All Iraq, All the Time

012207 article otr All Iraq, All the Time“There have been a number of occasions where we said, ‘This story’s bullshit,’” said Eason Jordan.

Mr. Jordan is familiar with the art of second-guessing. Two years ago, he resigned from his job as CNN’s chief news executive after right-wing bloggers pounced on remarks he’d made about the U.S. military allegedly targeting journalists in Iraq. Like Dan Rather, he was a trophy—a mainstream-media mastodon, fallen to the sharp spears of this aggressive new tribe.

But this past December, as the warbloggers set out on another hunt, Mr. Jordan, 46, made a surprising reappearance: On a newly launched blog of his own, he offered to join columnist Michelle Malkin and others in fact-checking a disputed Associated Press story.

Ms. Malkin—a gleeful participant in what she called “Easongate”—had accused the A.P. of faking the existence of a much-used Iraqi source, a police captain named Jamil Hussein, who had described a Shiite attack on a Sunni mosque in which six people were burned to death.

“[T]he search for Jamil Hussein is on, and rightly so,” Mr. Jordan wrote on his site, IraqSlogger. He said he was willing to travel to Iraq with Ms. Malkin, both of them on his own dime, to investigate. Ms. Malkin agreed to make the trip sometime after Christmas.

In the clash between media culture and media counterculture, Mr. Jordan suddenly looked like Patty Hearst. His 23-year CNN career was over; his 18-year marriage ended in divorce. After a lifetime in Georgia, he relocated to New York, to a roomy loft in Soho—with maps of Baghdad, Mosul and Tikrit on the wall inside the entrance.

And he was blogging. When a Reporters Without Borders representative said it was “idiotic” to blame sectarian violence on the media, Mr. Jordan wrote that the spokesperson was “dead wrong,” and that some Iraqi outlets “explicitly incite violence.”

IraqSlogger combines media analysis with original reporting, drawing on a small team of reporters in the U.S. and a network of Iraqi sources.

“It was clear from my own time in Iraq—and I’ve been there 16 times—that while there’s no shortage of people with guns, there is a shortage of information that is reliable and timely,” Mr. Jordan said.

Speaking of which: On Jan. 4, the Associated Press reported that Iraq’s Interior Ministry, which had previously denied Mr. Hussein’s existence, now confirmed that he was on its rolls. The blogosphere still questioned the policeman’s suitability as a source, but the moment of vulnerability had passed; Ms. Malkin went off to Iraq on her own, on a separate embedded mission.

Mr. Jordan said he “took note of the fact that Michelle Malkin—who writes obsessively on Iraq, and how wonderful things are over there—had never herself been to Iraq.”

Mr. Jordan was at the kitchen table in his loft, which doubles as the headquarters of his media company, Praedict. He was dressed in worn gray jeans and a black polo shirt. Al-Jazeera English played on a flat-screen monitor nearby. A television, closer to his couch and bed, carried CNN—albeit with the sound off and closed-captioning on. Anna Shen, a writer and editor for IraqSlogger, sat across the table, typing on a laptop.

Mr. Jordan said that journalists’ security is still on his mind—and has been for years. In January of 2004, two Iraqis working for CNN were killed in an ambush by insurgents in Hilla, a town south of Baghdad. Afterward, Mr. Jordan said, authorities told him that several foreign convoys had previously been attacked on the same road.

“That’s enormously valuable information beforehand,” Mr. Jordan said. “After the fact, it does nothing but make your blood boil. I thought, ‘If that information could be distributed proactively, rather than after a tragedy has occurred’—that’s what spawned me to do this thing.”

So after he left CNN, Mr. Jordan called up his former boss and longtime mentor, Ted Turner.

“I didn’t ask for money, but for his advice and guidance,” Mr. Jordan said. Mr. Turner sits on Praedict’s advisory board, as do former Presidential hopeful Gen. Wesley Clark, Iraqi Red Crescent president Dr. Said Hakki, Gen. James Marks and Lord Richard Bethell Westbury.

“The company has been largely funded out of my pocket, with some help from a couple of angel investors,” Mr. Jordan said. Mr. Jordan declined to specify who the angels were, beyond saying that they were not members of the advisory board.

Praedict’s U.S. staff consists of co-founder Robert Pelton, author of a book on the inner workings of military contractors; journalist Nir Rosen, who chronicled the Sunni and Shiite resistance starting in 2003; Zeyad, an Iraqi CUNY student who uses only his first name; Amer Mohsen, who critiques the Iraqi press; and Ms. Shen.

In Iraq, the site relies on some 40 to 50 locals, ranging from tipsters to full-timers. Their contributions include summaries of the Kirkuk police blotter, diary entries from Baghdad and black-market reports—documenting how much gasoline, rice or eggs are fetching on a given day.

Thanks to bridging Baghdad time and U.S. time, the staff is short on sleep, Mr. Jordan said. The site’s daily roundup of U.S. newspapers is published around 2 a.m. E.S.T., so that expatriates and Iraqis can see it at 10 a.m. in Baghdad. “It’s a seven-day-a-week, 16-to-18-hour workday,” Mr. Jordan said.

And he plans to follow it with another electronic-news venture: IraqSafetyNet, a premium service providing security news and on-the-ground intelligence. It will be delivered through dedicated screens—like a Bloomberg terminal, but for I.E.D.’s instead of market fluctuations. Though the pricing model is still being established, Mr. Jordan estimated the service would charge around $5,000 a month.

“IraqSafetyNet is a more complicated and expensive venture on a stand-alone basis,” Mr. Jordan said. IraqSlogger, he said, was a way to “garner an audience of the Iraq professional community” who might then be interested in the premium product.

“It might be that the U.S. embassy has 20 screens in Baghdad,” Mr. Jordan said. “It might be that a big contractor has 10 or 15 screens. It might be that a news organization like The New York Times or Washington Post would have one or two screens—maybe not just one in Baghdad, but back home at HQ.”

Keith Richburg, The Washington Post’s foreign editor, said that he was glad that “someone is looking at ways to protect journalists more,” but that the site would need to provide vital content to justify the price tag. New York Times deputy foreign editor Ethan Bronner likewise said that the service would have to be able to supply information that the paper’s existing security team does not.

And Nancy A. Youssef, the Iraq bureau chief for the McClatchy newspaper chain, said that even with great contacts, a service would be hard-pressed to stay up-to-the-minute on the bloody sectarian chaos.

“I’ve been here four years, and I don’t always know where to go,” Ms. Youssef said by phone from Baghdad. “What might have been safe yesterday might be very dangerous today. It’s frustrating as a journalist, because you don’t know where you can go.”

But Mr. Jordan said he’s already fielding requests for the service from the South Korean and South African foreign ministries. With a few hundred clients, he estimated, the service could be financially successful. He plans to vet each buyer, he said, to make sure the intelligence doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

Meanwhile, Mr. Jordan’s free service is on the verge of making a business deal with the Huffington Post.

“We are working on a formal partnership where we’re going to have a distribution, promotion and content agreement,” said Ken Lerer, the Huffington Post co-founder and former Time Warner executive.

Mr. Lerer said he first got to know Mr. Jordan during a trip to Cuba four or five years ago. Fidel Castro had arranged a small dinner for a handful of media bigwigs, including CNN’s then chief executive, Walter Isaacson, and current Time Warner boss Richard Parsons.

“When we came in,” Mr. Lerer said, “and Castro saw Eason from across the hall, he yelled out ‘Eason!’ That’s a true story. My jaw dropped to the ground.”

And now Mr. Jordan—who burnished his fifth-columnist credentials in 2003 with a Times op-ed saying that CNN had held back its reporting while Saddam was in power—is swapping e-mails with Ms. Malkin et al.

“I knew who I was dealing with,” Mr. Jordan said. “I had a history with them. The right-wing blogosphere has had some embarrassing moments, and what they would consider triumphant moments. They consider my departure from CNN a victory of theirs, in some sense.”

Mr. Jordan said that after his ouster, “it was a good time to get away from Atlanta.” (“I’ve always loved New York,” he said. “My love life is almost always involving New York women.”)

He estimated that he had been back to Atlanta to visit his children some 50 times since he relocated. He was bound to Atlanta again on Jan. 12, before leaving for Qatar.

“For all my successes and failures in life, personally and professionally,” Mr. Jordan said, “I think I can bring something to the table when it comes to Iraq that not a lot of people can bring. This is exactly what I want to do.”