Eason Jordan is an interesting glocal case. As CNN's chief news executive, no one traveled the world more than he, working out top-level arrangements with foreign governments and agencies to smooth the work of CNN's ground troops when they came in.
As such, Jordan needed exceptionally great skill at understanding the needs and the worldview of the people in areas where CNN put its staff. He needed to be able to say things that made foreign leaders feel that, yes, Jordan really understood them. Or at least that they could work with him. There is no doubt that this made him say things in foreign capitals that, should these things ever be replayed for his colleagues back at the home office in Atlanta, would cause shock and alarm.
Because things that are accepted as inoffensive and obvious truisms in one part of the world, can be considered outrages in another. Such as the assertion that the U.S. military targets journalists from time to time in its operations. That's a truism in much of the Middle East. And it's an almost treasonous claim in today's U.S.
Every U.S. executive who has a foreign posting for a U.S. multinational knows what I am talking about. When you live overseas, you live in a society with a different set of laws, mores, and cultural understandings. And you have no choice but to go along with them. These understandings are often 180 degrees at odds with U.S. laws and understandings, which in turn requires both sides to maintain a polite facade of agreement that often masks total disparities and contradictions underneath.
There is still apparently no trascript of what Jordan said at the Davos forum, but people who were there who blogged the event, make it appear there's little doubt that at Davos, Jordan was facilely presenting to the Middle Eastern figures in the crowd what to them was a truism -- that U.S. forces target journalists from time to time. On Al Jazeera and other Middle East news sources, this is an entirely uncontroversial claim, because everyone accepts it as obvious.
My sense is that Jordan, when he made his remarks to the high-level crowd at Davos, was casually showing to his high-level foreign friends that he, too, accepted it as an uncontroversial fact that the U.S. military targeted journalists, including U.S. journalists. Whether he really believed it or not, I don't know; but it's the kind of thing that would immediately get him "buy in" with an otherwise potentially hostile crowd. And under normal circumstances for him -- halfway around the world, behind close doors -- there would be no potential downside.
But these were not unusual circumstances. It was not behind closed doors. There were bloggers present who ran from the room and put down what they heard onto the Internet. And that's not only a blog twist, but a glocal twist. Jordan wasn't only speaking locally but globally. The local bloggers made Jordan's comments global.
And a remark that is a truism in one part of the world, became a bombshell in another.
Diplomats know how this happens, which is why their job description includes speaking in bland formulations carefully designed to avoid cross-cultural confusion.
From a journalistic standpoint, two questions:
1. The MSM angle. Is the MSM sufficiently explaining to readers that the notion of military targeting of journalists is simply a given in much of the Middle East and Europe? And by the way, is there any truth to the assertion or is it a myth? That is a question that's gone completely unanswered so far in coverage of this story.
2. The blog angle. Cross-cultural misunderstandings, as explained above, are an old story. But the ability of bloggers posted all around the world to pluck out a statement that would otherwise have gone unreported, and then to fan it to a burning whiteness on ideologically-driven web sites with hundreds of thousands of readers, is something new in the world. It's a new power that may need some checks and balances. Especially so in this glocal world that is so vulnerable to bald errors of understanding and intrepretation across latitudes and longitudes. (Published 2/15/2005)