June 15, 2004



Good points.

I went to the original website where the photos were posted:


Definitely couldn't read most of it, but I picked up more than I thought...they mention Falluja a few times, but I'm not sure of the context.

In the actual letter and on the rest of the "Jihad Site" as they call it, they make constant reference to "the New Mujahideen fighters of the Arab world."

Perhaps they are framing it as a "new" movement to help recruitment?

Not sure, wish I knew more.


Looked back over it---it's not the "Arab world," but the "Arabian peninsula."


"If they really believed that this man was going to have some ladies panties put on his head, have his picture taken, and then be released, I don't think they would have been all that frightened -- do you?"

No, probably not so much. But that's not all that happened at Abu Ghraib. They may be more frightened by the possibility of him being raped, beaten, or killed.

"If none of the nets would touch the Nick Berg video"

That's a big if, what with it not resembling reality in any way at all. For someone analyzing media coverage, you really seem to have missed quite a bit of it.

The Nick Berg video got plenty of play. But since it featured an actual beheading, it was deemed too violent to air in its entirety. Video of a live hostage, however, is great human drama that plays to the media's sensationalist tendencies. It's also fairly tame from a content perspective. The comparison isn't really valid because the content is so different. The milder pictures from Abu Ghraib, and yes, there are far worse ones we haven't seen, get constant play for much the same reason. Also because that story has continued to develop with new information every day about the Bush administration's approach to interrogation and torture. There are still many unanswered questions. It's not like they're rehashing the same story every day to hurt the war effort. It's still news because there's still new information. The Berg story, on the other hand, was simple and there wasn't much to say other than that terrorists had committed a horrible terrorist act. The story carried through a few news cycles, but then there was another terrorist act to cover and the media moved on.

You are, however, right about the media's shameless desire to capture the family's pain. Nancy Reagan crying makes great television. But that's a symptom of the larger problem with the media that isn't directly related to terrorism or politics. It's just the rude exploitation of the human element of tragedy to create a connection for viewers. It's the same thing as when you see the mother of a missing child on the evening news crying and begging for help. I think you're reading too much into it in this instance.

verplanck colvin

well said gordon. To reduce Abu Ghraib to "panties on the head" is to forget the "glowsticks up the ass" and "dogs biting the legs" and "ghost prisoners" and "kill an inmate and put him on ice later" and the rest of the atrocities that were committed. For covering the media, and complaining about all the pictures aired, you seem to have forgotten what the pictures were about.

Pandagon has a more thorough response to this (well worth reading), but people who reduce Iraqi torture to "panties on the head" need a reminder before it slips into the revisonist history books.

Michael B

"It's still news because there's still new information."

Oh really? Noticed you left that at the level of "trust me on this one." I'd challenge you to timeline those on-going, newly developing pieces of news that warranted such contrasting coverage vis-a-vis the Berg incident. Let's see the evidence.

Scott Spiegelberg


Why do you think that faits accomplis call forth anger, and events call forth sympathy? Do you have any studies or full-blown theories that prove or explain this?

verplanck colvin

Well, there's Ashcroft's refusal to release a memo that outlined what interogation practices could be permitted under international law, there's the expanded probe of those implicated in the abuse itself (including Sanchez himself, which got his ass fired), the allegations of alcohol and sex between the staff (hardly a permitted recreational activity), the practice of ghosting prisoners, and the fact that this is looking more like a more widespread problem than "a few bad apples". Need anything else? Let me know.

verplanck colvin

Sorry, my HTML links did not work. Here's the list:


http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/iraq/la-fg-prison13jun13,1,5373164.story?coll=la-home-headlines" target="_blank

ghost prisoners:

more than a few bad apples:
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/17190" target="_blank

Michael B

"Need anything else?"

Yea, need something of much more substance. I'm not arguing AG was not a scandal. Remember we're talking about this not in a vacuum, but why the coverage of AG was so manifestly in full-saturation mode when compared to Nick Berg's video taped execution. I also disagree with the rationales, the excuses given as to why the difference was excusable or warranted.

"... there's the expanded probe of those implicated in the abuse itself ..."

The "expanded probe itself"? Good grief. Yea, the probe itself. Virtually all investigations "expand" for a period of time after they commence, that's what investigations are for.

"(including Sanchez himself, which got his ass fired)"

Sanchez being relieved of his duties? The article you cite yourself doesn't indicate he was relieved of his duties for that reason. In fact, the article you cite simply delineates the formal interrogation techniques that were allowed by Sanchez, when they were authorized, when they were later restrictued, how the more severe ones needed his direct authorization, not that he has been implicated in the abuse itself directly.

Still further and even more importantly, there were new developments in the Nick Berg execution/beheading as well. Zarqawi's role, real or not, as the actual executioner. Zarqawi's whereabouts in Iraq in the aftermath of the slaying. Whether or not the three or four men detained shortly after the slaying actually were or were not the other men present during the execution on the videotape. Zarqawi's role in Iraq leading up to the execution and his relationship with Saddam, such as his role in establishing sleeper cells in Baghdad and other Iraqi environs, or his role more widely as the leader of Ansar al Islam and the terrorist training base in northern Iraq. All of that stuff received either scant of no attention at all. (Think of all that information as the absence of reporting, the absence of an "expanded probe" or any probe at all in terms of the media coverage given to it. Thus you'd also need to account for why these aspects of the Nick Berg case have been underreported.)

Again, for emphasis, no one is arguing AG was not and is not a scandal, it's been investigated by the military from the very start in mid-January. This is not in a vacuum, this is being compared to the Nick Berg beheading/execution and events related to that execution, Zarqawi, etc., as outlined above. So when asking for a timeline of information or the developing story, it's in that context, not isolated, I know it's a scandal, I'm talking about the disproportional, the incommensurate coverage vis-a-vis Nick Berg's execution and the other aspects of that story, then likewise I'm talking about why the events related to the Nick Berg story have been underreported.

Michael B

If those various underreported aspects associated with the Nick Berg execution are deemed to be unimportant another good contrast is the scant attention paid, the underreporting vis-a-vis the U.N. oil-for-kickbacks scandal.

Further, if those aspects related to the Nick Berg execution are in fact deemed to be unimportant, a question. Are they deemed to be unimportant because they are underreported or not reported at all? If so, then obviously that represents nothing other than a tautology, nothing other than self-referential forms of thinking - essentially the avoidance of thought.


"Do you really think that's why the family was so frightened? If they really believed that this man was going to have some ladies panties put on his head, have his picture taken, and then be released, I don't think they would have been all that frightened -- do you?"

No, Ms Dauber. But the family might have been frightened if they believed this man might be sodomized, have his children threatened, be attacked by dogs or even murdered...

Your trivialization of the atrocities committed by U.S troops disgusts me.


MB, Bush's reluctance to attack Zarqawi (whose base was in Northern Iraq under US control) before the war because it would remove a rationale for invading Iraq was also pretty severely undereported.

Not to mention that Berg was arrested by US troops, he appeared in the Michael Moore movie, his dad hates Bush...the evil liberal media needs to get to work.

Michael B

Well, yes, have only heard very little information about that reluctance concerning the Ansar al Islam base in northern Iraq. It's not as simple, at all, as you put it though. Likely one of the reasons it was underreported is because in doing so they would have had to have admitted a relationship between al Zarqawi, a lieutenant of OBL, Ansar al Islam and Iraq, prior to the operation.

The north was a no-fly zone, but Saddam had ground troops in the north, including one Republican Guard division, so it wasn't a dimilitarized zone, only a no-fly zone, in the Kurdish north.

Still further, the northern base wasn't the only place al Zarqawi could be found in Iraq as he had also begun establishing sleeper cells in Baghdad and other spots in the Sunni triangle area. Hence even if we would have attacked the northern base, there was no guarantee we would have taken out or captured al Zarqawi in the process. So again, reporting on the supposed "reluctance" would have also required them, if they were to be transparent about the entire story, to report on his other activities in Iraq as well.

At any rate, that's also a different subject, off topic from the Berg vs. AG news coverages comparison.


you just said "Zarqawi's role in Iraq leading up to the execution" was an important undereported story.

Besides, that's not much of an excuse for not hitting the Ansar Al Islam base. Don't you think that whenver we know the exact location of an Al-Qaeda base, we should strike at it ASAP, even if we miss Zarquawi himself? and even if it's politically inconvenient for the case for invading Iraq?


To be clear, the idea of a fait accompli is not what triggers anger. Malvest's distinction is one between events that are immediately over, leaving administrations free to respond, and ones that drag on, requiring them to be managed.

My argument is that emotions would be triggered in this case simultaneous with the reason the event is over because the event is over because he was killed. It's his death that triggers the anger. (And, also to be clear, she doesn't talk about visual imagery at all.) Do I have a study that terrorists beheading Americans is likely to create American anger? Ah, no. I'm going out on a limb on that one.

As to the other kinds of events that went on at abu Ghraib, yeah, that's a fair cop, I shouldn't have been glib for the chance of a rhetorical cheap shot, that was inappropriate.

But you guys are the ones that went back to debating the number of times that the abu Ghraib images have run; my original post was about the Johnson video, which evokes completely different emotions, pure sympathy. The a.G. photos are a far, far, more complex issue because they work on a level of both sympathy and shame, and there's so much going on there I'm, to be frank, not close to having that all worked out even in my own mind.

But, I think the comments here are correct -- had they wanted to, there were plenty of times and places they could have worked in the stills from the Berg video, just as they could have worked in the stills from the Fallujah atrocity. It is an editorial choice to not do so.

To say that this is just about media sensationalism, oh, well, you know, they just like it when people cry, seems to me to shrug off opportunities for analysis. Sure, we know they like it when people cry. It's why we think they're vultures. But why, when we are at war, do they prefer one kind of image to another? What can we gain from looking at one kind of image and from another? Maybe the answer is nothing, and you find the analysis unpersuasive. You know, I can live with that. This is critical work, not social science, particularly in the blog format, where you look at a text, you take a shot, you explain it as best you can, you either come up with an argument people believe helps them better understand the relevant texts or not, and you move on to the next text.

There will always be another text. And I'll take another shot at figuring out a way to understand it that's useful and at explaining that in a way that's both helpful and persuasive. If the critical voice applied here is not one that's to your taste, it's no big drama. There are other blogs and other critical voices, yes? But please do not mistake a critical produce you don't like for a process that isn't honest.

Michael B

sym, you're the one who wrote about the "reluctance to attack Zarqawi," so if you're going to carry on a discussion at least acknowledge what you yourself originally said and which I in turn addressed.

Re Iraq. Better to attack an entire hornets nest than merely one of the hornets. But again, Iraq as a whole is a different and broader discussion.


Show it all. Let the public become outraged at the a-rabs, not the media. It might be gruesome, but we need to know exactly what those bastards are like.
Our current administration seems to want to hide so much from us.
Come to think of it, Bush should read the MONROE DOCTRINE.


Show it all. Let the public become outraged at the a-rabs, not the media. It might be gruesome, but we need to know exactly what those bastards are like.
Our current administration seems to want to hide so much from us.
Come to think of it, Bush should read the MONROE DOCTRINE.

Mary Stanley

they do have a video out on nick ber. I saw it and it was very disterbing.

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