Lauer, Russert Dwell On 'Very Short Term' Good News for Bush In Saddam's Hanging

December 29th, 2006 1:00 PM

NBC began its Friday Today broadcast with the grim-sounding news that Saddam Hussein will be executed soon. Why grim? Isn't this a moment, at least a day, showing some good news from Iraq, and reminding the country that it did something in deposing Saddam that pleased the Iraqi people? For NBC, this is merely a short interruption in the non-stop bad news from Iraq. It's an event they are predicting will be quickly overshadowed by increased violence. Lauer concentrated on the fears of our government, and Russert declared violence was a "huge fear" of the administration. Russert went on to predict that the Bush team would try to justify the war on Saddam around the execution of the dictator, but any echo of celebration "could in fact be very short term, depending on what level of violence follows his death."

An uptick in violence might happen. But it also seems that this prediction helps prevent a single news cycle from sounding any kind of positive note. Lauer began the Saddam part of his chat with Russert this way:

Lauer: "Let's talk about what may happen as soon as today in Iraq, the execution of Saddam Hussein. I mean, anybody who tries to predict what will happen in Iraq for a living will go broke, but you have to figure that the administration has sat down in planning meetings with all of their generals and people on the ground trying to figure out what the response to this execution’s going to be. What are their fears?"

Russert: "And the intelligence agencies. They’ve tried to game this out, Matt. The Shi'ites and Kurds will be jubilant and celebrating. But they are worried about the Sunnis. Saddam is a Sunni. And what will happen in the area they control,  particularly in Baghdad? People will use his death as an excuse, as a reason to they are afraid, to accelerate, commence the level of violence. That is a huge fear for this administration."

Then it grew more interesting, as Lauer acknowledged that Saddam's hanging could look like good news to the American public, that Iraq has gone from dictatorship to a rule of law, that used a system of justice to try Saddam for his evil reign. (Of course, Matt didn't call him evil.) But Lauer insisted the danger was that Saddam would be no longer a tyrant "to some" (as in, hard-core Baathists?), but a martyr:

Lauer: "So what they have a good news-bad news situation. On the good news side, they have this whole trial and conviction and potential execution, or inevitable execution, as a sign to the Iraqi people that there is now no longer a dictatorship, but a system of justice that works and carries out punishment. But on the other side you have a guy who is no longer a tyrant to some people, but a martyr?"

Russert: "Absolutely. Look for the administration to say this justifies once again the reason we went into Iraq to bring about the deposing of Saddam Hussein. The people are now free. He met his justice. But that could in fact be very short term, depending on what level of violence follows his death."

Russert could have also said "look for the media to treat the adminstration's talking points as empty propaganda, soon to be overwhelmed by events on the ground." The trials of Saddam (especially the second one) have been ignored, perhaps for that reason that Lauer and Russert enunciated: focusing on Saddam focuses on an administration talking point, and the media wishes to avoid those. See the Rich Noyes takedown of coverage of the first Saddam trial here. Rich found:  

"With the Iraq war now three years old, one of its main acheievements -- the toppling of Saddam Hussein's mass-murdering dictatorship -- has been largely shunted to the sidelines as the media focus on bad news: terrorist attacks, U.S. casualties and pessimistic warnings that Iraq is on the verge of “civil war.” Not even Saddam’s trial for crimes against humanity has encouraged TV to take more than a cursory look at the ex-dictator’s horrifying record."