Blog Post

Reeling from a Cellphone Cam in the Gallows

Going to the Web for the uncensored version isn’t always a matter of off-color humor. This weekend, after Saddam Hussein was executed, a cellphone video that kept rolling after the former Iraqi dictator dropped from the gallows quickly became available online. In contrast, American television networks ran an official video that didn’t go past placing a noose around his neck.

The clip quickly rose to the top of the fresh video feeds I monitor, providing a gruesome contrast to a mellow holiday. It’s difficult to wrap my head around the execution of a man who’s been in the headlines for most of my life. It’s all the more jarring to imagine witnessing his execution in person, from a cellphone awkwardly held aloft.

While my stomach wasn’t all that happy with my decision to watch the video in full, I appreciate the way such grainy, jostled footage can evoke such a disturbing event happening hours before on the other side of the world.

The video has met varied fate at the hands of video aggregators and television networks.

At least one version of the video on YouTube requires a registered account for someone over 18 as well as agreeing to view content that has been flagged as inappropriate. There’s no warning on Metacafe or Revver versions that are still available Monday night. The Google Video version that we linked to above has been viewed nearly 3 million times.

Fox, CNN, and ABC have run parts of the video, in part because the hostile exchanges between Hussein and his executioners immediately prior to his death are audible, according to a detailed breakdown in the Hollywood Reporter. Fox News reportedly elected to show the whole video on its Web site along with a warning about its graphic nature (would give a link, but having trouble finding it amongst all the pre-roll ads).

Prior to the emergence of the cellphone clip, or even the hanging itself, television networks said they expected a full video would find its way online. On Thursday, network executives told the Hollywood Reporter, “an execution video widely distributed on the Internet wouldn’t change their minds about not airing the graphic portions of any video.”