The lead editorial in today’s New York Times states that, four years ago this week, “as American troops made their first, triumphant entrance into Baghdad, joyous Iraqis pulled down a giant statue of Saddam Hussein.” There’s one problem with that statement: it’s not true. “Joyous Iraqis” did not pull down the Saddam statue in Firdos Square; US marines did.
The New York Times four years ago reported that “thousands” of “ordinary Iraqis” took part in the statue-toppling. The Washington Post ran a Reuters report describing the scene at the statue-toppling as “reminiscent of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989,” when tens of thousands participated. Those reports also were false. The most straightforward account of the event appeared a few weeks later in The New Yorker, where John Lee Anderson described it: “in the traffic circle in front of the hotel, a statue of Saddam Hussein was pulled down by soldiers in an armored personnel carrier.” Anderson made no mention of thousands of joyous Iraqis. (“The Collapse,” April 21, 2003).
On “Nightline” on ABC-TV, Robert Krulwich also provided a more realistic report two days after the statue-toppling: “On television, the crowd gathered around statue seemed, well, big. But on TV, framing is everything. Widen the frame of this scene and look. It’s kind of empty in the foreground. Now, pull back further, this is about three minutes after the statue fell. And that big celebration seen all over the world wasn’t really very big. Pictures on TV can deceive, same with pictures in the paper.”
The New York Times editorial today called the statue-toppling “powerful symbolism” – but what exactly was being symbolized? What looked like Iraqis hailing Americans as liberators was in fact a phony photo-op staged by the American military. The New York Times fell for it four years ago, when others were already skeptical; at this point, four years later, the Times editors ought to get the Iraq story right.