Thursday, February 03, 2005

Eason Jordan, wordsmith extraordinaire

You may be familiar with the newest flap around some remarks made by Eason Jordan of CNN. Basically, he is reported to have accused US troops of "targeting journalists" in Iraq--as in "purposely killing" them.

Now Jordan has issued an explanation of his statement: he was merely responding to someone who had called these journalists' deaths "collateral damage"--which, according to Jordan, they were not. But he didn't mean to imply that the US military had targeted them knowing they were journalists, or because they were journalists.

As a journalist himself, Jordan is expected to be even more careful with words than the average person. When he says that journalists have been targeted by the US military, it has a generally accepted meaning, and it's not the one he's trying to claim. He can't get away with saying that what he actually meant to say was, "People who turned out to be journalists were shot in a combat zone by the military under the mistaken impression that they were terrorists or enemy combatants." That is simply not what the word "targeted" means, and Jordan should know that. If he doesn't, he deserves to be relieved of his position.

I guess it could be true that, technically, as Jordan says, this type of thing doesn't exactly fit the definition of "collateral damage," either, which might be something like "People killed by stray gunfire or explosives because they happened to be nearby when the military was targeting another person." Does the term "collateral damage" apply to mistaken identity, such as appears to have been the case with the journalists? I don't know. It's hard to get a good definition of the term "collateral damage" (I've looked, and the best I can find is "inadvertent casualties and destruction inflicted on civilians in the course of military operations.")

So, technically, Jordan may or may not be correct in saying that "collateral damage" is not the best terminology here, either. But it certainly is closer to the mark than "targeted," since at least it gives the impression that there is something accidental about it rather than intentional. Jordan's semantic nitpicking is a classic case of the cure being worse than the disease.

These journalist deaths should more properly be filed under the heading of, "Tragic cases of mistaken identity during the fog of war." Jordan, writer and journalist, must know this.


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