Friday, December 29, 2006

Man, CNN has spent the evening sitting on the prospect of Saddam Hussein's execution like a vulture. Word was that the execution was to take place 10:00 PM EST. A less hardy network might have slipped a reminder of it into their regular news wrap-ups and then cut to Iraq, say, arounf ten o'clock. I don't know when they actually started the deathwatch, but for at least three hours, they were focusing on the execution single-mindedly, with a different anchor every hour, Larry King included, checking in with the same poor reporter framed shivering against the night sky to ask her yet again--anything new? Did they get antsy and waste him ahead of schedule and then go to dinner? Did he shoot his way out yet? When the anchors weren't torturing this poor woman, they were asking, over and over again, what will it mean for Iraq when Saddam has been executed? Then they'd interview someone, preferably a scholar or human rights worker who "suffered under Saddam's regime." They'd ask them what it would mean, and this person would invariably say that, although there would probably be a quick spike in violence, in the end it wouldn't mean a goddamn thing. Then the anchor would turn to the camera and say once again that he sure wished there was some way of knowing what it would mean. You kind of came away with the impression that none of the on-air talent at CNN can hear for shit.

You can understand their dilemna. Once upon a time, many basic cable ratings cycles ago, the Saddam-is-boogeyman story was the making of CNN. When Bush launched Gulf War II, it must have felt like old school week in their offices. It must be a bittersweet thing for them to deal with his absolute irrelevance to the current situation. It must sting and confuse them as much as it did Saddam himself. There were a few moments in tonight's coverage that may be as close as I ever hope to see to suggesting what the media reaction would be like if they ever caught Professor Moriarty, such as an interview with some doctor about the mechanics of hanging--the interviewer wanted to know just how much it hurts, and seemed very disappointed with the answer that we don't know for sure, because the only people who know for sure remain unavailable for comment--and people whining that "nobody blames" Saddam for all the Arabs that he killed. Yep, that's how the guy got two cans of whupass opened on him and wound up swinging from a rope--nobody ever held him accountable for anything. Okay, granted, these people aren't so stupid that they mean the things that come out of their mouths. What they're really trying to say is that nobody blames Saddam enough, because as long as there's one person who'd rather finish breakfast than dance on his grave, then he's not being blamed enough. Word of warning: this is how people like Pat Buchanan wound up as Holocaust deniers. They just start off hating Stalin so much that it bugs them whenever they hear Hitler described as the worst person in the world, and then after awhile they go haywire and start believing that because so many people hate Hitler, then people must not really hate Stalin at all, because if they hated him as much as they should then they wouldn't have any room in their hearts to hate Hitler too. The next thing they know, they find themselves hinting that they don't think Hitler was really all that bad.

The cutest moment in the coverage I saw was probably when Anderson Cooper said that there was some speculation that Saddam would be taken out of the protected Green Zone for the execution, but this must have been rejected because how could American soldiers go outside the Green Zone, with the hated Saddam Hussein in tow, and not risk violence. The likelihood that American soldiers who went outside the Green Zone might be asking for trouble if all they were carrying was Rice Krispies in milk was not considered. Saddam will not be missed, and anyone who tries to turn him into a martyr is making a sad comment on the validity of his own cause, but still, a hollow feeling remains. If it's possible for a guilty man to be railroaded, that's what's happened here, and it's possible to feel squeamish about the official mechanics of politicized "justice" without mourning the man. In a world where a Pinochet can die in his sleep, Saddam was executed with an unseemly sort of haste for the same reason we went to war in Iraq, evidence and arguments to the contrary be damned--because the Bush administration decided it wanted it to happen and was not inclined to consider that there might be reasons not to give itself what it wanted, or even postpone it. If it leaves a bad aftertaste, that may be because people who hold human life so cheaply, who can take anyone's life, even a monster's, as casually as correcting a bookkeeping error, should be a little more bashful when it comes to lecturing the world about who gets to live and who needs to die.

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