Dead People

On Al Jazeera's images of dead bodies and the western press: Tim Cavanaugh in Reasononline (3/24/03).

Since the beginning of the new Iraq war on Wednesday, the Qatari news network Al Jazeera has been showing images of corpses. . . . The station really hit paydirt late Friday and throughout Saturday. Al Jazeera provided some of the most shocking war images ever broadcast on television: A field of bodies after the American strike on the Ansar al-Islam terrorist group in northern Iraq, a blood-soaked emergency room at the same location, and most horrendously of all, a luxuriously-paced tour of civilian casualties in Basra. Among those, one will linger in this viewer's mind forever . . . It was the corpse of a boy with the top of his head blown off. The kid's face, while stiff and covered with dust, retains its human features, but beginning at the forehead the skull simply deflates like an old balloon, ending in an unsupported scalp that (with apologies for the mixed similes) resembles the loose hide of skinned animal. . . .

Al Jazeera photo of dead Iraqi child

The elements of Jazeera's total and terrible victory over its competitors are pretty basic: It treats news as an immediate and vital resource. Jazeera's reporters take great personal risks for exciting footage and stories. The station has rapidly attained core professionalism -- full coverage of press conferences, comments from all sides, and so on. It is welcome in areas where the western networks are not, and it is absolutely not squeamish about presenting any claim or image. . . .

To the extent that the Jazeera version of events presents a plausible case that America could lose the war, every extra day that the war takes to complete will make even victory look more and more like defeat. (In fact, given that current resistance appears to be coming as much from small bands of guerillas as from Iraq's regular army, and considering the near certainty that jihadists are now eagerly making their way into Iraq, it's no longer clear that the peace will look substantially different from what we're seeing right now.) The more CNN's coverage starts to look like Jazeera's, and the messier the war starts to look, the more it will embolden both opponents of the war and those who actually oppose America. Whether it will also reveal how thin domestic support for the war is remains to be seen: Americans may become more determined to fight as more dead soldiers pile up (though significantly, they will no longer claim to be fighting for democracy).

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