NEW YORK -- Americans awoke Sunday to stunning television pictures from Iraq of a bedraggled, bearded Saddam Hussein in U.S. custody and an exultant U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer proclaiming: "We got him."
They instantly became defining images of a fast-moving morning of news as the story of Saddam's capture spread at a time many television viewers were sleeping.
"That's a tremendously powerful image for Iraq and the world as well," Fox News Channel's Brit Hume said as repeated replays began of a disheveled Saddam opening his mouth for a tongue depressor inserted by an examining doctor.
"Not since the fall of the statue last spring has there been any pictures as dramatic from Iraq," said CNN's Aaron Brown.
NBC's Tom Brokaw said that for Saddam, "it could not have been a more undignified situation. He was literally a rat trapped in a hole."
Administration officials were aware of the importance of images and came equipped to Bremer's news conference with the pictures of Saddam before and after being shaved, as well as video of his underground hiding place.
Bremer opened the briefing shortly after 7 a.m. EST with the words: "Ladies and gentlemen, we got him." Many listening to him applauded. NBC repeated that statement immediately after the news conference ended.
Word of the possible capture began being seen on television shortly after 5 a.m. EST, more than 12 hours after the event.
A flood of details came in before the official confirmation, quicker than usual for breaking news. Reporters said Saddam's identity had been confirmed through a DNA test and examination of scars on his body, that his location was a cellar near his hometown of Tikrit, that celebratory shots were being fired in the streets of Baghdad.
Some of the information proved shaky. Fox News flashed on the screen: "Captured suspect had millions of dollars in U.S. cash." In fact, officials later said Saddam had $750,000.
Even before Bremer's news conference, some networks were reporting the news with certainty. ABC News aired a picture of Saddam with the words, "Saddam Hussein Captured." NBC News had a similar headline.
CBS' Dan Rather said it appeared to be "terrific news for the United States of America" but repeatedly urged caution before jumping to conclusions.
"We're in the school of 'you trust your mother but you cut your cards,"' he said.
Rather was at CBS' anchor desk by 6:15 a.m. EST, the first of the network's Big Three anchors on the job. NBC's Brokaw appeared at about 7 a.m.
ABC News moved nimbly with a special report from George Stephanopoulos at 5:35 a.m.; the network had been criticized earlier this year for responding slowly to the war's breakout and the space shuttle disaster. But by 8:30 a.m., Peter Jennings was not on the air; Charles Gibson was in the anchor chair.