July 01, 2004

So, I Have A Problem With This

The top news item on the MSNBC.com Web site right now features the following headline: "In court, Saddam says ‘real criminal is Bush’"

Now, call me old fashioned, but I just find myself thinking that a better, far less biased, headline might read "Saddam Faces Iraqi Court." But, no, the editorial minds at MSNBC.com apparently think the most newsworthy aspect of the whole thing is that Saddam says Bush is the real criminal. I mean, seriously, what did you think Hussein would have to say? Do you think he'd sit there and praise the man who knocked him from power?

Of course, it's in vogue right now to call the Bush administration a bunch of criminals so, apparently, when Saddam Hussein, one of the most vile leaders of the last half century, takes the stand and calls Bush a criminal, well, that's big news.

I mean, see? Even Saddam Hussein is saying it, and Heaven knows that the only reason Saddam is facing a court full of Iraqis he's oppressed over the past three decades is because Bush went and pursued a war deemed illegal by a U.N. organization that had a vested interest in keeping Saddam in power and, as such, there was no way in holy hell that any action would have been taken against Saddam under the U.N.'s watch. So, there you have it. Bush is the criminal. Saddam's the victim.

Is this how screwed up the collective minds in the media have become?

Poor, poor Saddam.

Posted by Ryan at July 1, 2004 12:51 PM

I question how newsworthy the whole event is. Ok, yes, it is a big deal that he is in court - but do we need to hear for hours that we will hear about his hearing, and then hear for hours about how nothing happened?

I thought just weeks ago, days even, we weren't going to hand him over until there were some assurances that the judicial system could actually try him. I have to wonder if this wasn't a Rove decision - lets parade Saddam out on tv - in court!!, just days after the "handover" so we can say "Mission Accompished" again! After all, Bush's ratings aren't rebounding...

Posted by: D at July 1, 2004 01:21 PM

Neither are Kerry's, for that matter. The Presidential race of the stagnant numbers continues. I agree that the Saddam thing is largely a non-story, but I'm still a bit nonplussed by the angle most media organizations are taking with it. Saddam says Bush is the real criminal? I mean, come ON!

Posted by: Ryan at July 1, 2004 01:43 PM

Huh. My take on this was totally different (surpise). I read the article and saw the headline as an elaboration on the "Saddam defiant in court" headline from page 1. Like: "Here's item number one in the long list of crazy things Saddam Hussein said in court today. And hey, get this: he also said he's still the president of Iraq! Hah!"

But, you know, maybe I'm just being worn down by the incessant media banality.

Posted by: Joshua at July 1, 2004 04:44 PM

I can sort of see that angle, I suppose. But still, did anybody expect anything different to come out of the man? Highlighting what everyone knew Saddam was probably going to say and do anyway seems somewhat, well, banal, as you said. I was mostly surprised to see how kempt and good Saddam actually looked. I was expecting him to be more haggard and disheveled. Maybe he's feeling refreshed after lording over his cell with an iron fist: http://www.owlnet.rice.edu/~annay/news/danvk.html

Posted by: Ryan at July 1, 2004 04:54 PM

Re: Saddam being kempt and such

Yeah. I have a couple of reactions to the way so many people expect him to just sit in a corner and mutter to himself now that he's been captured. Partly I just think it's very filmic. Most people who are demonized to this extent cease to exist after they've been removed from power: Hitler, Mussolini, Goebbels, Himmler, etc. So people's expectation seems to be that, one way or another, Hussein will cease to exist as well. Lots of people seem to expect him to sit in a corner and mutter to himself, because we've all been told over and over again that he's a "madman".

It's comforting for people to think he's a lunatic, for all the obvious reasons.

But really? I think he was just a guy, maybe even a smart guy, who was handed too much power in the course of Middle Eastern politics. I think people like him are kind of endemic to an economy that can only support its population through the sale of a single commodity.

His future is obviously a foregone conclusion, but I'll be interested to see how he's handled if he turns out to be articulate and rational in his responses to all of this.

Posted by: Joshua at July 1, 2004 05:47 PM

Actually, what I meant when I said I expected him to be more haggard and disheveled is because I've been led to believe he's been treated abominably in captivity. I was expecting him to more fully show all his advancing years, but he looked pretty strong and fiery to me.

I think he was just a guy, maybe even a smart guy, who was handed too much power in the course of Middle Eastern politics.

Oh come on. HANDED too much power. I think it's pretty well-documented that he connived, murdered and manipulated his way to power. He knew exactly what he was doing all the way to the top, and he knew exactly how he was going to consolidate and maintain his power once he was there. He had a "How To Act And Rule Like Stalin" manual that he consulted each and every day of his rule. I'll grant you that he's a guy, and probably arguably a somewhat smart guy, but he didn't have power HANDED to him; he went after that power as diabolically as he could.

Posted by: Ryan at July 1, 2004 07:07 PM

I got the same first impression Josh did, but any editor who isn't a monkey couldn't possibly have missed the implications of having "Bush" and "criminal" in the same sentence, above the fold. "Damn liberal media!" is an easy answer, but any controversy is win-win right now.

We've got a $120+ billion war going on, folks -- and that's just Iraq, not Afghanistan or terrorists or airline safety or port security -- and the justifications for that war are petering out. Al Quaeda? Not in Iraq. 9/11? No direct connection. WMD? Nope.

Saddam, we can do. We got Saddam. Is the world better off without him? Fuck, yeah. Did the USA do a "good" and "moral" thing by removing him? Sure. But if he doesn't put on a $120+ billion show at the trial, there's going to be some cost-benefit analysis going on. Anything that prolongs the circus, like snarky liberal headlines and the ensuing spitting frenzy on conservative talk radio and blogs, is more bang for our 120+ billion bucks.

Posted by: molly at July 2, 2004 12:23 PM

Apparently Saddam saw Fahrenheit 9-11, too.

Posted by: Bryan at July 3, 2004 12:15 PM

The headline at the Washington Post right now says "Wars Bring Security At Home, Bush Says". Do you want to complain that it doesn't say "Bush gives campaign speech" instead?

Posted by: David Grenier at July 4, 2004 10:48 PM

David, good point, I suppose, but at the same time, Saddam said he was "President of Iraq." I'm curious why an equally loony proclamation was shelved in favor of one that zeroed in on Bush, instead.

Posted by: Ryan at July 5, 2004 07:07 PM

Ryan - six of one, half a dozen of the other, I guess.

Remember, MSNBC is the network that delibarately tried to go more conservative to compete with Fox. They got rid of Donahue because they felt he was "too liberal" - and lets face it, the guy is hardly Michael Moore or Noam Chomsky.

I don't really think you have a case for a liberal media conspiracy here, and your lack of such questions when it comes to things that are obviously biased but in a way that makes Bush look good or in a way that makes patriotic/nationalist Americans feel good about themselves (i.e. newscasters throughout the early days of the war discussing it quite literally in terms of "good guys" and "bad guys") shows that this isn't about journalistic integrity, its about patriotic correctness.

Posted by: David Grenier at July 6, 2004 08:31 AM

So, let me see if I understand this: news that may make Bush look good or Heaven forbid may make Americans feel good about themselves smacks of patriotic correctness, but news that does the opposite is a sigh of journalistic integrity.

So noted.

Posted by: at July 6, 2004 10:11 AM

Except that's not what I said at all. Why are conservatives such fucking insecure crybabies that they have to immediately assume anyone who doesn't agree with them SUPPORTS THEIR ENEMIES?

I never said that using someone's quote as a headline is journalistic integrity in one context (when it is bad for America) but not so in another context (when it makes us feel warm and fuzzy).

Overall, I agree with a theory Ryan has put forth here before that says basically... journalists are fundamentally lazy and most of the time don't even know what they are reporting on so they become pack animals just repeating what other journalists are saying (or whatever press releases they are getting, or state department briefings, or whatever).

Frankly, I think that there are very few decent reporters out there and of those most of them are not allowed to do their job because the emphasis is on having a new headline every half hour, not doing in-depth reporting on a subject that requires a lot of time and resources the paper/tv station doesn't want to expend.

But I think its kinda BS when someone's willing to take the media to task over one example of something (say, using quotes in a headline) but not others that happen within a day or two, especially when the other is presented to them for them to say, "Yeah, that's pretty stupid too".

In short, he's not *really* accusing the media of inaccuracy, he's accusing it of insufficient patriotism. The problem is for those who practice Conservative Identity Politics everything seems to pretty much come down to "either your a conservative or you're evil (or stupid)." The actual idea of just caring about journalistic integrity as a whole does not fall within that worldview. Which is probably why you have such a hard time understanding it.

In the end, though, I don't even bother having great expectations of our news media, so I rarely even notice the bad headlines or blatantly inaccurate "facts" or errors of omission anymore. Or when I notice them, I can't bring myself to care much.

Posted by: David Grenier at July 7, 2004 11:19 AM

"either your a conservative or you're evil (or stupid)."

Oh, come on. That's a pretty broad brush you're painting with yourself. Hell, I read Joshua Norton's stuff religiously, and I don't for a second think he's either A) evil or B) stupid.

I could, I suppose, just chalk this all up to the scourge of journalistic laziness, which, I agree, probably plays a large part in such banal reporting as Saddam saying Bush is the real criminal. Laziness obviously plays a role there, no doubt about it. But I think it's still laziness with an agenda.

It's kinda like the L.A. Times reporting that Bremer left Iraq without even giving a farewell speech or anything, when it's pretty well known that Bremer did, in fact, give a speech that was generally well-received by the Iraqi people. It's the height of laziness that they didn't even bother to double-check such a claim, but it's still a laziness that fed their agenda. Laziness, though a reason, is seldom an excuse.

Posted by: Ryan at July 7, 2004 11:37 AM


Take, for example, the "fact" that is constantly repeated that "Saddam kicked out the weapons inspectors" and that is what caused us to go in bombing in 1998. A simple trip down to any newspapers archives from that era will show that at the time they all reported what actually happened. Clinton pulled the inspectors out so he could bomb the country, then after the bombing Saddam refused to let them back in because... well... why would he?

Yet I constantly see both bloggers (who rarely fact-check anything) and "real journalists" (who also, it seems, rarely fact-check anything) claiming that the weapons inspectors were kicked out by Saddam rather than pulled out by Clinton.

The point is that there are enough examples on "both sides" to show that aside from obviously partisan sources like Fox News or Michael Moore, most media sources are suffering from laziness, ineptitude, and a pack mentality rather than some hidden left-wing or right-wing agenda.

That is, left-wing and right-wing as constrained by current "coventional discourse", which is a seperate (though related) issue altogether.

I mean, do you seriously expect professionalism from the news organizations that seem to spend most of their time promoting their parent-corporations other properties or playing industry-provided "media kits" as news?

Posted by: David Grenier at July 7, 2004 12:22 PM

Here's another one for you.

Today there was an article headlined Kerry Fails to Get Lift From Edwards' Pick, Zogby Poll Shows. Now, in this very article they mention that a CBS poll does show that he got a lift of four points. So an accurate headline would have been Polls show mixed results from Edwards pick.

Of course, I actually have a pretty good case for a hidden agenda, since Bloomberg media is owned by a Republican politician.

Posted by: David Grenier at July 8, 2004 10:57 AM

Wait, I have more media bias for you to be outraged over.

Bloomberg news (owned by who?) is currently running a headline: Bush Leads Kerry 55% to 42% in Nationwide Gallup Poll.

However, three other polls show the race is tied.

Isn't that headline, while factually true, an example of bias? Wouldn't a more accurate headline be: Three polls show race tied, one shows Bush in lead? Or simply: Polls Mixed?

Will you rail against that here as you have against anything you find to be "biased" against Bush? Please show us how you are really upset at media bias, and not just a partisan Bush-loving hack.

[there, i posted it on the correct entry. happy now?]

Posted by: David Grenier at September 17, 2004 12:57 PM
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