January 03, 2011
The Medium is the Message

Way back when, I wrote the following:

Lest we forget, American tanks blocked off access to Firdos Square on that triumphant day [April 9, 2003]. Inside were many American soldiers and civilians and a small group of Iraqis, most of them members of Chalabi’s private, U.S.-funded militia. The statue was toppled by an American cable pulled by an American tank retrieval vehicle operated by American soldiers. The American flag which briefly ornamented Saddam’s head was put there by an American soldier. It was an American officer who realized just in time that the stars and stripes were somewhat off-message, and ordered them removed. Somehow or other, an Iraqi flag happened to be on hand…

As an old flack myself, I had recognized a photo-op even as I watched this one over and over on the day it debuted. But I didn’t know the half of it. For the rest of the story, as the unlamented Paul Harvey used to say, read the fascinating full account by Peter Maas in Pro Publica from which this excerpt comes:

Very few Iraqis were there. If you were at the square, or if you watch the footage, you can see, on the rare occasions long shots were used, that the square was mostly empty. You can also see, from photographs as well as video, that much of the crowd was made up of journalists and marines. Because of the lo-fi quality of the video and the shifting composition of the crowd, it’s hard to give a precise number, but perhaps a quarter to a half consisted of journalists or marines.

The crowd’s size — journalists, marines, and Iraqis — does not seem to have exceeded several hundred at its largest, and was much smaller for most of the two hours. The Iraqis who were photogenically enthusiastic — sledgehammering the statue, jumping on it after the toppling — were just an excitable subset of all Iraqis there.

“I saw a lot of people watching with their arms crossed, not at all celebrating,” Collier noted. Closeups filled the screen with the frenzied core of the small crowd and created an illusion of wall-to-wall enthusiasm throughout Baghdad. It was an illusion that reflected only the media’s yearning for exciting visuals…


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at January 03, 2011 06:14 PM
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Many of the Iraqis there were part of a paid sort-of flash mob. I've seen photographic evidence that some of the same folks were used at another similar demonstration. Can't remember which one, though I think it had to do with people cheering tanks rolling into Baghdad.

Posted by: Jim H. on January 3, 2011 8:27 PM

No way was America going to denied their feel good moment on such a monumental accomplishment.

Posted by: One Fly on January 3, 2011 8:56 PM
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