November 6, 2006

The Election Trinket Formerly Known As Saddam


So we have the November surprise — involving a quasi-kangaroo court dropping a death sentence on Saddam just 48 hours before the U.S. election.

My first reaction was to agree with Tim Grieve at Salon — that the last last minute “hail Mary” (as suggested by this Sunday newswire photo) merely emphasizes the horrendous price we continue to pay for turning one man into a souvenir.

But then, in advance of Monday’s press deadline, the on-line MSM editions were already lapping it up.  “Big boost for Maliki!” “Shiite Joy!”  “Major achievement for young democracy!”  Writing most of this post on Sunday, I fully expected — as did the White House — to find the dictator’s mug above the fold in most of Monday’s papers.

(It now being early, early Monday on the East Coast, I can see that Saddam soaked up all three stories atop the NYT, including the election piece — and a four column pic.  WAPO, in sober contrast, gave it the far right column, but no picture.  Monday’s LAT isn’t on-line yet.)

Dems might insist it won’t have an effect, but that’s not how these things work.  From Rove’s standpoint, he’s looking for just a faint enough “Stay The Course” echo to tip a few Senate races (and, therefore, continued control of that chamber) toward the red.

The way Saddam has been exploited like a circus monkey (example 1, 2), I find the “trinket” shot clearly the day’s best visual commentary.  Realistically though, here’s what to look for in the MSM coverage:



1.  Which Saddam pic are they peddling?

Of course, the options are endless.  Most popular should be images of Saddam’s reaction to the verdict.  Curiously, there are two similar but quite distinct versions.  We have the stand-alone shot of  “the monster,” still full of fire.  And then, we have the shot with the “anonymous” hand.  (As of last night, this second version, which on YahooNews, had initially had been all over the place, seemed to disappear.)

In The BAG‘s opinion, the anonymous hand says everything about, well, heavy handedness.

In almost a joke on “blind Justice,” we have this rolled up khaki sleeve — pulling for association to an unkept or “non regulation” uniform, and renegade action — directing the scene from just out of sight, seeming to even position Saddam’s waving arm.  (Of course, the picture lends itself as much to over simplistic, conveying that the monster, through great effort, has been “long last subdued.”)

Basra Saddam

2.  The Iraqi street

Scrutinize the MSM’s visual take on the public reaction.

Look out for uncomplicated images of Iraqi’s rejoicing in the streets, the kind of pictures an undiscerning American audience (and the White House) reflexively associate with liberation and peace or, at least these days, “corner turning” or simple situational improvement.  (As in this shot just above, with the camera man, take note of how “well framed” these expostulations are.)


3.  Backlash

See any MSM shots like this?

Don’t be surprised by the lack of Sunni/pro-Saddam images, even those the verdict might fire these guys up way more than they were before.

4.  Zero Context

If you happen to bump into any serious picture description, let me know.

What I’d expect is next to no explanation as to what these photos primarily illustrate, which is: the bloody schism between sectarian groups; the false impression that mean streets are somehow again habitable; that much of the public assembly is taking place in defiance of public curfews and/or official bans on demonstrations; and that the Mahdi party is reveling in its open defiance toward the U.S. military (at the same time the U.S.- backed tribunal serves its interest).


5.  The Good Old Days

And of course, you can expect at least a twenty-four hour flashback of Commander-in-Chief, GWOT, military gesturing, uniform conflating, flag parading, “once-again-swaggering” visual piling on.

(image 1: Atef Hassan/Reuters. Amman, Jordan. November 5, 2006. via YahooNews.  image 2:  David Furst/A.P. November 5, 2006.  Baghdad.  image 3: unattributed/Reuters.  November 5, 2006.  Baghdad. Via YahooNews. image 4: unattributed/Reuters.  November 5, 2006.  Basra, Iraq. Via YahooNews.  image 5: Nuhad Hussin/Reuters.  November 5, 2006.  Tikrit, Iraq. Via YahooNews.  image 6: Jason Reed/Reuters.  Waco, Texas.  November 5, 2006.  Via YahooNews.)

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Michael Shaw
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