NEW YORK, (AP) – Although Iraqi authorities released no video of Saddam Hussein’s execution, crude images of the hanging emerged Saturday on the Internet, and some TV networks used portions leading up to the trap door opening.
The video, apparently taken by a cell phone, clearly showed Saddam falling to his death and briefly swinging on a rope, his neck grotesquely bent. But none of the networks showed those images.
Earlier in the day, Iraqi state television broadcast video of men in black ski masks loosely placing the noose around Saddam’s neck. Those images were picked up and repeated by American television networks.
The cell phone video of the execution, taken from in front of the gallows, emerged after 4 p.m. EST. The Al-Jazeera satellite network ran an abridged version that was picked up in the United States by Fox News Channel.
ABC News may use brief portions of the new video showing Saddam standing in his last moments alive, said Bob Murphy, the network’s senior vice president.
“It’s a different angle on the same event,” he said. “It has much more audio and ambient sound. They’re clearly taunting him. It’s a much more hostile environment than you get from watching the video this morning. The earlier video makes it seem much more passive and serene than it actually was.”
The source of the execution video is not clear. It shows the potential of cell phone video as a powerful new source for news organizations, Murphy said. Yet in this case, it also indicates the lack of control authorities had over if people in the audience were freely allowed to take pictures, he said.
Network executives initially thought they might make it through the day without any tough calls. The first video of Saddam shortly before his execution became available about 4 a.m. EST. It was shown by all of the American news networks.
“Everyone was anticipating we would have a difficult decision to make,” said David Rhodes, Fox vice president of news. “But when you consider what we and everyone else saw coming in, the pictures were fairly dramatic, but there was nothing we had to do” before televising it, he said.
Networks took differing approaches to showing Saddam’s body.
Fox ran side-by-side pictures of Saddam, one a file photo labeled “Alive” and the other a blurry still photo after the execution marked “Dead.”
Another video distributed early Saturday on state-run television seemed to come from a cell phone and depicted Saddam in a white shroud, his neck turned at an unnatural angle. The shroud and part of his neck contained what appeared to be blood stains.
NBC News, both on the Saturday “Today” show and on the MSNBC cable channel until about midday, did not show Saddam’s body. NBC News President Steve Capus then approved the use of one still photo of Saddam’s body.
“I didn’t want them to rush into it,” Capus said. “I wanted them to be cautious. I didn’t think there was anything to be gained by being first with the pictures of the body.”
CBS News aired four separate images of Saddam’s body on “The Early Show.” ABC, keeping in mind the hour of the day, decided to show only a still picture of the body, one without the blood stains.
“We decided to isolate a freeze frame that clearly identified it was him but didn’t dwell on it and didn’t have some of the more macabre aspects of his head,” Murphy said.