait..... Well, what's a little plagiarism and misrepresenting of the works of actual professors between buddies, eh? Why he's even got a fan club to chronicle his many activities, and (get this) -- he even looks like another, even more famous revolutionary celebrity! I always thought you had to be a Doctor of something before you could get to be a Professor of that thing, but what the hell do I know?

Anyways, here are a few short vignettes from the Variety Hour. These little unplanned hiccups in the planned scheme of things -- slight indications of dissent, in other words -- were found to be the most interesting of the whole show. Russell Means was rather dull and predictable, Chutch himself isn't a very dynamic orator, and his prose seemed to be wandering around looking for an idea to hook onto (as one entertainment review blogger noted). But when there was a touch of dissent, why then things started looking interesting.

Unfortunately, such uncontrolled moments were generally nipped right there in the old bud, as they say.

A questioner begins to explain how he had been prevented from speaking by the Churchillian microphone guardians, and he offers thanks to someone else by name for intervening on behalf of his right to speak. The professor tries to cut off and shout down this relevant and interesting anecdote by yelling, "Speak! Speak!" while the man is trying to speak. He began to ask about Churchill's specification of "technocrats" in the WTC, as being the actual ones deserving of their deaths - in contrast to the innocent children, janitors, food workers, firemen and bystanders. Churchill interupts again, telling him how to speak: more slowly, how to frame his question without making a speech, etc. The man had not spoken more than 2 sentences through constant interuption by the crowd and Churchill alike. Finally he was given room to speak:

QUESTIONER: You seem to come against the "technocratic corps". The students here, virtually every one of us, we're not training here, we're not studying here to become food service workers or janitors. So, are we also "little Eichmanns"?

CHURCHILL: That's your choice.

QUESTIONER: What about the men and women in the towers who are your "little Eichmanns"? Did they choose to be these "little Eichmanns"?

CHURCHILL: That's their choice.

QUESTIONER: And out of us [sweeps his arm across the auditorium], how do we choose not to be "little Eichmanns"? What would we be saying?

CHURCHILL: You're not to make a speech! You were to pose a question! You've posed it, I'll answer it. OK?

When you knowingly accept the collateral effects of business practiced as usual projected by the United States into the rest of the planet, and even if you don't agree with it, contribute your expertise, your technical ability, your proficiency to furthering the process of extermination of masses of children, for your own personal gain and benefit, to fit into the structure without challenging it, you are in the Hanna Arrent (I'm guessing on that spelling) metaphysical sense of "Eichmann", Eichmann.

QUESTIONER: So then, just for clarification ... [whooping and hollering while Churchill supporter pulls the mike out of his hands]

CHURCHILL: No! Now you're done! You asked the question, I answered the question, OK next person!

QUESTIONER: Alright, I guess if you want to shirk your responsibility, you can just go ahead and do it... [barely audible under the whoops and hollers]

CHURCHILL: Same rules for everybody.


QUESTIONER: Where do you get the gall to call the people who died in 9/11 "technocrats", when you sit around and get a $90,000 paycheck [actually $96,000 -a.] from the government you purport to hate?

CHURCHILL: To answer your question.... to answer the question .... Yo! He's posed a question, I'll answer the question. And it really goes to the question of: Hey sucker, you consider yourself innocent? No.

You show me where I ever said .... what I said was, I tend to fly more on these gigs than the average American, making myself more suseptible to being strapped into a passenger seat of a 300,000 pound cruise missile. I've been every moment of my adult existence in flat out opposition in every way I knew to the status quo of this country, but I have not changed it, and to that extent I have not measured up to the responsibility, I am not innocent, and I am subject to the same penalty, and that's the answer to your question, and you don't get a second. You don't get a second.

QUESTIONER: Do you admit your hypocrisy when ... [drowned out by the Churchill supporters]

CHURCHILL: Sit down! You barely don't understand the language to understand that that was the opposite of (phonetic) hispocrisy, OK?


QUESTIONER: [tearful] First I wanna ... Thank you Doctor Churchill, thank you.... [overcome with emotion] This is for all the folks who've been calling for Ward's head on a pike. [Proceeds to read from a lengthy prepared statement] It is with grave urgency and humble deference that I approach you at this dark hour... [goes on with this same verbose, obsequious hero worship for one full minute, radical anarchist cliches all the way]

CHURCHILL: No disrespect, but I've got to be... same rules for everybody, ok? [reclines from the podium so as to let the student continue]

QUESTIONER: It's a statement. For those of us that were shut out at the regents' office. [continues reading his speech until somebody nearby shouts "that's enough" and he sits]

CHURCHILL: Yeah really, I appreciate it and I'd love to have a copy, but honestly.....


QUESTIONER: Does a cowboy have a right to speak?

CHURCHILL: Well you would've if you'd been one further up in the queue, guy, but it's over now, so .....

And with that, he launches into the biggest, badass swagger you ever saw in your life as he turns from the podium and disappears through his throng of bodyguards and Russell Means' bodyguards. Why is it that they say the Euros hate W so much because of his drawl and his "swagger" -- I've only noticed him walking normally, and if anything he seemed to have a pretty muted gait the last time I saw it. And I was consciously looking for swagger. Yet I just bet the Euros would love the Wardmeister even with his big, lanky, overly exaggerated, horse-rider style "I'm so damn Indian..... oh and I'm also a committed revolutionary like my dear friend Che" kind of swagger. I don't know, but I bet most of those Euro people wouldn't have an answer to that one either.

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