Our Saddam picture - too shocking?
The case for the defence
Letters Some heads of state lie around dead for decades. But when we ran a picture of a very-recently-deceased Saddam Hussein, readers emailed - and even phoned in - to complain.
You can read a sample of views here. But not everyone agreed.
Having read the letters from your angry readers, I'd like to step up by your side to at least defend you (if that is at all possible given your situation).
While I must admit that I didn't expect to see the embedded image of Saddam in the midst of your article and scrolling down to see it was a bit surreal (and possibly risky since I read The Reg from work), I'd still like to say that it didn't offend me in the slightest. Perhaps having the post-hanging image of Saddam added a bit more punch to your article, it was certainly effective at doing that, although for the sake of those that are weak of stomach you might want to use a link instead. Maybe I'm just a little bit desensitised and that's why I didn't find it as a problem - although those beavers certainly made me feel a bit off colour and I would kindly request that in future any images of beavers (happy as they might be) should also not be embedded in your articles. Where's the line?
I see you have since added a "graphic content" warning to the article - that's unfortunate. While some think that pasting that image was in bad journalistic taste, I wanted to say thank you for both doing that, as well as posting the responses from the readers.
What disgusts and fills me with revulsion and sickness is people like those readers. They sit in their comfortable homes, in their comfortable chairs, freely expressing their opinions in email by typing away on their computer (which would be both a freedom and a luxury to many millions of people) to blast one person for having the balls to do what you did.
They sit and whine about how they are so offended. My advice to you all - put a sock in it. You wouldn't be so quick to condemn Andrew for doing this if you were an Iraqi citizen that lived for decades in fear that one day you or one of your loved ones would be tortured and/or murdered in cold blood by their government for trivial reasons.
I see nothing graphic in this image. What I do see is that one man who was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people for no good reason has finally met the fate that he deserves. Although in my opinion, he deserved much worse for his crimes against humanity.
I live in Canada and while I've never been able to feel the way an Iraqi citizen did while under Saddam's rule, I can certainly empathize. I can freely type this email and can freely express my opinions because I don't live in fear the way Iraqis did when Saddam was in power.
If you are going to be such cry-babies over something like this, El Reg is probably better off not having you for readers. The customer is NOT always right. And out in the world, there's a few people that know that and will tell the customer they're wrong and lose the business because the end result for them is better by not having that customer in the first place.
The same sentiment, but expressed more directly -
Wow, The Reg's readers are a bunch of pussies. They happily read about people getting killed yet when they see a corpse they freak out like a bunch of highschool girls and feel offended as if they were tricked into reading stories about an execution. I guess executions are ok as long as they don't have to see the details. What a bunch of hypocrites.
In a culture that loves GTA, Doom and descendants, a small picture of someone apparently looking up bothers them ?
Good grief, do any of them actually watch the evening news or do they merely see it ?
I have no problems with El Reg doing its job the way it did. Like many others I work with ( all heavy duty operating systems and big corporate hardware geeks admittedly) the whining of the compulsively offended is more than irritating. I think the Register does an excellent job of balancing appropriateness of imagery.
If only you were not so supportive of of the current cultural creation myths and superstitions, but that's another issue.
Regards, Roger Denholm
Talking of being "compulsively offended", we'll spare the blushes of one correspondent who fired off this in response to the mailbag:
Well thanks, I chanced - to my relief - to miss the Saddam images that were complained about in the letters. So were you trying to be funny by including an image in the letters page? I am *really* hacked off.
At a picture of a living Saddam... or the squirrels?
Came the reply -
Well I didn't really look close enough to see if he was alive or dead. He had a noose round his neck. I'm not really sure about the exact death etiquette: I'm not any more keen on seeing a pic of him a moment before he dies than the moment after. Not that keen on seeing any part of his being killed.
Though I take your point that it wasn't the *exact* same thing, it'e pretty close. Maybe it's just me.
We don't like to cause offence, and it was a cock-up that it wasn't labelled. But the video is a significant event - and is an image we'll be seeing for years to come, I suspect.
To explain why feelings about the event ran deep, there's some explanations on the next page...
After reading the "anti" mail regarding the image of Saddam Hussein's death, I feel compelled to write, looking at the substance of your commentary.
You are absolutely right when you call the tech evangelists "ambulance chasers" - I still remember the pinheaded observations that New Orleans would have fared Katrina better, if only they'd had more Wi-Fi.
The image of Saddam dead is worth more than a hundred thousand words. Death is the great cultural equalizer - even the most yippie technologist will someday meet the same mortal demise as the most brutal dictator.
The picture shows, in all its horror, the heart of human darkness. This is intolerable to the Web-2.0 crowd, as it flies in the face of their notions of benign collectivism. How can wikis stop war? Why can't revenge killings be done away with by blogging?
Knowledge is also a great equalizer. There is a disturbing trend, typified especially by the techno-utopians, of wholesale loss of knowledge relating to things from the pre-internet era. At the very least, they would like to vote on the accuracy of it, since fact and opinion are interchangeable and reality-neutral in such a mindset.
This would not be a problem, except that much of the pattern the tech evangelicals are following is not new - it has been clearly established by extremists of all stripes throughout history.
For instance, take the "Project for a New American Century," the lobbying group who pushed for the very scenario depicted in the controversial photograph. Through groupthink, committee meetings, historical revisionism, blending of facts with opinions, and unswervingly forceful self-righteousness, they managed to change the dialog in an entire country, thanks to the public hysteria after 9/11.
I would argue that such groups could be labelled "demo-utopians," for their belief that the simple introduction of democracy, even at the point of a gun, can act as a universal panacea for social ills. Obviously, both mindsets, if allowed to set policy, result in disaster, sometimes on a grand scale.
The only difference between techno and right-wing demo-utopians such as "PNAC" is their delivery method-- while techno-utopians rely on obscure technologies with limited appeal and availability, the politicos are much more effective with "old media." Talk radio, direct mail, telephone calls, and newspaper articles were all critical parts of the overarching strategy to drum up support for the Iraq war.
Many of the technologists are aghast at the situation in the world today, which is only correct of them. There is a great danger however, that through their own self-righteous dogma, they fail to see any solutions outside of those which can be coded with AJAX components. They make the same mistake as the neocons-- starting with a solution and looking for problems to apply it to.
The world is a complex, and oftentimes horrific, place. The problems which the human species is being confronted with are multifaceted and multigenerational. Utopians of all stripes would do well to evaluate facts and reality in an empirical manner - or the consequences of people's "really good ideas" can only lead to more YouTube execution videos.
Final word from John Stirling, with a thoughtful Letter of The Week - of which this is just a part:
I'm afraid I'm unlikely to get Flame Of The Week for this one, but whilst I do agree that the information evangelists are often misguided, in this case I wholeheartedly approve of the release of this video, and this sort of thing in general. Saddam was mostly a bad man, often a very bad man, but actually he was a creature of our allies, handed his power, and his power maintained for years by one of our closest allies (heck an ex colony). Quite frankly if that process of building him up had been on regular unofficial YouTube tapes then it is likely that we would not be exactly where we are. I think it's also a reasonable assumption that if the questionable practices of that same close ally had not trained and equipped another enemy of the west, who would now appear to be pretty much most wanted then we wouldn't have those problems either, and a nice dose of openess by way of embarrassing video disclosure would have certainly made that situation a little trickier to develop.
Pretty much any modern problem can be traced back to the bad prior actions of the other side, even Hitler, or rather the environment that allowed him to power was a product of the treaty of Versailles (which we wrote). I am not a hater of my own culture, I love it, I don't even regard Empire as wholly bad, but I do passionately believe in clearing up your own mess, and facing responsibility, which is something that our leaders, and we as voters have signally failed to do.
I also believe that acting honourably is not 'impractical' but is actually supremely pragmatic. Difficult in the short term, but pays dividends in the long run. By facing the Iraq war in general, and the end of Iraq's (and the CIA's for many years) dictator in particular in close up (if grainy) detail we cannot avoid facing the consequences of our actions as we have done before, and eventually this will modify our behaviour towards acting in a way which we can be proud of when it is inevitably shown to the world.
Long live inappropriate disclosure - when it comes to unveiling political actions there really is no such thing as too much information. Perhaps we ought to start a campaign to get people complaining to broadcasters, insisting they disclose more uncomfortable truth, rather than less, especially when it's uncomfortable or offensive.