Toppling the statue of Saddam in Iraq: a media moment, revisited

"Propaganda has been a staple of warfare for ages, but the notion of creating events on the battlefield, as opposed to repackaging real ones after the fact, is a modern development." In the New Yorker, a re-examination of the events surrounding the toppling of the Saddam Hussein statue in Iraq, and American media's complicity in a set-up: great moments in staged military propaganda.


  1. “but the notion of creating events on the battlefield, as opposed to repackaging real ones after the fact, is a modern development.”

    Didn’t WWII begin with the Germans faking a “Polish” attack on a German post? Maybe that’s still modern.

  2. Isn’t that called a photo op? Breaking news, Peter: MacArthur returning to the Philippines was shot a few times. Flag at Iwo Jima, etc. The NYer – reliving the glory days of Bush as their own man struggles. Hope Elizabeth Kolbert gets on Maas for wasting trees.

    1. You could’ve saved yourself a lot of typing by just writing, “Didn’t read the article,” or “Read it, didn’t understand it; W Rawks!”

      1. Thanks for the vote of confidence.
        Maas’ story in a nutshell: the media ran with a photo op. So what? How many times have you recalled the toppling of the statue lo these many years? Did it make you believe the ‘war is over?’ The story is irrelevant. But it does possess purposeful content for the NYer which likes to remind people of stupider times with Bush. The better to continue its fawning, and diversionary, journalistic support of Obama. Hertzberg, when faced with the titanic loss of House seats to the Republicans, instead of laying the blame at the feet of Obama where it belonged, cited ‘the ignorance of the American public.’ Shameful. I love the NYer, but really, politically, it no longer displays any independent thought.

  3. The only difference I can see now is that it is done for more immediate impressive purposes – the people writing about it are there on the battlefield to witness it, rather than back home.

    Empires throughout history have done things that served no military purpose but sounded good in reports home.

  4. “An American flag was draped over the statue’s head.”

    Viewed from outside the US this was a misjudged and arrogant gesture. I remember watching this live on the BBC. The commentators were amazed that US commanders would condone such a lack of diplomacy. Sure enough it was quickly removed and replaced with an Iraqi flag.

  5. I have to wonder why the editors here at boingboing would chose to post an article so scathingly critical of their own methods of operation. I’ll explain, if you look at it, the problems with the old media that are referenced in this article are even worse in the new online media.

    This is coupled with the fact that editors of the internet (aka bloggers) have no reporters to either infer or receive information from. So we can take Maass’s criticim of editors: not remaining objective or listening to their reporters, to its logical conclusion. As a Blogger you are just an editor without an editors subordinates or accoutrements. This many not matter if you have 3 followers but at some point you have to describe something as a “mass” medium.

    The lack of reporters for the stories that bloggers report deeply influences their perspectives. The internet is a massive “control room” if their ever was one. Blogging is just a socially acceptable form of editing and cherry picking stories pursuant to a personal or niche held world-view. Within many niche communities certain news items either get overly negative coverage or else they are blown way out of proportion.

    The proponents and practitioners of the new forms of mass media should do well to heed the Maass’s lessons.

    1. Goblin, the more I read your interpretation of stories here, the more I question your reading comprehension. I’ll explain. :P

      How did you get from a piece about the government staging events for carefully selected embedded reporters to the BB editors choice of what to write about?

      The only similarity is the one of basic agency – someone did somehting – beyond that the similarities you describe are just not there. Like, at all.

      I’m beginning to think you’ve got an axe to grind, my evidence is the number of comments you leave questioning the editors choices.

      1. The article rather explicitly attacks mass media editors and their practices. The posters at BB fancy themselves as “editors” as stated on the main page. BB also has got lots of readers, enough to call them a “mass” medium.

        If you missed that parallel then I would encourage you re-read the article.

        But problems with the coverage at Firdos soon emerged, including the duration, which was non-stop, the tone, which was celebratory, and the uncritical obsession with the…[SIC]cause du-jour

        Emphasises mine.

        These same or similar criticisms can be levelled against any blog site. Brietbart, HuffPo, BB you name it.

        Duration and intensity as functions of editorial choice are greatly exacerbated online depending on what blog site you happen to visit. I know there are sites you avoid must like the plague, but others also flock to them. If you can’t see the parallel between TV networks and big name websites then you aren’t reading the article deeply enough.

        My point is as I stated earlier is that the problems that Maass Highlights are even more true on any blog site. Good examples here are TSA and Assange, both topics that receive out-sized attention while others sites ignore it all together. Conservative Blog sites make the same editorial choices, only they pump up Palin or run articles about the Tea Party and their causes.

        Why BB you ask, I guess I felt BB is open minded enough to not take criticism too personally, am I wrong mdh?. In so far it seems they have. I have stated many times before I am most interested in the truth of the matter, I hate politics and so far this site has been the best to that end. Sure individuals can’t help to have their views but the editors here seem rather more even handed then most other blog sites.

        However, sometimes, just like all humans, editor/posters here miss some obvious parallel or parallels in the articles that they post, now is one of those times. Am I that wrong for challenging them for a thoughtful response? You are criticising me for claiming that new mass media and old mass media are more similar then you would like. Well what of it, how is a blogger not an editor or an opinion piece writer or both? As I stated earlier often they don’t have any personal or professional control over the article writers whose articles they link to.

        I have no axe to grind, no more then you do. I, like you, do have a private opinion, and I thought BB as a site beleives in pluralism and acceptance, am I right?

        I am a sceptic yes, but does that automatically make my points any less valid? Am I wrong in your eyes simply because I have the courage to challenge the status quo? Or express and opinion you don’t like? I don’t know, sometimes I wish you would just go with it and take my criticisms with a grain of salt like most everybody else.

  6. “…but the notion of creating events on the battlefield, as opposed to repackaging real ones after the fact, is a modern development.”

    Forcing your enemy to pass beneath the yoke*? Goes back at least to the Caudine Forks (321BC).

    * The root of the word ‘subjugate’.

    More recently: most of Winston Churchill’s military career was spent with an eye to how the press coverage would read. Heck, the man co-wrote his own legend!

    2/10 Maass.

    1. speaking of churchill, I recall reading that some of his radio speeches were delivered by an actor impersonating him.

  7. Might it have been just a small group of Iraqis whose numbers and enthusiasm were exaggerated by the cameras

    Yeah, damn cameras always exaggerating everything. And so many of them were there it multiplied the effect.

    Snarkiness aside, the media covered this because statue toppling makes a nice visual piece. The army helped out because they figured it’d look good, and the individual soldiers were probably caught up in the moment. (Who doesn’t love a good statue-pulling?)

    The fact that an American flag was put on the statue at all means that this wasn’t planned in great detail. There was no Illuminati-esque conspiracy to manipulate the media. Obsessing over this event makes you seem kinda kooky.

    I mean what’s next, a revisit of Turkeygate?

  8. The toppling of Saddam’s statue turned out to be emblematic of primarily one thing: the fact that American troops had taken the center of Baghdad.

    This was my impression at the time and I’m afraid the impression made on much of the world outside the US. Not a liberation, but an invasion.

  9. How many times have you recalled the toppling of the statue lo these many years?

    The article discusses how a misleading photo op came to change public perception, and create a feeling of victory, which was important because at that moment attention needed to be on the fighting. Declaring mission accomplished early helped shape Iraq today, and the fact that it isn’t relevant to you any more doesn’t mean it isn’t something to look at.

    1. But the toppling of the statue in Baghdad, regardless of Maas’ history of toppling statues, wasn’t the “Mission Accomplished” moment in Iraq. That inanity, complete with banner, was the photo op with Bush on an aircraft carrier a month later. And NO ONE bought that. In fact, just about everyone laughed at it. The statue didn’t change public perception in April then suddenly become a joke in May. The falling statue was a cute moment – but an irrelevant one.

      1. I’m glad you saw through these matters, but not everyone considered them so lightly. In that very speech on the aircraft carrier, Bush said “In the images of falling statues, we have witnessed the arrival of a new era.” Are you certain no one, the Republicans included, was influenced by such reporting?

  10. I was expecting something like a look at other classic war photo ops that have been set up over the years. The Iwo Jima pic was based on some sort of reality, though the iconic photo was a recreation for the cameras.

    The US flag incident reminded me of a picture I scanned from a very large two-volume book on “Our Islands and Their People” from roughly 111 years ago, including a photo of Cuban kids in the street waving a US flag for the camera. However, a look at the photo reveals that the flag he’s holding was clumsily drawn in by a retoucher. Was this to strengthen a flag that was really there but which lacked definition? I wouldn’t guess that it was. It looks like it’s made of whole cloth.

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