Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The Eason Jordan controversy at Davos

Eason Jordan, Quote, Unquote on WashingtonPost

What CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan said, or didn't say, in Davos, Switzerland, last month has become a burgeoning controversy among bloggers and media critics.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who attended the World Economic Forum panel at which Jordan spoke, recalled yesterday that Jordan said he knew of 12 journalists who were killed by coalition forces in Iraq. At first, said Frank, "it sounded like he was saying it was official military policy to take out journalists." But Jordan later "modified" his remarks to say some U.S. soldiers did this "maybe knowing they were killing journalists, out of anger. . . . He did say he was talking about cases of deliberate killing," Frank said.

Pernicious ambiguity at Davos - a Language Log analysis of the linguistic aspects

Let's assume for simplicity's sake that what Jordan said was

U.S. forces in Iraq have intentionally killed 12 journalists.

The key interpretive question is how the meaning of "journalists" interacts with the meaning of the rest of the sentence. As soon as what someone wants or intends comes into the picture, we confront the issues of belief attribution known as the de re/de dicto distinction. It may be true that Oedipus wants to marry his mother, because he wants to marry Jocasta and she is (known to us as) his mother, but false that Oedipus knows that Jocasta is his mother. Under these circumstances, the statement that Oedipus wants to marry his mother -- whatever its philosophical status -- is an egregious violation of elementary journalistic ethics.

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