ABC Gives Saddam Hussein Balanced Coverage, Cite Worries He'll Not Get Fair Trial

<img vspace="0" hspace="0" border="0" align="right" src="/media/2005-10-18-ABCWNTVargas.jpg" />ABC anchor Elizabeth Vargas set up a Tuesday <i>World News Tonight</i> story, about Saddam Hussein's trial set to start Wednesday, by noting how “many Iraqis are eager to see him in the docks, finally held accountable for atrocities committed by his regime.” But then came the inevitable “but,” as in: “But already, human rights groups are worried about the fairness of the trial.” In the subsequent story, reporter Jim Sciutto in Iraq devoted most of his piece to how Iraqis are angry at Hussein and glad he's going on trial. Sciutto quoted one man who argued that “he should be tortured the same way he tortured the people.” Sciutto, however, ended with the concern earlier highlighted by Vargas: “Human rights groups doubt the former dictator will get a fair trial, with five inexperienced judges unable to resist pressure for swift justice, and his legal team with little time to answer the charges.”<br /><br />A little bit on CBS's story, and a full transcript of the ABC story, follow.<br /><br />
<!--break--> Over on the <i>CBS Evening News</i>, Lara Logan showed the video of Dujail before, in a milder way, passing along worries about fairness: “For these people, the verdict on Saddam Hussein is already in: 'I would not control myself, I would tear him apart,' this man says. But the Americans know the credibility of Iraq's new democracy is at stake here if Saddam Hussein doesn't appear to receive a fair trial. That's already impossible, says his defense attorney, because the U.S. is dictating the rules.” Abdel Haq Alani declared in a soundbite: “As we can see, it's all being controlled by the United States.” <br /><br />The <i>NBC Nightly News</i> story from Richard Engel refrained from playing the fairness card.<br /><br />Full transcript of the October 18 <i>World News Tonight</i> story on ABC:<br /><blockquote>Elizabeth Vargas: “Overseas, now, to Iraq. Saddam Hussein will go on trial for the first time tomorrow, 22 months after he was dragged from an underground bunker. Many Iraqis are eager to see him in the docks, finally held accountable for atrocities committed by his regime. But already, human rights groups are worried about the fairness of the trial. Here's ABC's Jim Sciutto.”<br /><br />Sciutto, over video of the courtroom: “Today, the first look inside the courtroom where Saddam Hussein will answer for years of brutality, the dock where he and seven co-defendants will sit. And the witness stand, with curtains to shield his accusers' identities. <br /><br />“Today, many Iraqis told us that under Saddam's rule, they could not have had imagined this. 'I never dreamed we'd see Saddam in court one day,' Ali, a writer, told us, 'we have waited too long.' Saddam, whose regime has been accused of gassing hundreds of Kurds and dumping tens of thousands of others in mass graves, will stand trial tomorrow for a crime little-known outside Iraq: The 1982 execution of 143 men and boys in the town of Dujail [spelling a guess] after an assassination attempt against him there. This recently discovered video shows him confronting residents minutes later. 'Keep them separate,' he [Hussein] orders, 'and interrogate them.' <br /><br />Greg Kehoe, former adviser to Iraqi Special Tribunal: “Here was a limited set of facts, a limited set of events. Nevertheless, the crimes that were inflicted on the population were horrific.”<br /><br /><img vspace="0" hspace="0" border="0" align="right" src="/media/2005-10-18-ABCWNTSciutto.jpg" />Sciutto: “The Iraqis we spoke with tonight still expressed deep anger at Saddam Hussein and often a desire that he face the most severe punishment. Kaddam al-Jafar [phonetic spelling] lost all four of his sons in the Dujail executions. [over video of al-Jafar] 'He should be tortured the same way he tortured the people.' Human rights groups doubt the former dictator will get a fair trial, with five inexperienced judges unable to resist pressure for swift justice, and his legal team with little time to answer the charges. Tomorrow, they will likely be granted a request for more time to build a defense. Jim Sciutto, ABC News, Baghdad.” </blockquote>

Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center