"Frontline's" "The Mind of Hussein" never quite lives up to the promise of its title. But the report, which airs at 9 tonight on MPT (Channels 22 and 67), is still smart and engaging television.
The topic is a fascinating one and about as timely as you can get. In terms of execution, there is some good research, and it is presented in a way that goes down easy.
Host Hodding Carter admits almost nothing is known about Hussein's early years. But once the report gets to Hussein's teen years as a thug, it starts to rock and roll.
The program positively sizzles when film is shown of a Baath Party meeting during which members of the party were denounced as traitors and pulled from the auditorium seats by guards to be executed.
The footage here is stunning: Hussein sits at a table calmly smoking a cigar while fellow party members are being sent to certain death.
That film was made, Carter tells viewers, at Hussein's order. He wanted it shown so that Iraqis could see how Hussein would deal with those he believed were plotting against him.
The paranoid streak is only part of Hussein's personality disorder, according to the report.
Dr. Jerrold Post, the psychiatrist who helped the U.S. government try to understand Hussein, says in the report that the Iraqi president has the "most dangerous personality configuration . . . malignant narcissism . . . no concern for the pain and suffering of others. . . . He will use whatever necessary in the pursuit of his own messianic drives."
But it's clear that Post and others are speculating from a distance. And, while the report gets beyond simple demonizing, it fails to go the extra mile to find the piece of information that will help viewers feel as they truly understand Hussein.
"The Mind of Hussein," for example, fails to mention a book written by Hussein, titled "Unser Kampf" ("Our Struggle") -- a variation of Hitler's "Mein Kampf" ("My Struggle"), according to an NBC report aired last week. A "Frontline" spokesman said yesterday that producers of tonight's report were unaware of the book.
That is a major enough failing that it makes you wonder just how well the producers know the mind of Hussein. But it is a bizarre and fascinating enough mind that the glimpses "Frontline" does offer are worth it.