I don't know about you, but when the statue fell, so did my undivided attention. Which is neither fair nor right. Nor is it avoidable.
The war in Iraq has dominated television news, particularly on cable-news channels, which have devoted themselves almost exclusively to its coverage.
How could you not watch? Young men and women were fighting and dying, and through TV news we had, after a fashion, a window onto it.
The thing is, young men and women are still fighting. Some may still die. Just not so many of them, or as often. And we still have the same window - embedded reporters, whiz-bang technology, all that - but it's slowly closing. At least that's the perception.
The war, we are often reminded, is winding down, but it's not over. Yet for many, the moment the statue of Saddam Hussein was ripped down by U.S. Marines and Baghdad locals (and one heavy-duty chain) - captured live on all the networks, naturally - the fighting was done. Except that it wasn't.
Later that same day, we saw footage from a firefight that provided some of the most gripping, chilling footage of the entire war, the kind of thing that the whole idea of embedded reporters and cameramen promised but so rarely delivered.
Soldiers have been injured since the statue fell. Soldiers have been killed since the statue fell. Try telling the wounded and the families of the dead - on either side - that the war ended when we saw kids riding around the streets of Baghdad saddled up on the chopped-off head of Saddam's statue, the physical manifestation of the coalition's stated desire to decapitate his regime. The head may have been cut off, but the body still has a little kick in it. But by now we are trained to watch the war's coverage a certain way.
Every big news story follows a predictable pattern. There are differences in each story, of course - sometimes real life throws a wrench into the most carefully scripted coverage plans. But the war in Iraq serves as the classic template for how TV goes about covering really big stories, from start to (almost) finish.
The war had an obvious start, certainly. President Bush gave Saddam 48 hours to get out of town, as it were, and the clock was ticking. Literally; MSNBC ticked off the hours, minutes and seconds until the deadline expired.
Of course, when we got to zero, nothing happened. But we didn't have to wait long, as the United States struck shortly after the clock ran out. Then it was on.
For the next three or four days, as the ground war started, regular life took a back seat to televised war. That's the standard for a big story - saturation coverage and saturation viewing. You can't turn away because you might miss something. Never mind that what you missed would be replayed time after time after time, which means you didn't really miss it at all.
Live television offers an immediacy that other media can't touch, no matter how fast your Internet connection. Seeing it as it happens makes it more real - even if it's happening halfway around the world. But even the biggest story begins to fade.
Just as networks eventually eased their way back into entertainment after 9/11, they began switching over to basketball and sitcoms after a few days of war coverage.
Broadcast networks had the best of both worlds, as they always do - you can show "ER" or "Everybody Loves Raymond," but if big news breaks, you break into programming. Cable news doesn't have that luxury. It has all day and all night to fill, and once you've devoted all your programming to war, bits and pieces that wouldn't merit intense coverage suddenly get dressed up like real stories.
That's a predictable part of big-story coverage, too. Only this time there was a difference. Some of the time formerly devoted to various "experts," talking heads and backseat generals was filled this time with shows of patriotism. It was a move driven by flag-waving Fox News, which has been watched by more people than either CNN or MSNBC (though network news is still the clear choice for most viewers, despite the usual big gains cable makes during big stories).
Draping the cable network in red, white and blue is the wrinkle in this war's coverage. Of course, every big story has an end. The Beltway snipers are arrested. Elian Gonzalez goes back to Cuba. War intruded on the natural evolution of the crash of the Columbia space shuttle, but coverage had wound down, anyway.
This time the statue fell - perhaps the most symbolic climax possible, short of producing the man himself - and for so many, the war was over. Even if it wasn't. And still isn't.