Iraqi officials are now suggesting that Saddam Hussein's execution may be delayed for up to a month, contradicting earlier reports that the death sentence would be carried out soon, possibly as early as this weekend. Obviously, any delay in Saddam's appointment with the executioner is bad news, another indication that senior Iraqi officials are unable--or unwilling--to make the tough calls required to move their country forward.
But, whenever the former dictator finally faces the hangman's noose, you'll be pleased to hear that U.S. news organizations are planning "tasteful" coverage of his execution.
According to Reuters, the major broadcast networks are already discussing how to handle Saddam's date with death. Iraqi officials reportedly plan to tape his execution, raising the question of how to handle those images, if they're offered to western media outlets. Earlier this week, the Iraqi government released video of the mass hanging of 13 convicts, an event some described as "gruesome." In regards to airing Saddam's execution, "taste" has become the operative word on broadcast row:
ABC and CBS said they wouldn't air the full execution if the video became available.
"We're very aware that we're coming into people's living rooms and that there could be children watching," CBS News senior vp Linda Mason said.
"We have very, very strict guidelines with how to deal with that," said Bob Murphy, senior vp at ABC News. "If there were pictures made available of the execution, they would have to be viewed by senior management before we would put them on the air, and we would make a judgment of taste and propriety of what we would show."
CNN and Fox News Channel still were discussing what they would do if the footage were made available. It also wasn't clear what the newly launched network Al-Jazeera International would do. An e-mail and phone call to the channel's Qatar headquarters weren't returned Thursday. Despite popular assumptions to the contrary, Al-Jazeera's pan-Arab channel has never shown an execution.
A slight correction, if I may. Al-Jazeera has never aired the execution of a deposed Arab leader, convicted of murdering his own people. But the Qatar-based channel has shown lots of terrorist video of IED attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan, depicting the murder and maiming of U.S. soldiers. Ditto for the U.S. networks. Go to their websites and run a search for "video of IED attacks" and you'll get dozens of hits, with links to their stories on that subject. Many of those reports contain footage of IED explosions, or their aftermath.
In other words, it's perfectly acceptable to show a blast that shreds a HUMVEE and kills American soldiers inside, but it's somehow distasteful to air video of Saddam swinging from the end of a rope.
Give me a break.
I wonder if Linda Mason, CBS's arbiter of broadcast news "taste," is concerned about the impact of those HUMVEE explosion on "children who might be watching," particularly those with a mother, father or other relative fighting in Iraq? The answer to that question is apparently "no," because CBS (and its competitors) have made IED blasts a staple of their coverage from Iraq, even if the victims are often Americans, and their pain and suffering is palpable to the U.S. audience. Such hypocrisy from the networks is galling--yet utterly predictable.
As for your humble correspondent, I've never been a fan of televising executions, but for Saddam, I'll make an exception. Getting rid of the Iraqi dictator has required a tremendous investment in U.S. blood and treasure; I believe the troops (and the taxpayers) deserve some kind of payoff, a broadcast affirmation that one key element of the Iraq mission has finally been completed.
The heck with ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and anyone else unwilling to show Saddam's date with death. Stream it live on the web, with the following, scrolled message to those "other thugs" who might be watching in Tehran, Pyongyang, Damascus and Beirut. Provoke the U.S. at your own risk. We've got plenty of rope for more "days of reckoning" in the future.