Family Holidays

Guide to planning seasonal celebrations

Voters' Voices

Jobs, the economy and the 2004 presidential election

Holiday Movie Preview 2004

Multimedia slide show with capsule previews of upcoming films

Standardized Testing 101

A primer for parents

Deadly Weapons in Dangerous Hands

Special report about weapons of mass destruction

Losing Ground

Special report: Wetlands' demise ripples across nation

Iraq: After Saddam

Continuing coverage of the conflict in Iraq

Saturday, April 19, 2003
Statue fell, and we went back to old habits

and Gannett News Service
Learn about Tomahawk
cruise missiles
Beyond smart bombs: High-tech weapons explained
Meet U.S. commanders directing the war
Learn about Iraq's most powerful men
Case against Saddam
Suiting up for chemical war
Saddam's rise to power
Key U.S. diplomatic players

I don't know about you, but when the statue fell, so did my undivided attention. Which is neither fair nor right. Nor is it avoidable.

The war in Iraq has dominated television news, particularly on cable-news channels, which have devoted themselves almost exclusively to its coverage.

How could you not watch? Young men and women were fighting and dying, and through TV news we had, after a fashion, a window onto it.

The thing is, young men and women are still fighting. Some may still die. Just not so many of them, or as often. And we still have the same window - embedded reporters, whiz-bang technology, all that - but it's slowly closing. At least that's the perception.

The war, we are often reminded, is winding down, but it's not over. Yet for many, the moment the statue of Saddam Hussein was ripped down by U.S. Marines and Baghdad locals (and one heavy-duty chain) - captured live on all the networks, naturally - the fighting was done. Except that it wasn't.

Later that same day, we saw footage from a firefight that provided some of the most gripping, chilling footage of the entire war, the kind of thing that the whole idea of embedded reporters and cameramen promised but so rarely delivered.

Soldiers have been injured since the statue fell. Soldiers have been killed since the statue fell. Try telling the wounded and the families of the dead - on either side - that the war ended when we saw kids riding around the streets of Baghdad saddled up on the chopped-off head of Saddam's statue, the physical manifestation of the coalition's stated desire to decapitate his regime. The head may have been cut off, but the body still has a little kick in it. But by now we are trained to watch the war's coverage a certain way.

Every big news story follows a predictable pattern. There are differences in each story, of course - sometimes real life throws a wrench into the most carefully scripted coverage plans. But the war in Iraq serves as the classic template for how TV goes about covering really big stories, from start to (almost) finish.

The war had an obvious start, certainly. President Bush gave Saddam 48 hours to get out of town, as it were, and the clock was ticking. Literally; MSNBC ticked off the hours, minutes and seconds until the deadline expired.

Of course, when we got to zero, nothing happened. But we didn't have to wait long, as the United States struck shortly after the clock ran out. Then it was on.

For the next three or four days, as the ground war started, regular life took a back seat to televised war. That's the standard for a big story - saturation coverage and saturation viewing. You can't turn away because you might miss something. Never mind that what you missed would be replayed time after time after time, which means you didn't really miss it at all.

Live television offers an immediacy that other media can't touch, no matter how fast your Internet connection. Seeing it as it happens makes it more real - even if it's happening halfway around the world. But even the biggest story begins to fade.

Just as networks eventually eased their way back into entertainment after 9/11, they began switching over to basketball and sitcoms after a few days of war coverage.

Broadcast networks had the best of both worlds, as they always do - you can show "ER" or "Everybody Loves Raymond," but if big news breaks, you break into programming. Cable news doesn't have that luxury. It has all day and all night to fill, and once you've devoted all your programming to war, bits and pieces that wouldn't merit intense coverage suddenly get dressed up like real stories.

That's a predictable part of big-story coverage, too. Only this time there was a difference. Some of the time formerly devoted to various "experts," talking heads and backseat generals was filled this time with shows of patriotism. It was a move driven by flag-waving Fox News, which has been watched by more people than either CNN or MSNBC (though network news is still the clear choice for most viewers, despite the usual big gains cable makes during big stories).

Draping the cable network in red, white and blue is the wrinkle in this war's coverage. Of course, every big story has an end. The Beltway snipers are arrested. Elian Gonzalez goes back to Cuba. War intruded on the natural evolution of the crash of the Columbia space shuttle, but coverage had wound down, anyway.

This time the statue fell - perhaps the most symbolic climax possible, short of producing the man himself - and for so many, the war was over. Even if it wasn't. And still isn't.

Back to top
General: Iraqi troops improve
The top U.S. general in Iraq said Wednesday that once Iraqi government forces take the lead in the war, the insurgency can be defeated and the American troop level reduced.

| USA TODAY | Wednesday, January 26, 2005 | 11:40 pm

Parties waging a polite battle to control Najaf
In this city, the holiest in Iraq to the country's Shiite Muslim majority, political rhetoric is heating up. But unlike in some places in Iraq, the debate here isn't focused on religion or historic ethnic divisions, and there's little violence.

| USA TODAY | Tuesday, January 25, 2005 | 11:34 pm

In Iraq, the question is: To vote or not to vote
A recent survey by the International Republican Institute found that 80% of Iraqis say they will probably vote this weekend. But unrelenting insurgent violence, the specter of post-election sectarian strife and confusion over complex ballots threaten to snuff out democracy before it can take hold.

| USA TODAY | Tuesday, January 25, 2005 | 11:17 pm

Politics popular in Shiite areas
In Basra and other parts of heavily Shiite southern Iraq, people are embracing politics.

| | Thursday, January 20, 2005 | 11:51 pm

Lengthy ballots, ad blitzes contribute to confusion
Less than two weeks before Election Day, many Iraqi voters still are unsure about some basics, such as: Who are they electing?

| | Wednesday, January 19, 2005 | 11:44 pm

Sunni leaders urge talks with insurgents to end 'stalemate'
Moderate Sunni leaders are urging the United States and Iraqi governments to change course and seek a cease-fire and negotiations with insurgents.

| | Tuesday, January 18, 2005 | 11:46 pm

Female Iraqi candidates risk lives
Members of Congress who traveled to the Middle East over the weekend got a harrowing lesson on the high price of democracy.

| | Wednesday, January 12, 2005 | 10:57 pm

U.S.: Elections will be credible
The Bush administration will consider the results of Iraq's elections credible even if most Sunni Muslims minority don't vote on Jan. 30.

| | Wednesday, January 12, 2005 | 10:57 pm

2 Iraq cities, separated by politics, await election
Sadr City and Fallujah illustrate both the hopes and risks of Iraq's march toward democracy.

| | Tuesday, January 11, 2005 | 10:58 pm

Polling places planned in Iraq's problem areas
The Iraqi Election Commission plans to set up polling stations in problem areas in Iraq despite insurgent attacks.

| | Monday, January 10, 2005 | 11:03 pm

Court-martial begins for Abu Ghraib figure
The court-martial of Army reservist Spc. Charles Graner, the man portrayed as the ringleader in the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal in Iraq, is set to begin Friday at Fort Hood in Texas.

| | Thursday, January 6, 2005 | 11:47 pm

Iraqi expatriates fear being left out of elections
Iraqi-American groups say disorganization and overly stringent requirements are plaguing an ambitious effort to allow expatriates worldwide to vote in Iraq's Jan. 30 elections.

| | Thursday, January 6, 2005 | 10:48 pm

Allawi: Elections will go on
Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi on Wednesday rejected growing calls for postponement of the national elections set for Jan. 30.

| | Wednesday, January 5, 2005 | 11:15 pm

Fallujans reluctant to return
So far, Fallujans are not lining up to return to what's left of their devastated city.

| | Wednesday, January 5, 2005 | 11:13 pm

Congress expects $100 billion war request
Congress expects the White House to request as much as $100 billion this year for war and related costs in Iraq and Afghanistan, congressional officials say.

| USA TODAY | Monday, January 3, 2005 | 11:30 pm

More contracts steered to Iraqi firms
The U.S. government is shifting more reconstruction contracts toward Iraqi companies as violence makes it harder for American contractors to work.

| | Monday, January 3, 2005 | 11:00 pm

Iraqi election candidates crave coverage
As Iraq moves toward elections scheduled for Jan. 30, the media campaign is intensifying.

| | Sunday, January 2, 2005 | 10:57 pm

Gas shortage fuels resentment in Iraq
Buying gasoline in Iraq is a serious undertaking. Determined motorists get up before their dawn prayers to join 2-mile-long lines. Sometimes they don't get to fill their tanks until evening. A black market is thriving.

| USA TODAY | Wednesday, December 29, 2004 | 11:47 pm

Soldiers saw giant tent as inviting target for insurgents
Soldiers at the Forward Operating Base Marez near Mosul, Iraq base had long complained of feeling defenseless in the fabric-covered hall, which lately has been the target of mortar and rocket attacks almost daily.

| USA TODAY | Wednesday, December 22, 2004 | 11:42 pm

U.S. contractor pulls out of Iraq rebuilding project
A Virginia company this week became the first large contractor to withdraw from the multibillion-dollar Iraq reconstruction drive, saying work there was too dangerous and costly.

| USA TODAY | Wednesday, December 22, 2004 | 11:35 pm

Mosul attack showcases insurgents' intelligence
The implications of the audacious suicide attack in the center of a heavily guarded U.S. military base in Mosul go beyond a failure of base security.

| | Wednesday, December 22, 2004 | 11:11 pm

Mosul blast hits U.S. hard
A massive lunchtime explosion struck a flimsy mess tent filled with soldiers Tuesday at a military base near Mosul. It was one of the deadliest attacks yet against Americans in Iraq. Mlitary spokesmen in Baghdad and at the Pentagon said 19 U.S. soldiers were killed.

| USA TODAY | Tuesday, December 21, 2004 | 11:45 pm

Soldiers who led invasion must return
Continuing insurgent attacks have forced the United States to boost its force in Iraq toward 150,000, its highest level yet.

| | Sunday, December 19, 2004 | 11:08 pm

Chaplain, others look to lift Christmas spirit in war zone
Across Iraq, military chaplains will enter makeshift chapels on the morning of Dec. 25 and pray for peace on earth in a land where peace continues to be in short supply.

| Gordon Trowbridge | Marine Corps Times | Sunday, December 19, 2004 | 6:41 pm

Troops can't beat deals at PX
Flush with hazardous-duty pay and tax-free earnings, U.S. troops in combat zones often have more money to spend than things to buy. That's where the PX, or post exchange, comes in, providing a taste of home if only for the time it takes to eat a bag of Doritos.

| C. Mark Brinkley | Army Times | Thursday, December 16, 2004 | 11:22 pm

Army spending billions on new armored vehicles
The Army said Wednesday that it is spending $4.1 billion to armor all military wheeled vehicles in Iraq by June.

| | Wednesday, December 15, 2004 | 11:23 pm

Air Force boosts number of supply flights
Roads have become too dangerous for American convoys, the top Air Force general said Tuesday.

| | Tuesday, December 14, 2004 | 11:32 pm

Army Guard now says its Iraq troops figure was inaccurate
The Army National Guard said Monday it had given USA TODAY an inaccurate count of the total number of Guard troops in Iraq since the beginning of the war in March 2003, but still could not provide a precise count.

| Dave Moniz | USA TODAY | Tuesday, December 14, 2004 | 10:29 am

Fair vote possible in Anbar, top Marine says

The U.S. military believes Iraq's rebellious Anbar province can be brought into national elections scheduled for January.

| Gordon Trowbridge | Army Times | Sunday, December 12, 2004 | 11:05 pm

U.S. military preparing restive Iraqi province for elections
The top U.S. officer in Iraq's rebellious Anbar province believes the region can be settled and brought into national elections scheduled for Jan. 30. Anbar, a hotbed of insurgent unrest, stretches from west of Baghdad to the Syrian border and poses perhaps the toughest challenge to the U.S. mission in Iraq.

| Gordon Trowbridge | Army Times | Friday, December 10, 2004 | 9:09 pm

© 2003, Gannett News Service