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TV shows restraint, limits Saddam footage

American networks showed only a portion of Friday’s videotaped execution of Saddam Hussein and a cloudy still photograph of the former Iraqi president’s body wrapped in white after his hanging.
/ Source: Reuters

American networks showed only a portion of Friday’s videotaped execution of Saddam Hussein and a cloudy still photograph of the former Iraqi president’s body wrapped in white after his hanging.

The video footage, also broadcast on Iraqi television and pan-Arab channels, depicted Saddam being led into the gallows, surrounded by hooded men (and another man, without a hood, whose face was pixelated). One of the hooded men spoke to Saddam, who responded -- there was no audio -- and then the noose was put around his neck and tightened.

That brief footage -- and a still shot of Saddam’s lifeless body wrapped in white after his hanging -- was all that the networks received. That made the decision of what to show on TV much easier after debates at the networks late last week on what to show when word spread that the Iraqi government would videotape the execution.

The networks were split on showing Saddam’s body. CNN and Fox showed a still photograph, with Fox News showing a before-and-after with one shot of the dictator in his heyday “Alive” and the other today “Dead.” MSNBC and NBC News did not show anything.

The news channels were wall-to-wall Saddam with a kind of macabre death watch up to 10 p.m. EST, which had been fixed as the likely time of Saddam’s execution. All three news channels offered live coverage, with a half-hour live “The O’Reilly Factor” and an hour-and-a-half “Hannity & Colmes.” Larry King hosted a live hour at 9 p.m. EST featuring interviews with a number of journalists, and scored an interview after 9:30 p.m. with one of Saddam’s lawyers, who told “Mr. Larry” that there was no hope left that the execution would not go forward.

After 10 p.m. all three had thrown, for the most part, to their Baghdad correspondents who were monitoring Arab networks and reported instantly when those channels said the execution had taken place.

On broadcast TV, NBC was the first on the air with a special report by Campbell Brown at 10:14 pm. EST. CBS’ Katie Couric followed at 10:18 p.m. and ABC’s Elizabeth Vargas interrupted a two-hour “20/20” at 10:25 p.m. with word of the execution that had, by that time, been confirmed by multiple sources. ABC continued its coverage on “Nightline.”