I thank you very much for being here tonight. Let me also thank Fidel Castro. In the earliest days of CNN, when CNN was meant to be seen only in the United States, the enterprising Fidel Castro was pirating and watching CNN in Cuba. Fidel was intrigued by CNN. He wanted to meet the person responsible. So Ted Turner, who at that point had never traveled to a Communist country or knowingly met a Communist, [went to Havana]. It was big deal for Ted and during the discussions Castro suggested that CNN be made available to the entire world. In fact it was that seed, that idea that grew into CNN International, which is now seen in every country and territory on the planet.
Working with Ted Turner is exceptionally challenging and it is exceptionally fun. We all should be so lucky to work with a leader who cares so much about the world. Ted Turner’s view is there is no white race. There is no black race. There is no race of any color. His view is there is only one race; the human race.
He feels so strongly about there being just one world and one race he has banned one word at CNN — the F word: foreign. While Ted Turner and CNN recognize nations, Ted’s view is the only true foreigners are people from other planets, at least until Ted Turner meets those people. So Ted Turner does not want the word “foreign” mentioned on CNN and has called on me to enforce a ban by fining guilty CNN staffers $100 per violation.
Early on with this rule we ran into problems. One morning Ted called me. He was in a rage. CNN was in the midst of a live interview with the Russian foreign minister. (This is all true.) Ted was screaming. “Eason, I told you never to allow that word on CNN.” I said, “Ted, his title is foreign minister.” Ted just couldn’t accept that. He was outraged. He huffed and he puffed, and then he yelled. “Damn it. You tell him to change his title.” The Russian foreign minister refused to do so.
The Courage of Joe Alex Morris
My guess is Joe Alex Morris would have admired Ted Turner’s passion for the world. A passion that Joe very much shared. In doing my homework on Joe, I called on several of his former colleagues, all of whom described Joe in the most glowing of terms.
One of those colleagues, Alvin Schuster, now is Senior Consulting Editor at The Los Angeles Times. And this is what he said: “All the correspondents who worked with Joe described him as the best around at that time. A reporter who would go anywhere and do anything. One who demonstrated time and time again great personal courage. And one who took on the role of a second father to a reporter just beginning out in the world, or to a more experienced correspondent, he just happened to know more about than anybody else.”
Al Schuster went on to say, “Joe was a skinny fellow given to bow ties and sardonic humor. In a white convertible MG, which he drove around Beirut, he could not be more conspicuous, but somehow in that dangerous capital that protected him. They all knew that was Joe.”
Another colleague of Joe’s said, “He was the calmest guy I ever saw under fire.” A third colleague said, “He had a real feeling for people, and people really liked him.” Now, 20 years after Joe’s death, I cannot help but wonder what he would think of the world and the state of international affairs reporting today. And what about the danger faced by the women and men who report the news from around the world? I am quite sure Joe would be deeply saddened to know that dozens of journalists are being killed every year in the line of duty.
Joe’s name is but one of 1,150 names inscribed at the Washington Journalists Memorial Wall. Fifteen of those journalists were killed in Iran, mostly Iranian journalists, tortured to death or executed by firing squad in the past 20 years.
This year that Journalists Memorial Wall will grow by 31 names, the names of journalists killed last year around the world. Surely, Joe would also mourn the death or near death of two news organizations for which he worked, United Press and the New York Herald Tribune. I suspect Joe also would be discouraged by the state of American news media today, perhaps more U.S.-focused than ever, with [an emphasis] on the sensational. Thank goodness for the news organizations bucking that trend.
The sad reality is most U.S. news organizations are closing international bureaus and cutting staff and expenses in the few remaining bureaus outside the United States. These cutbacks are especially flagrant in the world of television news.
CNN with 25 bureaus outside the United States now has more international bureaus than ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox combined. Not one of those networks now has a correspondent based in Africa, a continent of nearly 800 million people and more than 50 nations. Not one of those networks has a reporter based in South Asia, almost 1.3 billion people, nearly a quarter of the world’s population. Not one of those networks has a reporter based in Iraq, a country the U.S. has bombed virtually every day in recent weeks, and a country aggressively trying to shoot down U.S. warplanes and capture U.S. pilots.
Americans Don’t Care
Why aren’t the U.S. broadcast networks out there around the world? The explanations are many. The Cold War is over. International bureaus are too costly. A handful of international hub bureau cities serve well as a jumping-off point for covering the world. There’s not enough broadcast time to adequately report on the world. And the one you hear most often, “Most Americans don’t care about international news.”
Those explanations, some people would call them excuses, fail to take into account some very important points. While it’s true many Americans don’t have a great interest in the world, that’s at least in part due to the failure of many news organizations to give the world the news coverage it deserves.
In this increasingly interconnected and interdependent world, news organizations now more than ever must help the American people understand why the world beyond U.S. borders is important. And I’ll just tell you three reasons why:
The U.S. military is deployed today in 50 countries around the world. You will not find any information about that or very very little in U.S. broadcast television reporting, and you’re not going to find enough of it on CNN.
Two. In the past 100 years, just in the past 100 years, the world’s population has tripled to six billion people. Ninety-five percent of the world’s population does not live in the United States. While, yes, it’s true that international affairs reporting is costly, the most respected and successful news organizations, in fact, do provide serious, thoughtful, enlightening world affairs reporting. That’s the case, both in print and broadcast news.
Two of the most respected U.S. newspapers — The New York Times and The Washington Post — are fiercely committed to world news reporting, thanks in large part to their strong journalistic traditions, and the Sulzberger and Graham families.
On broadcast TV, CBS’s “60 Minutes” often features reports from outside the United States. More often than not, it is the most watched program of any kind on television in this country.
To give you an example of how disappointing the broadcast networks can be in reporting on the world, just last night, ABC, CBS and NBC in their half-hour newscast in the evening, collectively aired 38 stories, 38, one of which was reported from outside the United States.
More Viewers Outside the U.S.
CNN is unique among U.S. TV news organizations in reporting on this world. That’s in part because CNN reaches a global audience. We reach more people outside the United States than we do inside the United States. And because we at CNN believe that for the world to take CNN seriously, CNN must take the world seriously.
That means CNN must try to be there, wherever the news is, not just in times of crisis, but preferably year round. If Iraq shoots down a U.S. warplane tomorrow, for instance, the place to be is Baghdad. It’s not London.
CNN is determined to have as many bureaus as possible, in as many countries of the world as possible. And CNN is determined that its staff reflect the diversity of CNN’s audience, which is a global audience. There is no adequate substitute for having first-rate journalists who report from the region in which they are based, where they know the players, and where they speak the language.
Because CNN aggressively covers the world, CNN’s international reporting occasionally comes under fire from officials of the U.S. government, the Iraqi government and other governments around the world. Some people insist CNN’s reporting at times drives policy making.
Madeleine Albright, for instance, refers to CNN as the 16th member of the United Nations Security Council. Former White House National Security Adviser Tony Lake once gave a speech, and he said, “U.S. policy seems to be increasingly driven by where CNN places its cameras.”
While I hope and believe that statement is not entirely accurate, and that certainly is not CNN’s intention. Surely the U.S. and the world are better off if the leaders of the U.S. and the world and the people of the U.S. and the world are making informed judgments.
When it comes to the so-called CNN factor, CNN’s supposed impact on policy making, I agree with the statement recently made by one U.S. official, who refused to be identified by name. He was quoted by Reuters just a month ago in a story about the crisis in Yugoslavia. He said, “The CNN factor is overrated. It’s only when we, as officials of the U.S. government, respond to the pictures that there is a consequence to those pictures. We create the CNN factor, not CNN or the public or the warring parties.”
Not all U.S. officials are so understanding about CNN. Top U.S. leaders, for instance, are livid with CNN’s continuing reporting from Iraq, just as Iraq is furious with CNN’s reporting from there. U.S. leaders are so upset with CNN’s Iraq coverage [that] the U.S. has refused to grant CNN an exemption to the U.S. sanctions against Iraq that would allow CNN to open a bureau in Baghdad. CNN’s response is to maintain an ongoing temporary presence in Iraq for as long as we like, for years to come if necessary, irrespective of whether the U.S. government approves or disapproves.
The Tailwind Story
When Ted Turner started CNN he gave just one order to the leadership of CNN: “Be fair.” While I take great pride in CNN, I confess to you that CNN has had its share of journalistic lapses.
CNN’s biggest mistake came just a year ago with a story about a clandestine U.S. military effort called Operation Tailwind. [CNN reported in June 1998 that in a 1970 covert U.S. military mission in Laos called Operation Tailwind, nerve gas was used to kill American defectors and civilians.] CNN’s Operation Tailwind reporting fell short, way short. It most certainly failed the fairness test. So much so that Ted Turner and many of us at CNN were physically sickened by it. But at least we had the guts and the good sense to issue a public apology, retract the report, dismiss the people most responsible for the reporting and put new journalistic safeguards into place.
Let me in closing share with you two other lessons I’ve learned in my long history at CNN.
During the Gulf crisis in 1991, just before the U.S. attacked Iraq, CNN was gearing up for a war. I was responsible for oversight of our war coverage from out headquarters in Atlanta, and we were in war mode in early January of 1991. The phones were ringing off the hook. It was a hectic, chaotic time. One gentleman called in to our international desk in Atlanta, and he spoke to a colleague of mine.
He said, “My name is Muammar el-Qaddafi, and I would like to appear on CNN to explain how the war can be averted.” He said it just like that, in just those words, and just that type of English.
My colleague turned to me, and he said, “I have this gentleman. He speaks perfect English. He says his name is Muammar el-Qadafi, and he wants to appear on CNN.” Well I try to be wise about these things. So I not very wisely said, “We have conducted many interviews with Muammar el-Qadafi, never one in English. His English is poor at best, and if he is speaking to you as clearly as you tell me he is speaking to you, than that most certainly is not Qadafi. So the right thing to do is to hang up.”
Sure enough, my colleague hung up the phone. But this gentleman was very persistent. He kept calling back time and time again, and every time we hung up more and more quickly. Then there was a pause in the calls, and we started receiving calls from Libyan ambassadors around the world, expressing their outrage that we were hanging up on their great leader. I still thought it was a crank, a false scheme, a trick. We have to be very careful about these things at CNN.
Finally he called back again, and I picked up the phone, and I said, very sarcastically, “Sir, if you are Muammar el-Qadafi, we would ask that you, at your own expense, put up a television feed so we can see that it’s actually you. And, then, yes, if it’s you, sir, we will allow you to appear on CNN.”
Much to my dismay, sure enough that happened. There he was sitting in his tent in Tripoli. I was terribly embarrassed by the whole thing, and before he actually appeared on CNN, I talked to him in his earpiece, and I said, “Sir, pardon me for asking, but where did you learn how to speak such good English?” Without hesitating, he said, “By watching CNN.” So the lesson I learned there is you don’t hang up on every lunatic who calls you, because one of them might be important.
When the Boss Says, Go
Another lesson came in Somalia. I traveled to embattled Mogadishu in 1993 during the height of the crisis there. (In fact five of the Somali bodyguards who protected me just weeks after my visit were killed in a single day while working for CNN.)
Mogadishu at that time was a very bleak, very scary place. The U.S. and the United Nations were at war with a Somali warlord, who ended up winning the war. My place of temporary residence in Mogadishu was a lovely hotel in Mogadishu called the Sahafi. Sahafi is the Arabic word for journalist. The Sahafi’s chief residents were not human beings; they were rats and bats and scorpions.
There was a war going on in Mogadishu. There was gunfire incessantly outside of my so-called hotel room. Finally about 3:00 in the morning, I got to sleep, and about 3:30 I heard a loud banging on my door. It was one of my colleagues who said that the chairman, the president of CNN, Tom Johnson, was urgently ringing for me on a satellite phone at the other end of this so-called hotel.
So in my underwear I ran, literally jumping over these things that mostly occupied the hotel, and I raced to get there, and I picked up the phone and I said, “Yes, Tom?” He said, “Eason, there’s very important news that U.S. has just bombed Iraq, the secret police headquarters in Iraq, in retaliation for an alleged attempt by the Iraqi regime to assassinate George Bush during a visit to Kuwait.”
I said, “Yes?” And he said, “Well you need to go to Baghdad immediately, and get the Iraqi reaction to this bombing.” Tom, God bless him, is a fantastic leader and a great president of CNN, but I don’t think he fully appreciated the predicament I was in. So I tried to explain it to him, and he would hear absolutely nothing of it.
I said, “Tom, I am thousands of miles away. There are no flights in and out of Mogadishu. There is gunfire outside. I’m surrounded by rodents and scorpions. You can’t possibly expect me to race to Baghdad from here.”
He said, “Eason, I have very very good news for you. It’s not as challenging a proposition as you might think. On my map it’s only three inches from Mogadishu to Baghdad.”
The lesson I learned from that was No. 1, be flexible, and No. 2, be tolerant of a great boss whose map reading skills fall way short. The following is an edited transcript of the questions that followed Eason’s lecture.
Question: Who are CNN’s major competitors?
Eason: There are many rivals, many real competitors, many wannabe competitors. We look forward more than we look backwards in this process. CNN intends to always take the initiative, always fight to win, never be complacent about anything. Complacency is a word that is not in CNN’s vocabulary. The future for us is to serve even more people around the world than we do today.
Right now more than one billion people around the world have access to some CNN service, either through television, through the radio, through the Internet, what have you. We now have services in Spanish, in German, on television. We have Web sites in five languages. We have produced the world’s most used and most popular news and information site receiving now more than 15 million page views a day. We intend to strengthen that, and do it in even more languages, and do our television service in more languages as well, not just on a global basis, but on a regional and in some cases national basis. So we are still in a growth mode.
When I joined CNN there were only 200 people and about six bureaus. Today, there are 4,000 people, and 36 bureaus. Every year I’ve been at CNN we have grown. For every year that Ted Turner is at CNN and at Time Warner, CNN is going to continue to grow. Hopefully it will continue to grow after that so we’re taking an offensive posture, not a defensive one, and intend to win absolutely every battle and every war on the competitive front.
Question: Is CNN making money or losing money on its global coverage? If so, how about some figures?
Eason: Well first of all, there are eight CNN television networks. There are radio networks. There are many CNN services. Our revenue across all groups is more than one billion dollars a year. Our profit is in the hundreds of millions of dollars a year. So we’re making money. We can make more money if we shut down half of our international bureaus, but we’re not going to do that. We’re going to open more international bureaus. We’re going to add more international staff, have more international correspondents. For all the reasons I outlined, we believe in the world. We’re going to be out there around the world. Our news consumers are around the world, and Ted Turner would absolutely kick my ass if we did anything else. So that is where we’re going, and we are absolutely going to buck the trend that’s out there of retrenchment and inward focus.
Question: What about the Tailwind incident?
Eason: First of all, one reason that Tailwind was so difficult for us was for 18 years our biggest fear was we would have some gigantic journalistic screwup that would hurt our credibility ,and we’re nothing but news. It’s not like we have entertainment or sports to fall back on. So nothing is more precious to us than our credibility on a global basis. So it was really tough for us to stomach that. We also, I think, were a bit misguided in our fear about where a mistake might come.
CNN’s reputation was made largely in breaking news and big story news coverage, and we thought if we were exposed anywhere, it would be in breaking news, where we didn’t stop long enough to really make doubly sure we were right.
Ironically Tailwind was a result of an eight-month investigation by great correspondents and producers, and it just didn’t work. It didn’t work out right. We didn’t have a proper vetting process. The people involved in the reporting just got carried away with it in my opinion. We’re still facing all sorts of legal action on Tailwind. So I’m not supposed to talk about it.
The safeguards we have put into place: First of all, there’s a much stricter script approval process. We have a standards and practices division that deals principally with our magazine style reporting that never existed previously, and we put new leadership into place at the magazines, and new producers into place at the magazines, an area that’s relatively new for us. We’re committed to them. But we did not have the right safeguards in place for the magazines that we had had in place for hard news, breaking news reporting.
Question: What do you think of BBC?
Eason: The BBC is a great news organization. Everybody at CNN has utmost respect for the BBC. On a global basis there is no news organization with which we compete more vigorously. Having said all of that, I think CNN has some tremendous advantages and the BBC has some tremendous advantages in the battle that is still being fought. The BBC’s forte is long-form reporting, in my opinion. Other people disagree. The BBC has a tremendous advantage of having resources, taxpayer money essentially, to go out and do the types of journalism which for a privately funded for-profit organization is just not profitable. And I think the BBC does exceptionally well in that area.
I will put CNN’s hard news and breaking news reporting up against the BBC any day of the week. I feel that that is where we excel. We want to be great in all ways, but that’s the area where we have done the best up to now, and I hope we continue that into the future. Having said all of that, there are some very good people at the BBC, and the way that we deal with that at CNN is, if there are people who trouble us at the BBC, because they’re very good, we hire them. In fact, for many years the head of news gathering at the BBC, a fellow by the name of Chris Cramer was really becoming a thorn in our side. So we just hired him away, and now he’s actually the hands-on leader of CNN International. So one advantage we have is the flexibility to spend more money, and move more quickly. There’s no gigantic bureaucracy at CNN. I think those really are tremendous competitive edges for us.
Question: I want to ask about access in Iraq.
Eason: Look, CNN is imperfect, as are all news organizations. We would like to have entirely unrestricted and unfettered access everywhere around the world, but this is not an ideal world; it’s a real world, and that’s not the way it works.
CNN has had tremendous difficulties with the Iraqi government, a government that’s accused me during my own trips to Baghdad of being a CIA station chief for Iraq. I feel lucky to have emerged alive from that. But it’s very difficult working from Baghdad. It was during the war, and it continues to be today.
Our view is, first of all, we will not consciously pull punches. If I ever find anybody doing it, then those people will be history at this network, as well as with our Iraq coverage.
Secondly, we do go to those zones in the north, especially the zones where the Iraqi government does not have control. There are those areas, and you will have seen some reporting on CNN I hope just in recent weeks to prove that. So, look, we’re going to be there for as long as we can be there. We don’t just go to Iraq anymore. We have been in Iraq for the past eight months without exception, and despite Iraqi rage at times directed at our network in general, and me in particular, having made many trips to Iraq myself and know the leadership there quite well.
I can tell you one anecdote about Iraq. When Iraq invaded Kuwait, Kuwait was pillaged by the Iraqis, and among the booty that was taken back to Baghdad were 36,000 satellite TV dishes, all of which are now set up all over Baghdad, tuned to CNN.
So it’s tremendously difficult for us, as it would be tremendously difficult for any news organization, reporting on a regime like the Iraqi regime, when you know your own reporting is being seen by those very same people. Most news organizations don’t have that problem, but we are trying to make the best of an extremely challenging situation. And if there’s any proof that we’re compromising our journalistic standards as part of that process, I would love to know about it, because that’s totally unacceptable.
Question: Are Ted Turner and Fidel Castro friends?
Eason: Yes. I need to explain the background, and it all needs to be said in the context of “Yes, Ted Turner and Fidel Castro are friends.” They don’t agree with one another on everything. In fact, they disagree on a lot of things. Having said that, in 1969 Fidel Castro threw The Associated Press out of Cuba, and that was the last time that a U.S. news organization had a permanent presence in Cuba.
In 1996, I believe, a number of my colleagues and I, including Bernard Shaw and Tom Johnson, went to Havana, not with Ted Turner, and had a dinner with Fidel Castro. We spent six hours with him, and we pushed very very hard to convince him to allow us to have a bureau in Cuba, and it took him years to finally come around to that idea. In the interim period, you had the complicating factor of the Cuban shoot-down of the planes that were flying out of Miami.
Finally, Fidel Castro said, “Yes,” with no ifs, ands or buts attached. We went to the White House. The White House basically told us to go to hell, there was no way that the U.S. government was going to allow an exemption to the U.S. sanctions against Cuba to have a CNN bureau in Cuba. But they added to that, “Of course, if you can convince the Cuban-American community in Miami, and if you can convince all of the enemies of Fidel Castro on Capitol Hill, then we’ll reconsider.”
Well Tom Johnson and I, perhaps foolishly, immediately got on a plane to Miami. We subsequently in hindsight wish we had taken flak jackets with us, because we received the most hostile reception imaginable. The Cuban-American community in Miami refers to CNN as the Castro News Network. So it’s difficult for us there, and this was not a fight that we could win in Miami.
But the most unlikely of things happened. Jesse Helms, of all people, Jesse Helms, without consulting with CNN issued a statement that said he endorsed CNN’s application for a bureau in Cuba, because he was absolutely sure that it would lead to the downfall of Fidel Castro. Within 15 minutes, the White House had said, “You can have your bureau in Cuba.”
So we’ve been there now for quite some time. We have never been stopped from going anywhere. We have never been stopped for interviewing anybody. We have reported on stories that absolutely enrage the Cuban government.
Most recently, last week, involving the trial of the dissidents that you referred to. Our position is we’re going to report as much as we can on issues of importance, and if the Cuban government doesn’t like it, or if the U.S. government doesn’t like it, or if any other government doesn’t like it, then to hell with them, to hell with all of them. We are here to report the news. Period.
You know, if a government wants to throw us out, and many governments have, then they can do it. But until that day comes, we’re going to stay. And believe me the Cuban-American community in Miami, if we ignored a dissident trial in Havana, we would be tarred and feathered. We can’t do it. We have to report it. Not only is it news, but there are Congressional committees that have CNN monitoring groups, that all they do is sit around and watch CNN to see what Cuba news coverage we have. So we are out there aggressively reporting the Cuba story.
Question: How about the Israelis and Palestinians?
Eason: First of all, we are in the crossfire between the Israelis and the Palestinians like you would not believe. I’ve been speaking with my friend here from Israel, and she reports not surprisingly at all that Prime Minister Netanyahu sits around incessantly in his office watching CNN. And believe me every time there is any report on CNN, he personally is on the phone to us, or he sics David Bar-Ilan on us to make known his concerns about CNN’s coverage. We have just as strident observation and concern expressed to us from the Palestinian side.
We do not tailor our coverage for the Israeli lobby, and they would be the first to tell you that. As far as how we decide what news goes to different parts of the world, CNN International is a world news channel that is transmitted outside the United States. About 80 percent of the news content, maybe more, is not U.S. news, it’s world news. CNN USA, which is seen in the United States, is mostly the opposite of that; it’s maybe 20, 25 percent international news on a good day. It’s becoming more and more, and I hope you’re noticing that there’s more world news on CNN now in the U.S. than ever before, and that’s by design.
But we don’t tailor our coverage to suit anybody, and it’s an imperfect process. It’s absolutely an imperfect process, and there are times when we don’t put enough world news on CNN USA, as we did not then, and we intend to rectify that.
Question: I realize that CNN is mainly a reporter’s network, but there’s a sense among network producers that the distribution of justice in the Tailwind case was unequal between April Oliver [a producer, who was fired] and Peter Arnett, who narrated this story and reported parts of the story [who was reprimanded but not fired]. I was wondering if you could enlarge upon that.
Eason: Thank you so much for raising that question. I’m so happy I came here tonight. Look, we don’t do everything right, but our belief in that case was that the producers were the people who put that story together.
There are a lot of people who would argue, not necessarily wrongly, that a correspondent in that position should take the fall along with the producers, who were principally responsible for the report.
In the end a decision was made by a lot of people, including Ted Turner, and Gerald Levin at Time Warner, to let Peter stay with a very strong reprimand, and with a very clear message to the staff that henceforth, in case there was any confusion about it, a correspondent-more than anybody, including a producer-is responsible for the product that goes on the air.
Look, everybody involved in that process, including me, is partly responsible for what happened. It is absolutely shameful and unforgivable. But in the end a decision was made to reprimand certain people, and to dismiss others. And I’m not saying necessarily all the decisions were the right ones, but we made them with great sincerity, and with an effort to make sure that these things never happened again.
Rick Kaplan, in this case, was not as involved as he should have been, by his own admission. I think there were very few people who were involved in it aside from April Oliver and Jack Smith, who would tell you that Rick Kaplan was intimately involved in that story. I know for a fact he absolutely was not. But he was, in the end, as responsible for it, as was Tom Johnson, as was I. I read the script before it went on the air.
Question: Could you tell us how much of the Tailwind story you do stand by?
Eason: The network stands by none of the reporting because we have withdrawn the report and apologized for it. And left it at that, in addition to putting safeguards into place. I know of no irrefutable evidence that says that a purpose of that mission was to kill American soldiers or defectors. I know of no irrefutable evidence that says that the purpose of that mission was to drop deadly gas. It’s very hard to prove a negative, very very hard to prove a negative. Impossible in this case, as far as I’m concerned, but there’s no reason to believe that those allegations are true.
Eason: First of all, to help you understand why it is I’ve traveled on nine occasions to North Korea, it’s because it’s the only place in the world my headquarters cannot reach me. It’s very convenient to escape from work. I had a tremendous opportunity in 1994 to go to North Korea, and have lunch with Kim il-sung, the man who started the Korean War. I had lunch with him in the Presidential Palace on his 82nd birthday, his last birthday, and every time he spoke-it was in a room bigger than this, but with this many roundtables and this many people, maybe a few less people-this rose colored lamp would come down from the ceiling and shine upon him, for as long as he was speaking, and then it would go back up into the ceiling.
This is a man who founded the country and ruled the country for 47 years. North Korea has never known another ruler. He died shortly after meeting with Jimmy Carter at a time that was really unfortunate. Carter actually did a great thing, because he had convinced the leaders of North and South to hold a summit meeting that, in fact, never occurred because days later Kim il-sung died, and the meeting never happened.
North Korea is the most bizarre country on the planet. And some people would say it doesn’t qualify as a country on the planet; it should be planet into itself. But North Korea is unique in many ways, including having the first hereditary passing of the torch in a Communist country.
Kim il-sung passed the torch to his son, Kim jung-il, a man whose voice has been heard by the Korean people only one time in history. He said one sentence, and that sentence was “Glory be to the great heroic Korean People’s Army.” And that’s the only time, that was five years ago, the only time in history his voice has been heard by the people of North Korea. He has never met a Westerner, ever, and there’s a great concern now about where North Korea is going. What are it’s intentions? It does have a tremendous weapons of mass destruction capability. It does have a tremendous nuclear capability. No nuclear weapons, as far as I know, and it has missiles. And all of these things together really are tremendously troubling to a lot of people in the region.
There’s great cause for concern, frankly, because the world does not understand in the least North Korea, and, frankly, in my opinion, is not trying very hard to understand. You have now a new North Korea Policy Coordinator. William Perry, the former Secretary of Defense, is putting together a policy paper for President Clinton that’s supposed to guide North Korea policy for the United States, but he’s absolutely under no circumstances going to North Korea to meet with anybody.
I was just in North Korea a week and a half ago. There’s tremendous resentment, as you might understand, that North Korea policy is being formulated without any consultation of any kind with the other side. So I would say the outlook is bleak, but I can guarantee you this: When you hear about starvation in North Korea, you hear about famine in North Korea, you hear about the backwardness of the country, a lot of very levelheaded, logical thinking people think “Well that country cannot survive. There is no way a country like that can survive.” And I’m here to tell you with absolute certainty those guys will tough it out for centuries just the way they are.
Neither the U.S. nor any country, Japan, South Korea, is going to be able to force a collapse of that government in North Korea. So we need to engage them if we want to have any success in bringing about positive change in the Korean Peninsula.
Question: What do you lose sleep over?
Eason: I lose a lot of sleep over a lot of things. We have had a camerawoman whose face has been shot away by a sniper. My very best friend in Baghdad has been tortured nearly to death by the regime there in an effort to convince this Iraqi to identify me as a CIA agent. This friend of mine, a very good man, has been permanently emotionally, mentally, physically damaged. He’ll never be a normal person. Those are the things that I lose sleep over, real human being issues.
We make mistakes, and we never forget them. We learn from those mistakes, and some of them will haunt us for life. We don’t make many mistakes, and I hope it stays that way. As far as CNN presenting the global version of The Truman Show, that’s not really the plan.
The plan is to just provide a levelheaded, accurate, fair and responsible program or series of programs about the United States and the world. It’s just that simple. There’s no malice. There’s no scheme you don’t know about. There is nobody behind the scenes trying to prop up a government or topple a government or bring a new government into power. That’s not the plan. If it were, you would know about it from 3,999 people at CNN, because they won’t allow it.
There’s no way in the world that anybody who has looked at the situation closely could rightly say that we’re somehow in league with the U.S. government. We have difficulty with governments all over the world. And there is no government with which we have more difficulty than the U.S. government. And if you have any doubts about that, ask the present-day National Security Advisor to President Clinton. His name is Sandy Berger. He has thrown me out of his office, because of my insistence that CNN be allowed to have a bureau in Baghdad. And we’re going to have a bureau in Baghdad, and we have one today, and that’s the way it’s going to be.
I don’t care, and CNN doesn’t care, and Ted Turner doesn’t care what the U.S. government thinks. We’re going to do what we think is right for us, while still doing everything we can to observe the laws and regulations of this nation and other nations, but being creative in circumventing them in the process if we need to do that to report accurately and fairly and impartially and independently to our viewers around the world.
We are a U.S. news organization, and we make no apologies for that. We’re grateful for all of the freedoms that come along with being a U.S. news organization. Unfortunately, those freedoms do not extend beyond U.S. borders at times, and that’s where we run into big problems at times with the U.S. government.
We are a global network, and we take global interest first, not U.S. interests first. Having said that, for a network that’s seen only in the United States, it’s going to be mostly U.S. news, because that’s mostly what Americans care about. And we’re going to provide more international news on CNN in the U.S. than you’ll find anywhere else. But our priority, first and foremost, is serving the interests of our consumers. And if there are consumers around the world, then they’re going to get a world news product, hopefully with a regional tilt in the content of the programming. And if there are viewers here in the United States, than that’s mostly the country about which we will be reporting to viewers here.
Question: Does Jane Fonda have an influence on CNN?
Eason: No. She has tremendous interest in the news. She is somebody who has a great passion for the world, just like her husband. And at times even more passion perhaps for the world than even Ted does, which is almost impossible to do.
Does she have great influence on CNN? No. Absolutely not. In fact I don’t know that she has much influence at all. We know her, because she’s a great influence on Ted Turner. Life for all of us who have worked with Ted for years changed dramatically when Jane Fonda came onto the scene. Ted, you know, had a certain history before Jane came along, and then Jane Fonda appeared, and all of a sudden Ted Turner, who had many interesting habits, including smoking and drinking, all of that stopped immediately.
Ted Turner, who also was not physically fit at that time, made life very challenging for all of us at CNN, because his position was if he was going to have to clean up his act, then everybody at CNN would have to do the same thing, not just on the job, but off the job. For instance, he banned, on the job and off, smoking by CNN employees. Today if you smoke, you’re fired. Period. Period. He feels very strongly about it, and clearly Jane is an influence in that regard. But I think only in a way that’s made us healthier, not in a way that’s influenced our news coverage.