Wednesday, May 12, 2004

THE TERRIBLE DEATH OF NICHOLAS BERG. Okay, I've seen the video. Good Lord, what a horrible, undeserved death Nicholas Berg suffered at the hands of terrorists in Iraq. A website I'd been directed to couldn't make the connection, but it took me no more than a few minutes to locate and download a copy with LimeWire. Such is the modern media environment. I have nothing profound to say about this horrific act. A few random observations:

- Berg's family is probably right that their son was singled out for execution because he's Jewish. An odd wrinkle, though, is that his killers apparently said nothing about Berg's being a Jew on the five-minute-plus videotape. By contrast, when Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was beheaded by terrorists, their propaganda video dwelled at length on Pearl's Jewish background.

- When CBS News aired the non-gruesome parts of the Pearl video two years ago, it was widely criticized. When the Phoenix posted a link to the entire video, and published two small images, including Pearl's severed head, in its print edition, it set off a nationwide controversy. By contrast, the pre-execution portions of the Berg video have already been widely aired. At least one rather mainstream website, based in Arizona, has already posted the entire video. And pro-war radio talk-show hosts this morning are demanding that the major networks air the video, under the guise of reminding Americans of why we're fighting. Why the difference? I've always believed the media showed unusual deference to Pearl's family - far more than they would under most circumstances - because Pearl was a fellow journalist. More important, sadly, is that we've all become increasingly desensitized after nearly three years of constant war.

- Unlike the Pearl video, which was a pretty unambiguous portrayal of Islamist terrorism, the meaning of the Berg video depends entirely on one's preconceived notions about the war in Iraq. Supporters of the war will argue that it shows why we must keep on fighting. Opponents will counter that it's further proof we shouldn't be in Iraq in the first place. As for those who say - as the terrorists themselves claimed - that it was in direct response to the abuses and torture at Abu Ghraib, I'm with CNN's Aaron Brown, who said last night, "The fact is these guys never need a reason to kill Americans, hostages or otherwise. If it is in their interest, and it is sick to think that killing an American in Iraq is in anyone's interest, but if it is they would have done it anyway. Danny Pearl was murdered and what exactly was the reason for that?"

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