Grimly Reaping

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For KCRW, this is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun with Minding the Media.

The sense of finality that marks the end of any year was compounded this time by the passing of three famous figures, Gerald Ford, James Brown and Saddam Hussein.

In Ford's case, his undramatic passing at 93 and his methodical, largely undramatic career forced journalists to go back repeatedly to the one episode that will forever haunt his name: the pardoning of Richard Nixon in 1974 for his role in the Watergate crimes.

Some people never forgave Ford for letting Nixon off the hook, but in the swirl of commentary that surrounded his death, it was clear that history sees Ford's act as a crucial element of the nation's healing.

As for James Brown, who had been kicking out the jams well into old age, his death gave the media a chance to delve into his unstoppable personality and his profound influence on modern music.

But when I covered the public viewing of his body last week at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, what I heard most from people in line was how important Brown had been in encouraging black pride and in keeping discouraged black kids from dropping out.

Saddam Hussein deserved no such positive eulogies. His execution came with only a few hours' notice, but time enough for TV news programmers to line up portentous music and melodramatic graphics.

In her review of the execution's coverage, Alessandra Stanley wrote in The New York Times that, as the deadline loomed for the hanging, "Commentators filled time with pronouncements like 'the clock is ticking on Saddam Hussein.'"

"After devoting his entire hour on CNN to the impending hanging, Larry King asked, 'Is there something ghoulish about this?'"

The answer was yes. But, Anderson Cooper said, audiences would have to wait for video of the hanging while CNN executives "at the highest levels" decided whether it was proper to show it. In the end, the drop itself did not taint American TV screens, although video of it is, naturally, available on the Internet.

On New Year's Eve, there was another much worse piece of news from Iraq: The number of U.S. military deaths there has risen to at least 3,000 since the war began in March 2003.

Violence in Iraq also claimed the lives of 32 journalists in 2006, most of them Iraqis, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

This year's killings bring to 92 the number of journalists who have died in Iraq since the invasion. Worldwide, the CPJ found that at least 55 journalists were killed in direct connection to their work in 2006.

Five other journalists died, much more peacefully, last year. They were Oriana Fallaci, the Italian reporter best known for her ruthless interviewing style; Ed Bradley, the veteran 60 Minutes correspondent; and three former New York Times men: legendary bon vivant Johnny Apple; former managing editor Gerald Boyd, who departed in 2003 under the cloud of the Jayson Blair scandal; and Abe Rosenthal, who was executive editor of The Times when I joined the staff in 1978 and whose innovations left a lasting imprint on the nation's paper of record.

Yesterday's Times made poignant note of another death, that of First Sgt. Charles Monroe King, who was killed October 14 in Baghdad. His fiancée, Dana Canedy, who works at The Times and is my former assignment editor, wrote a piece saying King had left a 200-page journal for their son, Jordan, now 9 months old, in case he did not make it back from Iraq.

King, 48, who was a month from completing his Army tour of duty, wrote in the journal:

"Things may not always be easy or pleasant for you; that's life, but always pay your respects for the way people lived and what they stood for. It's the honorable thing to do."

This is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun, Minding the Media on KCRW.



Nick Madigan