Speaking of 'Tasteless'...New York Times Likens Lilac-Painted Baghdad Buildings to Suicide Bombings

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the downfall of the Soviet Union, the New York Times and other liberal media outlets often produced stories suggesting a bright side to the fallen dictatorships. The trend was notoriously encapsulated in a February 12, 1992 Times headline marking the release of the last political prisons of the Soviet era: "A Gulag Breeds Rage, Yes, but Also Serenity."

Similarly, the Times often latched on to the chaos of the Iraq war to suggest things had in at least some ways been better under the rulership of bloody dictator Saddam Hussein, responsible for the torture and killing of hundreds of thousands of people, Kurds, Iranians, and Iraqis.

A late and particularly insensitive entry in the field came on Sunday, Michael Schmidt and Yasir Ghazi, "As Baghdad Erupts in Riot of Color, Calls to Tone It Down," suggesting that "Baghdad has weathered invasion, occupation, sectarian warfare and suicide bombers. But now it faces a new scourge: tastelessness."

In downtown Baghdad, a police headquarters has been painted two shades of purple: lilac and grape. The central bank, a staid building in many countries, is coated in bright red candy cane stripes.

Multicolored fluorescent lights cover one of the city’s bridges, creating a Hawaiian luau effect. Blast walls and security checkpoints stick out because they are often painted in hot pink.

Baghdad has weathered invasion, occupation, sectarian warfare and suicide bombers. But now it faces a new scourge: tastelessness.

The Times quoted a Baghdad official suggesting the public’s taste had been much better before 2003 (that is, before the U.S. invasion).

"We don’t have a strong enough deterrent to stop it," said Najem al-Kinany, the official in the Baghdad mayor’s office in charge of design, who formed a public taste committee a year ago after receiving a flood of complaints about the city’s appearance. "Before 2003, the subject of public taste and choosing what was appropriate was much better than now."

The paper even found an artist who heralded Saddam's good taste: 'Saddam was also a villager,' [Qasim Sabti] continued, 'but he was smart enough to depend on the qualified and professional people who understood art.'"

One obvious way things are freer for artists now than under Saddam: An art gallery owner feels free to admit to the Times that he sells $100 paintings to government officials for $1,000.

Back in July 2004, Times reporter Jeffrey Gettleman’s front-page story also lamented the toll the fall of Hussein took on Iraqi artists (they lost, among other things, government sponsorship for propaganda like pictures of Saddam Hussein.) "The war in Iraq has been especially disillusioning for young Iraqi artists, many of whom believed the American promises of freedom."

Somini Sengupta wrote in a June 2004 front-page story "For Iraqi Girls, Changing Land Narrows Lives" that "...creeping religious conservatism, lawlessness and economic uncertainty have also been conspiring against them in peculiar ways....though the last years of Saddam Hussein's rule had brought new restrictions on women's freedoms, the simultaneous collapse of the police state that had kept public order and the new leeway for religious clerics to demand stricter compliance with Islamic law have increasingly narrowed girls' lives."

Hat tip James Taranto.

TimesWatch Bias by Omission Iraq New York Times Michael Schmidt Yasir Ghazi
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