Revenge of the Snit

by Kieran Healy on May 20, 2005

So when Newsweek publishes a story about the Koran being flushed away, it’s held responsible for riots in Afghanistan and Rumsfeld tells the press to watch what they say. When someone — presumably a soldier or other coalition official — leaks photos of Saddam in his underpants to the Sun, the President is confident that the photos will do “nothing to provoke any backlash”: from insurgents. Now that’s a flexible theory of media influence.

{ 1 trackback }

Soylent Content
05.20.05 at 8:11 pm



MNPundit 05.20.05 at 7:41 pm

The hypocrisy of the response to Saddam in his underpants nauseates me, but at least they’re following Geneva SOMEWHERE for SOMETHING.



MNPundit 05.20.05 at 7:42 pm

…or at least paying lipservice to it.


Jake McGuire 05.20.05 at 8:54 pm

I don’t think it’s entirely ridiculous; surely the number of people who would take offense to the Koran being flushed down the toilet is much larger than the number of people who take offense at Saddam being held captive, even only in Iraq.

And a large number of people the people who would take offense at pictures of Saddam in his underwear are already blowing shit up anyway, unlike the people who were rightly offended by the Koran-flushing.


P O'Neill 05.20.05 at 9:22 pm

By the way, it seems that the Pentagon has found a way out of the Geneva convention for Saddam. He’s viewed as a prisoner of the local government and not a wartime captive.

More broadly, it truly was a day of Bush flexibility. We go from God writing it in everyone’s soul the desire for freedom to “I think they’re inspired by an ideology that is so barbaric and backwards that it’s hard for many in the Western world to comprehend how they think.” — apparently there really is something different about people in the Middle East after all.

And on stem cells, he’s against “destroying life to save life” except for the death penalty and being on offense abroad in the War on Terror to save lives at home. The party of ideas, indeed.


Kieran Healy 05.20.05 at 11:02 pm


yeah, that’s a reasonable point. It was just odd to see two media incidents get spun in opposite directions in the space of 48 hrs, given that in the first case the administration wanted to make Newsweek look as bad as possible and in the second case wanted to make themselves look as good as possible.


Seth Finkelstein 05.20.05 at 11:32 pm

Well, Saddam Hussein is not sacred (he’s secular!).

I think the solution to the double-bind is that the insurgents are more anti-American than pro-Saddam. (which is basically in fact what Bush said, but more euphemistically).


Jake McGuire 05.20.05 at 11:42 pm

Oh, I wish it was odd. I’d describe it as “sadly predictable,” or perhaps “depressingly unsurprising.”

I’m also somewhat biased because I think that leaking these kinds of pictures is a much more effective anti-terrorist tool than lots of other objectionable measures (e.g. torture). Going to Iraq and ending up a martyr is one thing; going to Iraq, having pictures of yourself in your underwear showing up on the web, and coming home in disgrace is something else entirely.

Finally, my money is on the source of these pictures being some guard. He could sell them for good money in the knowledge that he’d get at most a slap on the wrist, wheras higher-ups have to pay at least lip service to political considerations.


Jared 05.21.05 at 12:04 am

Really, Jake? I thought the lesson of Abu Ghraib was that the guards take the fall while the higher-ups who implicitly encouraged this behavior get off scot-free. Paying lip-service is not that hard, compared to the sentences the guards are getting.


Norman Normal 05.21.05 at 2:39 am

It is different, which is why saddam in his underpants hasn’t resulted in protests in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Malysia.


Mycroft 05.21.05 at 7:07 am

Saddam *is* a prisoner of the local government, not a prisoner of war. His fate will be decided by the local tribunal, and the question is probably when, where, and how to conduct the execution.


Daniel 05.21.05 at 7:40 am

btw, those photos look as fake as hell to me.

This story was summed up for me by a colleague who takes the Sun on those days when the London Review of Books isn’t out. He said:

“Page 3 is going right downhill these days.”


Susan M. Turner 05.21.05 at 11:03 am

I think you Americans have to stop whining about how inconsistent your government is (duh) and wake up to the fact they don’t care. Why should they? It’s not what affects their approval rating. What affects it is how well the citizenry thinks the war is going; the economy is going. Mind you, not how well these things are actually going, just how well people think they are.

Clearly, the administration is losing ground there. Nevertheless, why alter strategy? Mere repetition seems sufficient to convince most Americans, intellectually challenged as they are, that if you just keep looking on the bright side then everything is just great.

But even if the majority don’t quite swallow the noble lie, when comes election time, all you need to do is convince the faithful you are doing the work of the gods and bob’s your uncle. Remember, the gods work in mysterious ways. The perception things are going badly won’t matter at all.

Like the German Philosopher Leibniz first then the French philosopher Voltaire in Candide (something you guys should be reading!)argued, no matter how evil things get, because God created it, this must be the ‘best of all possible worlds.’ You guys are in serious trouble. You need to start thinking about action; about just how you are going to change the medieval course your country is now firmly headed on. Why not a revolution or something like that?


Brett Bellmore 05.21.05 at 12:16 pm

Why would it “provoke a backlash”? The insurgents don’t give a bucket of warm spit about Saddam, now that he’s out of power, and has no prospect of getting it back.


abb1 05.21.05 at 12:17 pm

Idiots, they meant to release a photo of Saddam flushing Koran down the toilet. These people can’t do anything right.


Anthony 05.21.05 at 6:38 pm

There is no inconsistency in the Right’s theory of media influence as illuminated by these two examples. The Koran-flushing story results in a bigger reaction because it’s more offensive. There’s little or no influence from the skivvie-Saddam pictures not because the media has less influence than a week earlier, but because the story doesn’t have legs – it’s not something which will inflame the Muslim world.


sara 05.22.05 at 9:00 pm

When will Al-Jazeera or the Manchester Guardian get to publish a photo of Dick Cheney in his underwear?

Horrid sight. . .

Comments on this entry are closed.