Intentional US Government and Media Disinformation;
by Aaron Gerow OpEdNews.com April 16, 2003 As the image of Saddam Hussein's statue falling has come to function as the symbol of the "liberation" of Iraq in many news media, voices are being heard questioning the authenticity of that image, its role in government propaganda, and the media organizations that promote it.
For instance, on the Film Philosophy mailing list, a forum devoted to critical evaluation of film and media images, one participant made the following charge:
"The so-called "historic moment" of Saddam's statue being pulled down was staged by the invaders. There were no huge crowds of Iraqis cheering as claimed: mostly US soldiers (who incidentally first wrapped a US flag on the top and then later replaced it with an Iraqi flag - don't want the natives to think they're being colonized eh!?) and "dozens" of Iraqis (BBC)."
What is interesting is that the mainstream Japanese TV morning show I watch--Tokudane--did an analysis of this image this morning, one that raises similar suspicions. They compared the broadcast reports to other images which seem to contradict the main impression given by the reports.
While the show did not go so far as to say that it was staged--the Iraqis that were there, they said, were mostly there on their own will--it did emphasize many elements that complicate any use of that image as indicating the equivalent of the fall of the Berlin Wall. (The show's anchor specifically called this equivalence fundamentally wrong.)
First, most of the main media images used only long or closer shots that filled the image with people, giving the impression of a multitude. The show, however, showed an extreme high angle long shot which revealed at best only 200, maybe 250 people on the scene, about a third of whom were simply watching and were not involved.
Second, the reports often showed individuals who were jumping on the statue or otherwise proclaiming to the camera, but did not show any others. The show I watched showed many images of other people in the square who had expressions of worry if not disgust.
Third, the fact that the statue was literally next to the Palestine Hotel, the main hotel for journalists in Baghdad, cannot but raise suspicions about how much this event was really spontaneous, or rather encouraged for the media.
Fourth, it also became clear that when the American soldier first draped the American flag over the statue's head, even the crowd that was participating in the spectacle booed the soldier vociferously and the soldier had to take it down.
Finally, and most damning, the show revealed that there was a small group on the scene carrying a large banner: "US Go Home!" The show had to digitally enlarge an extreme long shot in order to show that, but they group was definitely on the scene. The fact that this group was never presented in any of the major media reports is certainly indication of how much the major media organizations have bought into the ideology of liberation and cut out images that don't fit that narrative. (This also has interesting implications about how individuals are used in media images as "representatives" of larger populations.)
I might add that the show I watched is not some left-wing media outlet. It is the top-rated morning show on Japanese network television, broadcast on Fuji TV, which is owned by the usually right-wing Fuji Sankei conglomerate.
This critical analysis of the media image of Saddam's statue falling was also not confined to one show. A few days after the Tokudane show, a weekend news show on another network (Hodo tokushu on TBS) did an image/sound comparison of that image broadcast by ABC, NBC, and Abu Dhabi television. The commentators noted how much the American reporters where actively involved in interpreting the scene for the viewer while the Abu Dhabi reporter was largely silent. Using this as only one example, the show concluded that American TV lacked neutrality and was actively promoting the government position.
I should also note that Japanese TV has been largely critical of the war and how it has been reported in Western media. One show a couple days ago, for instance, did a comparison of what images Japanese were seeing that Americans were not. If Japanese saw a screaming man carrying a wounded child, for instance, Americans were shown an American soldier rescuing an Iraqi child. The show's conclusion was that Americans were not being shown the damage inflicted on innocent Iraqis and were instead being regaled with heroic stories of the rescued POW and of brave journalists.
While Japanese news has its problems, it is nice to see this effort to criticize the media within the media itself.
Aaron Gerow, firstname.lastname@example.org Associate Professor. International Student Center, Yokohama National University