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March 23, 2006
Media Complicit In Saddam's Trial Strategy

The strategy adopted by Saddam Hussein for his trial on crimes against humanity that stem from his decades-long tyranny over Iraq has always been clear -- he planned on diverting attention from the crimes and the evidence and focus the world on his political rants from the dock. He's playing out the Goering strategy, unmindful of Goering's failure with it. Unfortunately for us, the media has played into Saddam's strategy, according to a study performed by the Media Research Center. After reviewing the coverage provided by the three American broadcast networks, MRC calculated that less than twenty percent of the news coverage reported on evidence, testimony, and the case background ... when they could be bothered to cover the trial at all:

Saddam’s trial has been mentioned in just 64 stories (including brief anchor-read items) over the last 5 months. Total coverage amounted to just under 90 minutes. The CBS Evening News offered the most coverage (21 stories, 34 minutes) followed by ABC’s World News Tonight (23 stories, 30 minutes). NBC Nightly News aired the least: 20 stories amounting to 25½ minutes of coverage, barely five minutes per month.

In contrast, the first six months of O.J. Simpson’s murder trial garnered 431 stories (824 minutes) from those same networks, a 1994 Center for Media and Public Affairs study found. Simpson was accused of killing two people; Saddam is thought responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths.

Of the ninety minutes of total broadcast-network air time dedicated to Saddam's trial over the past six months, only 11.5 minutes focused on actual testimony and evidence. By contrast, the Big Three spent 12 minutes discussing the difficulties of providing the genocidal tyrant a fair trial. Saddam's courtroom disruptions have accounted for a third of the news coverage of his trial, accounting for thirty of the ninety minutes. That means that about half of the coverage (42 of 90 minutes) given by the networks have been devoted to Saddam's strategy of diversion and concern over his treatment by the victims of his oppression.

It isn't that the trial has shown no evidence or produced no testimony to support the charges against Saddam. Saddam even admitted that he had ordered the executions of 148 Dujail residents -- an admission only reported in full by ABC. That confession received 18 seconds of coverage at CBS, which still managed to beat NBC by seven seconds.

The trial of a dictator like Saddam Hussein by his victimized people is history in the making. Cable news shows should have panel discussions every day poring over the evidence presented. The trial gives the world an opportunity to understand the scope and brutality of the Saddam regime. Our media instead talks about Saddam's love of Cheetohs, Ramsey Clark's complaints about Saddam's treatment, and the tyrant's utterly predictable and unremarkable political observations.

No wonder we hold journalists in such low esteem.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 23, 2006 7:05 PM

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