Friday, July 02, 2004

Great day for justice, confusing day for the media 

Have you heard the latest secret? I'll let you in on it: Saddam is defiant. Reuters says so, so does Fox, NPR, and Singapore's "Straits Times" (of all the media outlets in the world, it's the "Arab News" that actually calls him "abusive").

Of itself, this tells up preciously little - Slobodan Milosevic was also defiant when put in the dock at the Hague; so were the Nazis at Nuremburg. Most bloodthirsty tyrants are; that's how they get on top and stay on top for so long. Defiance, however, has little to do with the charges, or the merits and demerits of the case.

One could argue that for once the media is not engaging in commentary but actually reporting facts - after all, Saddam was pretty defiant with his refusal to accept the legality of the proceedings and his insistence that he's still the president of Iraq. The problem is not the observation itself but the spin. While the thought strikes me as too disgusting to contemplate, I fear that now that Saddam is in the spotlight again, he might become a bit of an anti-hero for all the usual suspects, including in the media, a Miltonesque Satan that you cannot help but sympathise with considering his plight.

Hasn't Churchill once said that if Devil himself had come out against the Nazis he would be obliged to say a few kind words about him in the Parliament? Is this why so many news outlets have chosen to quote in their headlines Saddam's proclamation that George Bush is the real criminal?

I hope not, but reading the reports I'm not very optimistic. Todd Pitman of the Associated Press can hardly contain himself:

"In court, he was clear-eyed, calm and most of all - unbowed. The world's first look at Saddam Hussein since he was dragged from a hole by U.S. troops seven months ago was a far cry from the shaggy-haired, haggard and somewhat dazed man last seen getting a dental exam in a military video clip."
South Africa's News 24 is similarly impressed:

"Saddam unrepentant... Frailer, but still oozing confidence, Saddam Hussein pitched insults at arch-enemy United States President George W Bush... Visibly aged with dark rings under his eyes, Saddam spoke smoothly and with authority throughout the hearing, often talking down to the young judge [ah, youth versus experience - ed.]... Saddam looked composed in video footage... His distinguished look was a far cry from the bedraggled state he was in when found hiding in a hole near his hometown of Tikrit on December 13."
P. Mitchell Prothero of the UPI echoes these sentiments, although in his defence he's only reporting on what other reporters have said:

"But in stark contract [sic - contrast] the muddy bearded figure found hiding in a 'spider' hole last December by American troops, Saddam took a tone of defiance... According to pool reporters in the room, Saddam's demeanor and appearance was generally impressive compared to the figure seen in his December capture. His beard was neatly trimmed and his charcoal-colored suit dapper, but without a necktie."
A cynic might say that if you compare Saddam's appearance now, to his appearance after being dragged from a hole in the ground, there is no doubt that he will appear to be more impressive. But why not instead compare his appearance now to his appearance when he was in power? Why not indeed?

By contrast to the above-mentioned reports, Nicolas Rothwell, Australia's News Ltd correspondent in Iraq, obviously wrote about a different hearing:

"[T]he ousted dictator, in a hoarse voice, questioned the jurisdiction of the tribunal... Saddam, visibly tired, defended his August 1990 invasion of Kuwait... Although fallen, stumbling and unimpressive on his only appearance since his capture seven months ago, Saddam remains a spectre above Iraq..."
No wonder the news outlets were confused about what the Iraqis thought about it all: "Saddam's defiance strikes chords with Iraq" writes P. Mitchell Prothero of the UPI (only to actually say in the article that "[t]he effect that the first appearance of Saddam since December in the view of the Iraqi public was mixed... [The] reaction was confused and mixed..."). TVNZ, on the other hand, actually means what it says in the title of the story: "Court appearance draws mixed reaction." Stay tuned for more of mixed reactions over the coming months - from the media.

And while you're all here: Why not check out all the good news from Afghanistan that you might have missed in the media.


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