The Video Confessions Backfire

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Mohammad Ali Abtah

by Patrick Appel

Laura Secor writes up the Iranian show trials:

[T]he spectacle has found a subversive afterlife on the Internet. One image that has gone viral is a split frame showing two photographs of former Vice-President Mohammad Ali Abtahi. Before his arrest, on June 16th, he is a rotund, smiling cleric; in court on August 1st, he is drawn and sweat-soaked, his face a mask of apprehension. The juxtaposition belies the courtroom video, making the point that the only genuine thing about Abtahi’s confession is that it was coerced through torture.

Drezner pipes up:

Stalin's show trials were not broadcast on television -- they were reported in state-run newspapers or aired, edited, over state-run radio.  This gives the state much greater editorial powers than a live television transmission.  Furthermore, as Secor's first paragraph suggests, it's the non-verbal cues that come from television that completely undermine the intended effect of the spectacle. 

It is possible that, in the future, more sophisticated CGI effects will allow governments the capacity to digitally edit these images, a la The Running Man, to maximize the desired effect (i.e., making Abtahi look as healthy as he did pre-incarceration).  For now, however, such efforts would only look like bad plastic surgery.  No, I don't think televised show trials really work at all. 

Before and after pictures from Ahmedi's revolutionary weight loss plan courtesy of Flickr user Iran 360.

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