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New Year’s Eve and New York Times



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Since we’re scrutinizing the Times on the Corner this fine Sunday, a few comments are in order about the coverage of Saddam Hussein’s execution. 

On the plus side, page one, Marc Santora’s account of the dictator’s last minutes is riveting, and John Burns’ more comprehensive treatment of the execution and its fall-out is characteristically excellent.  (As things go in Iraq, it is noteworthy that, in the early editions of the paper, the sub-headline said, “Violence Limited”; the updated headline observes, “Attacks Go On.”)

For once, we don’t get the Times’ editorialized spin on the death penalty until well inside the first section.  But then it comes out in force. 

There is, naturally, “Around the World, Unease And Criticism of Penalty,” by Alan Cowell, typical of which is this drivel from Tim Hames, of the Times of London:  “Mainstream middle-class sentiment in Europe now regards the death penalty as being as ethically tainted as the crimes that produced the sentence.”  Of course, this reflects — and could only reflect — not the sentiment of the mainstream middle-class but of elite opinion in Europe, particularly of transnational progressive intellectuals who long for a post-sovereign Euro-state. Commonsense people, even those uneasy about or opposed to capital punishment, have no difficulty distinguishing the evil behind the crime and their reservations about the punishment.  It is only the intelligentsia, which questions the very existence of “evil,” that consequently finds itself without a compass for such moral and ethical distinctions.

But the stand-out is Hassan M. Fattah’s story, under the inane headline:  “For Arab Critics, Hussein’s Execution Symbolizes the Victory of Vengeance Over Justice“.  Memo to the Times:  First, very often, vengeance is justice; that is why the most civilized societies (those based on ordered liberty) demand that the punishment fit the crime.  Second, this is an especially counterintuitive headline and theme for a story that purports to convey the cultural sense of the Islamic world (indeed, a story illustrated with a depiction of thousands of “pilgrims” in Mena, Saudi Arabia, observing the Eid). 

In this regard, far more telling – however inadvertently — is the final paragraph of Mr. Santora’s aforementioned dispatch:  “[Saddam's] body stayed hanging for another nine minutes as those in attendance broke out in prayer, praising the Prophet, at the death of a dictator.”  For the believers, vengeance and justice … inseparable.



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