Questioning CNN

20 Questions for CNN's president covering the war, Abu Ghraib and the 'obsequious press.'
Rory O'Connor has sent this list of questions to CNN president Jonathan Klein in lieu of their scheduled interview. AlterNet will be publishing Klein's responses, but in the meantime, if you have additional questions relating to CNN's war coverage, send them to [email protected].

1. Editors at the New York Times and the Washington Post have apologized for their Iraq war coverage and admitted it was not critical enough, thus acknowledging that their institutions made mistakes in coverage. So have such broadcast network news presidents as ABC's David Westin and Andrew Heyward, your former boss at CBS. Isn't it time for cable networks such as your own to offer a public reappraisal of the war coverage? If CNN does so, what form will it take? How do you as CNN's chief assess the network's coverage of the runup to the war, and the war itself? What would you have done differently?

2. Many viewers found a gap between the coverage of CNN International and the domestic channel, and complain that the U.S. channel was guilty of more jingoism. Even Wolf Blitzer seemed to admit as much. True?

3. CNN's own correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, was critical of the network for not asking enough questions about WMD. She attributed it to the competition for ratings with Fox, which had an inside track to top administration officials. Do you agree? Did you ever speak with Amanpour about her charges, and how to correct the situation?

4. This week the anti-war movement will make an issue of the media coverage of the war, with protests at many major media outlets. Critics say that CNN and other mainstream outlets generally offer more selling than telling, and more jingoism than journalism. How do you react?

5. These are the same groups that helped turn out 30 million people worldwide Feb. 15, 2003, in the greatest one-day protest in history to try to stop a war. The media marginalized those protests, however. 300,000 anti-war protesters here in New York City, for example, were given equal treatment on CNN with pro-invasion supporters who numbered only in the hundreds. Anti-war protesters charge the public was deceived by the coverage. Were they correct?

6. Longtime White House correspondent Helen Thomas recently wrote, "Nothing is more troubling … than the obsequious press during the runup to the invasion of Iraq. They lapped up everything the Pentagon and White House could dish out -- no questions asked." Do you agree? If so, what steps will you take to ensure that CNN at least does not repeat this mistake?

7. Thomas and others contend, "The naive complicity of the press and the government was never more pronounced than in the prelude to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. The media became an echo chamber for White House pronouncements." Two of the nation's most prestigious newspapers, the New York Times and the Washington Post, kept up a drumbeat for war with Iraq to bring down dictator Saddam Hussein -- and television news outlets such as CNN were no different, accepting almost unquestioningly bogus evidence of weapons of mass destruction and the dubious White House rationale that proved to be so costly on a human scale, not to mention a drain on the Treasury. When Secretary of State Colin Powell delivered his statement on Saddam's lethal arsenal on Feb. 5, 2003, before the United Nations, CNN and other mainstream media outlets said he left little question that Hussein had tried to conceal weapons of mass destruction. Why? And why did CNN not say nearly as much about the subsequent failure to find any such weapons?

8. Do you agree with Helen Thomas that it is now "past time for reporters to forget the party line, ask the tough questions and let the chips fall where they may"?

9. At best, the mainstream media were extremely gullible in accepting the Bush administration's false claims. Why? Did executives at places like CNN really think it was all going to be so easy, a "cakewalk?" Why did the Washington press corps forgo its traditional skepticism to become cheerleaders for a deceptive administration? Careerism? Ratings hunger? Why did so few stand alone outside Washington's pack journalism?

10. Despite the apologies of mainstream media executives for not having questioned evidence of WMD and links to terrorists in the early stages of the war, they still ignored a damaging report in the London Times on May 1, 2005. That report revealed the so-called Downing Street memo, the minutes of a high-powered confidential meeting that British Prime Minister Tony Blair held with his top advisers on Bush's forthcoming plans to attack Iraq. At the secret session, Richard Dearlove, former head of British intelligence, told Blair that Bush "wanted to remove Saddam Hussein through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." The Downing Street memo was a bombshell when discussed by bloggers, but ignored by the mainstream media it until it became too embarrassing to suppress. Why?

11. After the White House lost its credibility in rationalizing the pre-emptive assault on Iraq, most mainstream correspondents were still too timid to challenge administration officials, who were busy trying to put a good face on a bad situation. Why did the watchdogs turn into lapdogs for so long?

12. If reporters from media outlets such as CNN had put the spotlight on the flaws in the Bush administration's war policies, couldn't they have helped save the country the losses of American and Iraqi lives -- not to mention hundreds of billions of dollars that might have been better spent here in America?

13. When new photographs of detainees abused by U.S. soldiers in the infamous Abu Ghraib prison were discovered by the American Civil Liberties Union, the story was first covered on TV … in Australia! And details of the abuse scandal, such as these:

  • 1,325 images of suspected detainee abuse
  • 93 video files of suspected detainee abuse
  • 660 images of adult pornography
  • 546 images of suspected dead Iraqi detainees
  • 29 images of soldiers in simulated sexual acts

The last item made newspaper headlines ... in the Guardian in England! Why do Americans so often have to rely on non-American media outlets to get news about the war?

14. Journalists are being killed regularly in Iraq without media companies demanding proper investigations. Why? Isn't journalism itself being compromised?

15. Inside-Out reporting: Media companies such as CNN are locked into "outside-in" standups when what's needed is "inside-out" coverage. Why can't we hear more from the Iraqi people and from more diverse sources?

16. Independent assessments of political developments: Why don't we hear more from international experts, and less from just pro-war pundits?

17. Show Us the War: We need to see real images from the war zone. Networks such as CNN have footage they are not showing. Why?

18. Followup on corruption investigations: There have been many reports on financial scandals but little actual followup. How is our tax money being squandered? Will you commit to 'following the money' -- and then tell us where it all went and who got it?

19. Followup on wounded soldiers and Iraqis: Our veterans' hospitals are flooded with war casualties. Iraqi facilities and humanitarian support facilities are terribly underfunded as resources are diverted away from reconstruction and services into "security" for U.S. forces. Will you commit to more stories analyzing the human cost of the war?

20. How would a state-run media system cover the war and the runup to it differently?

Have additions to this list? Questions Jonathan Klein should answer? Send them to [email protected]
This and other articles by Rory O'Connor are available on his blog.