Reuters’ Priorities By Betsy Newmark

by John Hawkins | December 8, 2005 3:58 am

Isn’t it something that, in the coverage of Saddam’s trial, his antics of telling the judge off and saying that he won’t return to the trial gets equal coverage of the terrible stories that the witnesses are telling? Or, rather it’s not even equal coverage. In this story from Reuters[1], it isn’t until the sixth paragraph that the witnesses’ testimony gets a cursory mention. The bulk of the article is about Saddam’s behavior in the trial. Why are his rants more newsworthy than the witnesses tales of torture?

Think of the article that could have been written if the reporter had covered the witnesses more in detail and contrasted their stories of torture and death with Saddam’s complaints about not getting a shower and clean underwear?

Contrast Reuters coverage with this story from the Associated Press[2].

The most compelling testimony came from the woman identified only as “Witness A,” who was a 16-year-old girl at the time of the crackdown. Her voice breaking with emotion, she told the court of beatings and electric shocks by the former president’s agents.

“I was forced to take off my clothes and he raised my legs up and tied my hands. He continued administering electric shocks and whipping me and telling me to speak,” Witness A said of Wadah al-Sheik, an Iraqi intelligence officer who died of cancer last month while in U.S. custody.

The woman, speaking from behind a beige curtain, broke down several times as she struggled to maintain her composure.

“God is great. Oh, my Lord!” she said, moaning.

Such treatment of a young woman is gravely offensive in traditional Arab culture and Saddam was careful to avoid any insulting gesture in Tuesday’s session, which was televised in Iraq. On Monday, he angrily challenged male witnesses, insulting them and suggesting one needed psychiatric treatment.

“Witness A” strongly suggested she had been raped but did not say so outright. When Chief Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin asked her about the “assault,” she said: “I was beaten up and tortured by electrical shocks” but repeated she had been ordered to undress.

“They made me put my legs up. There were more than one of them, as if I were their banquet, maybe more than five people, all of them officers,” she said.

I think her story is much more compelling than Saddam’s complaints about his lack of hygiene. Is this the tactics that Ramsay Clark has advised him will get him lots of play on the international news to counterbalance the stories of torturing 16 year old girls. Does the media have to fall for such obvious grandstanding?

This content was used with the permission of Betsy’s Page[3].

  1. Reuters:
  2. story from the Associated Press:
  3. Betsy’s Page:

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