Tuesday, December 06, 2005

New York Times Elevates Saddam Above His Victims 
Journalists tell you what's important by frontloading it in the story. Basic journalism practice is to strive to include the vital elements of the story - the five W's, and the most riveting details - in the first two paragraphs. A snarky lede is usually held in high regard. But the news article must waste no time in getting to the most important facts.

Today, "Witness A," who was just 16 years old at the time of the massacre, was the first woman to testify against Saddam. Her testimony is at once riveting, graphic, and horrifying - even in understatement.

In a story devoted to the trial, The New York Times buries her testimony in the 10th paragraph.



From the article:

After the woman said she had been held in Abu Ghraib prison, defense lawyers asked her whether dogs had been used or she had been photographed, in a clear reference to the scandal that broke out last year surrounding the mistreatment of Iraqi detainees by American guards at the prison. That tactic appeared to be a continuation of efforts by the defense team to transform the trial from a somber reminder of Mr. Hussein's crimes into a theatrical display of defiance.


So the reporters know what's happening. And yet they willingly carry water for Saddam, playing right into his game plan, by spending ten precious paragraphs leading with Saddam's outbursts.

Saddam is calculating, shrewd, and manipulative. And he's playing the Times like a violin.

As if that weren't bad enough, the Times edits out much of the woman's testimony (as provided by the Reuters article linked to below.) And in a final insult to victims of tyranny everywhere, the Times grants Saddam, not Victim A, the priveledge of the last word:

"I live in an iron cage covered by a tent under democratic American rule," he told the judge. "You should come see my cage."

He complained that "the Americans and the Zionists want to execute Saddam Hussein," but insisted, again and again, that he was not afraid, and reminded the judge that he had been sentenced to death before.

"What does the execution of Saddam Hussein matter?" he said. "He has given himself to Iraq from the day he was at school and has been sentenced to death three times already."

The New York Times should be ashamed of itself.

Here's a detail the reporter missed:

At 16 years old, "Witness A" was just one year older than Anne Frank was when she was murdered by typhus at Bergen-Belsen.

Splash, out



The AP also gives Saddam's outburst the place of honor, and drives "Witness A," already stripped of her dignity and her name, even from the headline.

Via the AP, we also see that there were several other witnesses who gave testimony today.

"Witness C," a man, testified that he was taken by security forces along with his parents and sister. They spent 19 days at the intelligence headquarters and 11 months in Abu Ghraib, where his father died after being beaten on the head, he said. Then they spent three years in the desert.

"At the intelligence headquarters, they put two clips in my ears," the witness said, adding he was told that if he lied, he would be given an electric shock. When he answered a question, the shock was administered, he said.

"In prison they used to bring men to the women's room and ask them to bark like dogs," he said. "My father died in prison and I was not able to see him." He added that his father, who was 65 and had heart problems, was kept in a room about 50 yards from him.

"How come you remember all these things?" Saddam asked.

"This was a great sadness to me," the witness replied, "and I can't forget a sadness."

You can't read about Witness C in the New York Times. While the Times dutifully reports Saddam's every complaint, no matter how trivial, the New York Times deprives him of his very voice.

One can only wonder what else was left out.

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