The images of jubilant Iraqis tearing down Saddam's statue, played and
re-played without end yesterday, were supposed to be the final blow --
the evidence that the doubters were wrong all along, that the Iraqi
people had been eagerly awaiting the invasion and occupation by US/UK
forces, that State Department hack and Iraqi exile Kanan Makiya was
right when he predicted that U.S. forces "will be greeted with sweets
But now the evidence is in -- this too, like so much about the war, was
pure propaganda. First, look at the photo. Then, read this story, from
the Chicago Tribune. Not exactly like the masses who came to tear down
the Berlin wall, eh?
American TV networks has a lot to answer for.
POWERFUOL TV IMAGE OBSCURES DETAILS
By Steve Johnson
Chicago Tribune television critic
April 10, 2003
TV loves a great visual, and a giant statue of Saddam Hussein being
toppled in a Baghdad public square Wednesday, a major demolition job
started by Iraqis but finished by Marines in an armored vehicle, was an
irresistible symbol of the entire war.
Transfixing those who watched as it played out across news channels
worldwide and the major U.S. networks, it was replayed almost in tape
loop Wednesday, destined in all probability to become the war's
By the end of the day's TV coverage, the symbol's power had overtaken
the hard facts. The tenor of American coverage proclaimed, as MSNBC's
on-screen label had it, the "liberation of Baghdad," overwhelming more
cautious reporters who pointed out that the U.S. forces did not yet
control a majority of the capital and much more fighting was likely.
Few of the American news outlets emphasized how small the crowd of
Iraqis around the statue really was. And while all emphasized the
potential propaganda value of such images going out on Arab TV, they did
not allow for the fact that, as University of Chicago professor Charles
Lipson cautioned, symbols are in the eye of the beholder.
"Al Jazeera is showing these images and ultimately those images will
have an effect," said Lipson, director of the university's Program on
International Politics, Economics and Security. "But we shouldn't assume
that images have only one meaning, or that people change the negative
views of a lifetime in an instant of revelation, like Saul on the road
to [Damascus]. The real question is, over the long run what's going to
happen in Iraq?"
The comparison that came all too easily and often was to the "tearing
down of the Berlin Wall," as MSNBC anchor Lester Holt said, ignoring
that this was merely one of scores of Hussein statues in Iraq rather
than the defining symbol of a half-century geopolitical rift.
Still, there was no denying the power of seeing the statue tumble
shortly before 10 a.m. CDT and then get danced on and dragged in
fragments through the streets.
"These pictures are the purest gold that the administration could
imagine," said Fox News Channel's Brit Hume.
CNN's Octavia Nasr, who monitors Arab TV for the cable news channel,
said the images were being presented there with "something like an
apology" after the Arab channels had taken an anti-American invasion
tone throughout the war.
"You have all these anchors and reporters trying to explain to their
viewers, telling them that, `although we're bringing you first images of
this demise of the Iraqi regime . . . in no way are we in support of
it,'" Nasr said.
The American news channels and networks, the latter returning to blanket
war coverage lasting into the afternoon for the first time since the end
of March, did sound some notes of caution about the meaning of such a
CNN in particular noted that its Martin Savidge had been reporting from
amid a vicious firefight, also in Baghdad, not long before the statue
fell in Firdos Square. And embedded Fox reporter Greg Kelly in Baghdad
said that "we've seen pockets of resistance in the morning and now we're
seeing pockets--pockets--of jubilation."
But by the end of the day, NBC's Bob Arnot, also embedded with U.S.
troops, had removed the veil of caution. "It feels like Paris 1944, if
you've seen the movies, in terms of widespread jubilation," he said.
As if to match such sentiment, MSNBC had by then transformed the statue
collapse into myth. It was being edited into one seamless fall, rather
than the herky-jerky, two-part process it had been, and the network had,
on at least one occasion, told viewers that Iraqi citizens had pulled it
down on their own.
Copyright C 2003, Chicago Tribune