Sunday, March 11, 2007
Empower yourself with WMD (the documentary)
The invasion of Iraq has invaded my brain. It's like I am under attack -- war is all I see. I dream of an endless desert dissolving into bombs falling, into tanks rolling, into soldiers shooting, into people dying, into reporters reporting -- if that is what they are really doing.
-- WMD: Weapons of Mass Deception
Those are Danny Schechter's first words in the documentary WMD which he directed and produced in 2004. The film won best documentary in Dever's 2004 film festival and in Autin's 2004 film festival. With no malice intended towards those who make documentaries, they can hit the stale lot quicker than anything else. That's because they're covering real life and, sometimes, issues may be resolved or advanced in such a way, that a documentary is so far behind it has nothing to offer. (Though, it should be noted, once it goes from 'current' to 'historical' it's value is quickly noted again.) We wish we could say that Schechter's documentary has gone stale and has nothing to offer. Maybe if the war had ended in 2005, that would be the case?
We don't think so. We've noted the film before and we've praised it before. But the 4th anniversary of the illegal, ongoing war is coming up and if you're looking for a film on Iraq to watch in a house party setting, we recommend this one.
We're also going to break form because there's a story we've been dying to share and we only now have permission. Dallas helps out on every edition. He finds links, he's a sound board and, when we can, we get him to participate in any way possible. In 2005, when we were writing about WMD, he told us of an experience at a screening of the film and we begged (and begged) to be allowed to include it. He's only now given permission.
This happened July 10, 2004. In Dallas, Texas at the Dallas Video Festival. WMD was shown and Danny was there and participated in a two-person panel, plus moderator. We're not sure if Danny Schechter knows this story.
The other participants was a "big whiner" who had directed a film about a local Texas polical thing and couldn't shut up (to the moderator) about how he was doing "serious films." Why, he was just praised in The Dallas Observer (Dallas says that's a weekly freebie) and it was bad enough that The Hunting of The President was shown but now this film which was nothing but a Michael Moore copy. The whiner was talking to the moderator before the panel began, seated in front of a packed and crowded room, where everyone could hear. "I do real films," whined the whiner, "I'm not an entertainer." Dallas was there with friends and none of them could believe what was being said, in front of the audience -- the room was too small to need microphones. (Note, Dallas is leaving out some of what was said. We think the guy's a jerk, we thought that the first time Dallas shared the story with us. We would gladly include all that was said to show you just what sort of jerks people trying to tell the truth are up against.) The whiner said he was a Democrat but he didn't try to skew his film. He just told a man's story, "straight down the middle." He offered that WMD, which he hadn't seen, was "sensationalistic" and not a "topic that anyone will care about tomorrow." (When the moderator asked him if he'd seen it, the whiner admitted he hadn't. Dallas said the moderator spent too much time soothing the whiner's ego.)
Putting this as nicely as we can, one man (whom Dallas swears wasn't anymore significant than most state policiticans in Texas), in the whiner's mind, was more important than exploring the way the media aided and abetted the White House in selling the illegal war? A film on Iraq was a topic not one "will care about tomorrow"?
The first time Dallas told us this story, we were amazed that anyone could be that stupid. We kept asking, "What else did he say?" Danny Schechter handed out postcards for MediaChannel.org afterwards and Dallas considered writing him about what took place before he showed up (we think Dallas should have and hope some in attendance did).
It's really easy, in 2007, to forget how many were going along with the illegal war for the longest and how many more chose to avoid the topic. The comments Dallas let us share really captured the ignornance (and, let's be honest, professional jealousy) at play.
So Danny comes into the room and takes his seat up front. The panel starts and the whiner is being rude, smirking and Danny says something along the lines of, "Well, what I was trying to do with my film . . ." and then pretty much gives up on directing his comments to the whiner and begins talking to the audience who was on his side. Dallas said you could just see the puzzlement on Danny's face as he tried to figure out exactly why this whiner was being such a priss.
So the whiner did a little film about a political race, a state race, (in Austin, Dallas says the closer to Austin, the more important those types think the race is -- Austin is the state capital) and to him that was much more important than exploring how the media acted as the megaphone for the Bully Boy's selling of the illegal war.
If you've seen WMD, you know it's a great film so consider this your reminder to share it (hopefully again) with people you know. If you haven't seen the film, consider purchasing it or renting it (Betty says she's seen it in her local Blockbuster -- she hasn't rented it, she owns a copy).
What do you get? You get a historical overview of the media and the military in terms of war coverage, how Iraq coverage was dictated from administration's fears of coverage similar to Vietnam. You'll get the timeline of the illegal war. (Including the UN wanting to continue inspections but Bully Boy ending that unilaterally.)
You get a lot straight talk, such as in this exchange between Schechter and John R. MacArthur (Harper's magazine) on the failure of the mainstream media to challenge assertions by the administration:
Schechter: Is it the news culture? Is it the lack of critical thinking? Is it economic interests? Is it all of the above?
MacArthur: Well, it's all those things, but it's mostly owners who don't care about journalism.
Journalists who were in Iraq (such as the BBC's Clive Myrie) share their take on the coverage. You'll learn about the wars (plural) -- the way it was covered in the United States and the way it was covered elsewhere. (Journalist Nim Abu Warda: On the Arabic TV stations I would see what war is really like, the blood and gore, the mess that really happens when a bomb hits a building. . . . On CNN you would see more of the strategic stuff.") You'll learn why Peter Arnett was fired from MSNBC and who orchestrated it. You'll see the attack on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, by US forces, and you'll see that no attack or attempted attack was taking place when US service members in a tank were given orders to fire (on a hotel the US military had insisted journalists move to) and some reporters were injured and one was killed.
The documentary concludes with these words by Schechter:
I joined the media to spotlight the problems of the world and came to see that the media is one of those problems. I believe in freedom of the press but not just freedom for those who own the press. What can we do to hold the media more accountable? Think about it. Now I've had my say, it's your turn.
But it's only your turn if you grasp how the war was sold. At this point, most of us opposed to the war probably think we do. That's not always the case. And the film zooms in on broadcast media which has been left off the hook by far too many people. On the fourth anniversary of the war, it's worth recalling exactly how the United States ended up there. (An argument can also be made, with all the war noises regarding Iran, that it's instructive on how the administration is attempting to sell another war.)
Danny Schechter and MediaChannel.org are launching a new campaign that bears noting:
It's Time to Make the US Media Accountable!
Are you willing to join and support Mediachannel's "TELL THE TRUTH" campaign? Help us press the press and move the media to tell the truth and report in more balanced manner, the way so many Canadian and European outlets seem to be able to do.
Click here to send an email to U.S. media outlets now!
The plan for this was to tie in the opening quote with Neil Young's "Living With War" and explain how that was going on. We think that approach is valid. But we've long wanted to share Dallas' experience during the pre-panel panel which we think typifies an attitude about the war. We don't think that attitude has vanished. We think you can find it among all the outlets that refuse to cover the war. The only thing that's really changed is that the people are no longer so open about how unimportant they think the war is -- now they hide behind, "Well there's just so many things to cover and so little time." Dallas recounting made us laugh (at the whiner) and made us angry. When he brought it up this edition (we didn't beg, plead or prompt), we thought it illustrated the need to see the movie (again, if you've already seen it). That attitude, that the war doesn't matter, that exploring how the media aided the administration is 'sensationalistic' was very present and very vocal not all that long ago. All reasonable people, those types would insist, accepted that the war had started and the whys no longer mattered.
That argument's been spit polished and tailored since then to make it sound a little better but it's still out there. If you want to confront it, you need to be aware of not just how the Bully Boy lied the nation into war but also how the media sold it. WMD will either enlighten you or remind you of what took place. Share it with others on March 19th.
Trailer (Narrated by Tim Robbins)
Interview with Danny Schechter
"News Dissector" news retrospective, 1968-2004
"Get Involved" Resources: Websites and books to make a difference.