NYT's John Burns Faces Down Hussein - July 2, 2004 - TimesWatch.org

Times Watch for July 2, 2004

NYT's John Burns Faces Down Hussein

Friday's lead story, "Defiant Hussein Rebukes Iraqi Court for Trying Him," is a dramatic first-hand piece by reporter John Burns, the sole newspaper reporter allowed in the hearing room for the opening of court proceedings against Saddam Hussein and a dozen high-ranking officials of Iraq's fallen dictatorship.

Burns was one of the few reporters from any media outlet who succeeded before the war in conveying the overwhelming fear Hussein instilled in civilians, and he was threatened by the regime for his pains. He provides a flavorful account of the proceedings against Hussein and his henchmen.

On Hussein: "He began nervously, like a hunted man in alien terrain. His eyes swiveled back and forth, his voice was weak, and his fingers stroked his beard and touched his bushy eyebrows. But halfway into his 26-minute appearance he appeared to find his pitch, and he ended with a string of finger-wagging admonishments for the court's temerity in putting him on trial."

(Burns notes Hussein told the judge, "You know that this is all a theater by Bush, to help him win his election," suggesting Hussein is a budding Paul Krugman fan.)

On Tariq Aziz, Hussein's dapper-looking foreign-policy negotiator: "Mr. Aziz cut a figure of unshakable self-confidence in power, stalking the marble halls of Baghdad's palaces pulling on a cigar, boasting until the last weeks before the American attack in March last year that he and other government leaders would be 'shadows' by the time American troops arrived in Baghdad, uncatchable. In fact, he gave himself up shortly after Mr. Hussein's government was toppled. At Thursday's hearing, he, like many others, was a shadow, in another sense, of his former self. His shoulders bowed, his head forward, he mopped his brow, bit his lip, blew his nose, and wrung his hands. He sat through the hearing with the chain used to manacle him dangling at his waist. Once a man who prided himself on his well-cut suits, he seemed not to notice the chain nestling against his ill-fitting, American-bought suit."

For the rest of Burns' flavorful take on the dictator's day in court, click here.

" John Burns | Saddam Hussein | Hussein Trial | Iraq War

Moore Krugman?

Columnist Paul Krugman, who has become more and more Michael Moore-like since the Iraq War, becomes the second Times columnist in two days to praise "Fahrenheit 9/11," in his Friday column.

Krugman swallows Moore's populist shtick: "Mr. Moore's greatest strength is a real empathy with working-class Americans that most journalists lack. Having stripped away Mr. Bush's common-man mask, he uses his film to make the case, in a way statistics never could, that Mr. Bush's policies favor a narrow elite at the expense of less fortunate Americans-sometimes, indeed, at the cost of their lives."

(An actual journalist, Newsweek's Michael Isikoff, deals with some of those pesky "statistics" (otherwise known as facts) that Moore leaves out, and annihilates much of the conspiratorial foundations on which Moore's "documentary" is based.)

So dedicated is Krugman to the higher cause that he exercises party loyalty, censoring himself from making disloyal criticism of Moore: "Viewers may come away from Mr. Moore's movie believing some things that probably aren't true. For example, the film talks a lot about Unocal's plans for a pipeline across Afghanistan, which I doubt had much impact on the course of the Afghan war. Someday, when the crisis of American democracy is over, I'll probably find myself berating Mr. Moore, who supported Ralph Nader in 2000, for his simplistic antiglobalization views. But not now. 'Fahrenheit 9/11' is a tendentious, flawed movie, but it tells essential truths about leaders who exploited a national tragedy for political gain, and the ordinary Americans who paid the price."

For the rest of Krugman's take on "Fahrenheit 9/11," click here.

" Columnists | "Fahrenheit 9/11" | Paul Krugman | Michael Moore | Movies

Iraqi Ambivalence Over "Former President" Hussein

Dexter Filkins' front-page story on Iraqi reaction to Saddam Hussein on trial is headlined "Iraqis Joyful, or Stung, to See Ex-Ruler in Dock." (Note to copy desk: "Tyrant" is just one letter longer than "Ruler," and a lot more accurate.)

Similarly, Filkins' article keeps the focus on Iraqi ambivalence toward their "former president" (another inaccurately benign formulation): "Some Iraqis celebrated what they hoped would be Mr. Hussein's impending punishment, even his death. Others said they felt humiliated that Mr. Hussein's arraignment in a courtroom here had been brought about by the Americans. While some Iraqis cheered Mr. Hussein's public humiliation, others seemed uncomfortable watching their former president being treated like a common criminal....While Mr. Muhammad rhapsodized about Mr. Hussein's death, however, two Iraqis on the sidewalk only steps away lionized the former dictator."

Filkins then lets a conspiracy theorist (a sort of Iraqi version of a Michael Moore fan) ramble on for several paragraphs. The man, a Mr. Nassar, relays an interesting alternative explanation for Iraq's invasion of Kuwait: "The Kuwaitis were insulting Iraqi women."

(Filkins doesn't mention it, but that's the same explanation of the Kuwait invasion Saddam Hussein used in his Thursday testimony: "Kuwaitis said that the Iraqi women will come to the streets for 10 dinars.")

Near the end Filkins writes: "For all the hardship Mr. Hussein caused here, some Iraqis said they were unable to summon any bitter feelings. In that way, they said, Mr. Hussein looms like a father over an abused son. He may be a brutal man, the Iraqis said, but he is a father still."

For the rest of Filkins on Baghdad reaction to Hussein's trial, click here.

" Dexter Filkins | Saddam Hussein | Hussein Trial | Iraq War