- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 14, 2003

Stunning, extraordinary, historic, awesome.

Broadcasters were awash in adjectives during yesterday’s coverage of the capture of Saddam Hussein. The surrender proved an event rife with symbolism, sound bites, drama, and ultimately, a victory for the White House public-affairs team.

With seamless precision, Bush administration officials kept the news of the meek and hirsute prisoner from journalists for more than 12 hours. Clear facts emerged leak-free during a 7 a.m. news conference, complete with video footage chosen for its dramatic impact.

“Parading Saddam like a prisoner in a perp walk had enormous psychological implications,” NBC’s Tim Russert said.

Few will forget the image of a befuddled Saddam submitting to a medical exam on camera, the cavity of his mouth illuminated red by a physician’s flashlight.

“I was told they were looking for evidence of cyanide pills, so he wouldn’t kill himself,” said ABC’s Brian Ross, one of dozen of correspondents whose commentary was dramatic, indeed.

Saddam was described as a “a rat in a hole,” “ace in a hole” and caught in both rat and spider holes, in various news reports. Journalists swelled on the details with relish: the unfired pistol, the cold cash and the orange taxicab parked outside Saddam’s last lair like a beacon to U.S. troops.

Officials issued a U.S. Army photo of Saddam clean-shaven in the aftermath; networks were quick to offer before-and-after shots — and ample evidence that Saddam was treated humanely.

President Bush’s terse and dignified noontime message — delivered before a single camera rather than a gaggle of reporters — garnered good reviews.

“The White House clearly wanted to take this moment and make it their own,” observed ABC’s Terry Moran. “It was their pivotal moment, and it was a no-gloat zone.”

“This is the speech President Bush has waited to deliver for nine months,” said CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.

The Bush administration’s sensible but tenacious hold on the news paid off. Habitually peevish network anchormen were downright exuberant yesterday.

Dan Rather of CBS categorized the capture as “terrific news for the United States of America,” while NBC’s Tom Brokaw called the events “incredibly great news.”

Thanks to the Internet, most newspapers and magazine were up to speed in their capture coverage; many will offer packages and special editions that explore both facts and political implications.

Set to deliver a more seasonal cover story, Time magazine ramrodded through a replacement cover and Saddam articles for part of its press run.

“The hunt for Saddam that began with a hellfire of bombs eight months ago ended without a shot being fired,” the cover story noted yesterday.

“So much for the quagmire,” read a headline for an article on National Review Online.

“Al Gore must be thinking life is pretty unfair right about now,” wrote NRO military analyst Mackubin Thomas Owens. “After dominating the news by endorsing Howard Dean, thereby making a play for the pro-Saddam wing of the Democratic party, he is unceremoniously swept aside by the news that U.S. soldiers have captured Saddam Hussein.”

c Contact Jennifer Harper at jharper@washingtontimes.com or 202/636-3085.

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