Friday, July 02, 2004

The Power Of Image

Report from Variety (of all places!)

NEW YORK -- U.S. news networks agreed to let the American military censor out certain images of Saddam Hussein (news - web sites)'s court hearing Thursday in Baghdad, one in a bizarre series of events surrounding coverage of the session.

American and Iraqi officials did not want any footage shown of Iraqi guards or court personnel, and they asked broadcast and cable news nets to honor this request.

But the situation took an unexpected turn even before the hearing began, when U.S. officials ordered CNN and Al-Jazeera, the pool camera crews, to disconnect their audio equipment. Officials said it was the wish of the Iraqi judge.

I commented yesterday on the very real danger that these proceedings could be used by Saddam to persuade the Iraqi people that he was as much a victim of the American occupation as they are. Frankly, the stagecraft of this hearing sucked. The only image that was broadcast was of Saddam, hearing the charges and responding to them with apparent vigor. The face of the judge and the guards were not shown. This visual makes it much harder to put across the idea that it was the Iraqis who were in charge of the proceeding instead of Saddam. A better camera view would have been over the shoulder of Saddam, focused on the judge, as he read of the charges.

Now, it turns out, this choice of angles was deliberate, most likely out of a concern that any broadcast of the judge's face would further endanger his life. But then that just leads us back to the failure of the occupation. The fact that they had to avoid showing the judge's face in order to protect him only feeds into the idea that they are working from a position of weakness. The only image of strength in that hearing yesterday was Saddam's

(Aside: several American media people are describing Saddam's performance as rambling and incoherent. But I've seen reports that Middle East media is describing him as being more in control. Could these reports just be wish fulfillment?)

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