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"An Illusional Intermission Between Invasion and Insurgency"
January 3, 2011 1:52 PM   Subscribe

The Toppling: How the Media Inflated the Fall of Saddam’s Statue in Firdos Square.
A joint publication of ProPublica and New Yorker.

Summary of The Atlantic summary:
  • Media Vastly Exaggerated Attendance
  • U.S. Provided the Sledgehammer and Iraqi Flag
  • Media Ignored More Important News for 'Upbeat' Story
  • News Editors Pushed Story Reporters Said Was Bogus
  • Study Finds that Media Failure at Firdos Worsened War Oversight
posted by kirkaracha (46 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Nationalism. Ask the Germans about it sometime.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:56 PM on January 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Huh, I remember seeing "zoomed out" shot showing just a few people on liberal blogs at the time. Did the MSM really report it as being a major event?
posted by delmoi at 1:57 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Did the MSM really report it as being a major event?

Yeah and anyone vaguely right wing was crowing about it. It was a strange time.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:59 PM on January 3, 2011 [7 favorites]


delmoi - I recall that it became a symbol of how happy the locals were to see the US troops, I assume to reassure folks in the US that we were doing the right thing in those early days of the war. Not a "major event" per se, but a very symbolic propagana image.
posted by Ron Thanagar at 2:00 PM on January 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


I remember seeing something like this page about this back in 2003. (Scroll about a fifth of the way down the page, sorry.)
posted by Ron Thanagar at 2:05 PM on January 3, 2011


Did the MSM really report it as being a major event?

I remember them cutting into regular programming to show it. I also remember Jon Stewart at the time claiming that if you didn't feel happy after seeing it, you were too far gone on the left (even though it was already known to be a fabrication).
posted by dirigibleman at 2:06 PM on January 3, 2011


Did the MSM really report it as being a major event?

I happened to watch it live, with Brian Williams offering play-by-play.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:07 PM on January 3, 2011


At the time, I was getting emails from my right-winger family containing all sorts of pictures of this event, all of them composed in such a way so as to make it look like all the things the govt wanted it to look like. I responded to every one with an email containing the lefty blog pictures that showed the actual event from a much wider angle, along with some non-MSM accounts, all of which essentially made this case. It made no difference...right-wing warmongers gotta warmonge.
posted by nevercalm at 2:20 PM on January 3, 2011


I was watching it live, and the 1 & half minutes the American flag was up I kept cursing "No, no, bad idea, no, no get the Iraqi flag up". It felt orchestrated, with bonus points for the weight lifter guy with the sledge hammer, but the US flag was clearly not scripted beforehand.
posted by dabitch at 2:21 PM on January 3, 2011


so Brian thinks it was staged too?
frikkin watch on the tv this statue fall while hanging out on mefi irc, god the good jokes about...oh, i wont out them but it was like...

get a crane
and a flag
wait...no explosives...people and all
enough people will hall it down
as long as the the cameras are rolling
lol
shut up clav.
posted by clavdivs at 2:21 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, this was pretty quickly outed as bullshit at the time, but the damage was done.
posted by brundlefly at 2:25 PM on January 3, 2011


i read the whole goddam thing and it was pretty soft core for war porn. i also had the feeling it might be a thinly veiled account of dick cheney sodomizing the president
posted by kitchenrat at 2:30 PM on January 3, 2011


Staging events like these and making sure they get reported is part of how you win a war, even a bogus one that is being fought for reasons other than those publicly professed. These are the people who promised that "shock and awe" would make it easier to close the deal with minimal resistance. The architects of this invasion understood how important it was to get the Iraqi people and US citizens happy about the regime change. They thought the initial bang-bang plus a few stunts like this would let them close the deal with minimal troops on the ground and minimal financial cost. They were of course deluding themselves.
posted by longsleeves at 2:31 PM on January 3, 2011


How about we save a bunch of posts and just post when some US action in Iraq is what it purports to be?

Think of the electrons we could save!
posted by pompomtom at 2:33 PM on January 3, 2011


i read the whole goddam thing and it was pretty soft core for war porn.

Thinking of this as war porn is somewhat off. Think of it more as nationalism porn.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:34 PM on January 3, 2011


I remember how they hung the American flag over the statue, and then soon took it down, seemingly as having been a bad idea, or something, and then how all subsequent showings of the event on television omitted the flag part altogether.

I also remember hearing nearly immediately afterward how it was a very small crowd, that the US service members initiated nearly all of it, including providing the horsepower to pull the statue over, and that it was pretty much just staged for the media.

And I remember how it felt like the media itself couldn't get enough of it, because it symbolized SOMEthing. (probably not the something they thought it did, but it was lost on them.)

Quite illuminating was Rachel Maddow's on-location interview with Richard Engel about witnessing the topping of the statue. Great stuff.
posted by hippybear at 2:41 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's the problem with other countries, they don't show up when the cameras are there. [Regime fall, not statue fall]
posted by user92371 at 2:46 PM on January 3, 2011


i also had the feeling it might be a thinly veiled account of dick cheney sodomizing the president

Less of the doing with the this, please.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:47 PM on January 3, 2011


I remember eating lunch with some right-leaning co-workers that day. The restaurant had a TV showing Fox or CNN. My colleagues were impressed with the grand sweep of history unfolding, but I argued.

I pointed out that we were seeing the same few snippets of video again and again, and there were no more than a few dozen people in each one. I argued that a wide shot showing the size of a big crowd has been a very standard part of visual journalism for a century or more - so where is it this time? That was my argument, pretty much: "Show me the beef." If there was a big crowd there, then it was the duty and purpose of the media to show us the big crowd, rather than giving us the general impression of one.

My colleagues were not convinced. They made excuses, saying it was only natural that nearly all of the six million newly liberated Iraqis in Baghdad would still be cowering in terror at home, leaving only a brave handful to topple the statue. (I still don't understand where they were coming from.) Or maybe none of the dozens and dozens of camera crews could find a good vantage point

It was an educational day, and I guess I owe them some thanks, because without the argument, I wouldn't have seen so clearly how eagerly we humans sometimes adopt ideas just because we like them.
posted by Western Infidels at 2:48 PM on January 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


A slight derail, but if you want to check out some live media bias, just look at all the news about the bombing of one church in Egypt. It's got everyone freaking out about persecution of Christians in the Muslim world, with the Pope himself suddenly calling for peace between Muslims and Christians.

Strangely enough, the same parallels are not drawn and are summarily dismissed when the destruction of mosques and deaths of Muslim civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan are presented as evidence of persecution of followers of Islam.
posted by notion at 2:53 PM on January 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


If there are any mosques getting destroyed in Afghanistan or Iraq, they're generally getting destroyed by Muslims. That's the one thing the US has been very careful about, in general.
posted by empath at 2:55 PM on January 3, 2011


Just after I posted, on CNN: "The Pope now views Christians as the most persecuted religious group in the world."
posted by notion at 2:55 PM on January 3, 2011


(though i'm sure there are exceptions)
posted by empath at 2:55 PM on January 3, 2011


Let's see, where was the New Yorker in 2003: oh right, interviewing Donald Rumsfeld about why the CIA has not info on the connections between Saddam and Al-Qaeda or interviewing Dougas Feith about democracy, whiskey sexy.

No one has been held accountable, not one person. From the President on down... except maybe Private England.
posted by ennui.bz at 3:01 PM on January 3, 2011


Weird, I never saw this as anything other than a huge propaganda piece. It was just too obviously stagecraft, what with the needing-a-military-crane-to-actually-pull-it-down,-oh-look-we-have-one-here aspect. And it never really occurred to me that people might see this as some sort of grass-roots thing by the Iraqis.

I guess it's just one of those moments when my cynicism ran faster than investigative reporting.
posted by quin at 3:02 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


There were a number of threads here n MeFi at the time, where the farce of the toppling of Saddam's statue was pointed out - with links. A really quick search shows Fold_and_Mutilate, skallas and sic, commenting on this. I'm sure there were others...
posted by talos at 3:04 PM on January 3, 2011


Weird, I never saw this as anything other than a huge propaganda piece.

Even the Army said so.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:06 PM on January 3, 2011


Neither the first, nor the last statue toppled.

Small upsets do not a war end.
posted by cenoxo at 3:06 PM on January 3, 2011


when i watched the statue pulled over, i was disappointed that the statue didn't fall like a cut large tree, but just bent over still firmly attached at the base. as an average american public sucker, i erased all thoughts that this was staged for nationalism. dumb me!
posted by tustinrick at 3:13 PM on January 3, 2011


problem is that even a false image like that is stock footage now for iraq war coverage

still waiting to hear stories about

1) Kuwaiti investment in Iraq (or see Airplane boondoggle)
2) Land Reform in Iraq (Who got Saddam's Land?)

of course that would interfere with the stock narrative about Iraq only having one neighbor - Iran...so guess its not going to make it on thuh tee-veee
posted by lslelel at 3:32 PM on January 3, 2011


Ah yes, way back then. Check out the link "tearing."
posted by moonbiter at 3:37 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Weird, I never saw this as anything other than a huge propaganda piece.

Even the Army said so.


The article says that the army report was incorrect: "Plesich's [the psyops guy] impact at Firdos was limited to using the loudspeakers on his Humvee to tell the crowd, once the statue had been rigged to fall, that until everyone moved back to a safe distance the main event would not take place."
posted by katerschluck at 3:44 PM on January 3, 2011


I also remember Jon Stewart at the time claiming that if you didn't feel happy after seeing it, you were too far gone on the left (even though it was already known to be a fabrication).

Here's the Daily Show clip you mentioned. Generally, I'm a fan of the Daily Show, but they should be held accountable when they fall for shit like this.

The Daily Show: We were scolding sanctimonious liberals long before Obama made it popular!
posted by formless at 3:48 PM on January 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I remember seeing something like this page about this back in 2003.

And I got a malware warning from this link.

But yeah, I remember seeing the longrange camera shots, taken and reported by non-US media of course. Meanwhile, here in the good ol' USA USA USA? Well, that's about the time I lost my last illusion that we had any sort of unbiased mainstream media. They're all conservative propaganda machines.
posted by NorthernLite at 3:50 PM on January 3, 2011


Staging events like these and making sure they get reported is part of how you win a war, even a bogus one that is being fought for reasons other than those publicly professed.

No, I am not buying it. The news media should report the truth realistically, not bow to pressure to display propaganda images. Let us make up our own damn mind about what war to support. When we actually do get a war worth fighting, there's going to be a certain percentage of us who will be skeptical of it because of stunts just like this.
posted by JHarris at 4:31 PM on January 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


can I get a tldr version
posted by uni verse at 4:38 PM on January 3, 2011


uni verse: "can I get a tldr version"

Sheeple asleep at the remote.
posted by wcfields at 4:55 PM on January 3, 2011


no one dare compare the staged flag raising on Mount Suribachi during the Pacific War on Iwo Jima.
posted by tustinrick at 5:07 PM on January 3, 2011


Memorable TV moments of the 2003 invasion for me:

1. The presentation of the much-awaited "Top Ten (47?) Reasons Iraq Has WMDs" list, which was just a rehashing of all the questionable evidence to-date. Yet the media treated it as a bonafide breakthrough.

2. Shots of widespread looting in the capital post-invasion with the commentator claiming "oh, they're just blowing off steam."

2. The look on Paul Bremer's (provisional admin of conquered Iraq and former WTC resident) face as he left a meeting with some Iraqis. It was a combination of frustration, resentment, and perhaps resignation ... whatever it was, it was a this-will-not-end-well kind of look.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:22 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sure, we messed up with the MSM propaganda, but now we've learned our lesson and will never ever do...heh....it...lol...

Never mind, I can't finish.
posted by DU at 5:36 PM on January 3, 2011


The National Museum of Iraq got ransacked around the same time.
posted by ovvl at 6:44 PM on January 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I watched this whole process unfold and thought that everyone had forgotten about it. It was surreal, because in the lead up to the "toppling", the cameras were rolling watching not much of anything. It was if the media had been alerted to what was about to happen, even though no one was there yet. (yeah, big surprise). Then, soldiers starting walking in and one asked the camera, "are we here? is this the place?". I couldn't flippin' believe it when I saw it. I was so mad at myself for having not recorded it at the time. Disgusting. At least now we have written proof of what I saw.
posted by readyfreddy at 6:49 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Even the Army said so.
posted by Brandon Blatcher

Dear god, its as bad as George Orwell's dystopia. When I saw this on the tele, it was posted as real news.
posted by uni verse at 7:03 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


The news media should report the truth realistically

Its not like they ever did per John Swinton in 1880 or this century's court ruling for FOX news.
posted by rough ashlar at 8:20 PM on January 3, 2011


The news media should report the truth realistically, not bow to pressure to display propaganda images.

It might be too late. There are lots of stories about journalistic integrity in the face of editorial pressure, but overall don't you think the MSM are establishment lackeys? Or worse?
posted by sneebler at 6:02 AM on January 4, 2011


sneebler: No, I do not think they are necessarily lackeys. Some obviously are, but some still manage to hold themselves apart. The way to combat this, I think, is to prioritize long-form journalism such as the type admirably practiced in the better magazines, and to keep an open eye to manipulations such as this.

And of course, watch the Daily Show and Colbert Report. They may not be perfect but they're pretty good; I hear when they cut power to their mighty Tivo bank, the pent up accumulation of goodness and magic causes the spontaneous generation of flowers and small candy bars, which are getting to be something of a problem when they actually manifest inside a hard drive case.
posted by JHarris at 1:36 PM on January 4, 2011


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