Ultimately, the film launch of WMD: Weapons of Mass Deception is a testament to the times that we live in. After all, the film Fahrenheit 911 not only attracted blockbuster audiences, it also won the People's Choice award for best movie in 2005. For better or for worse, bashing the White House is not a hard sell.
This is an era in which it can be taken for granted by a large swath of the voting public that the current administration, in its rush to war, manipulated both the facts and the prevalent fears of terrorism to rally the country behind the invasion of Iraq. With the original motives now out the window it has become almost cliche to charge President George W Bush's administration with a successful propaganda campaign waged during the rush to war. (WMD - What me worry?)
As evidence of a new political and intellectual maturity surrounding the public debate for the US-invasion of Iraq, veteran journalist, producer, and "news dissector" Danny Schechter chooses to aim his camera at a new target -- the television and print news media most complicit in the selling of the invasion and occupation of Iraq to the American public. The film has a very familiar feel to it, as it should.
Most of us have already seen bits and pieces of this film during the past year or two. Snippets from Fahrenheit 911 and Control Room notwithstanding, bits and pieces of the film have already aired on the evening news, via ABC, CNN, NBC, and FOX. Pieced together, and scrutinized by an impressive roster of independent journalists, writers, former armed service officials, and Schechter himself, the picture is not a pretty one.
Beyond the widespread and systemic failure of the mass media to properly scrutinize the "evidence" put forth by the Bush administration, the film invites us to take a closer look at the increasingly blurry line that separates news, public relations (PR) campaigns, and "militainment" -- the stylized, video game treatment of the bombing of cities and people.
In a documentary so chock-full of talking heads and narratives, some storylines stick to the ribs more than others.
There is the rise of Victoria Clarke, the corporate PR maven hired by the Pentagon to craft the media strategy for the war. Clarke was largely responsible for crafting the "embed" policy that assigned journalists to particular military units. Clarke was later rewarded for her work with a promotion --she was hired by CNN as a commentator after the start of the invasion-- from backoffice political strategist to television star.
Another anti-hero of note is Jim Wilkinson, who oversaw the media operations at the Doha Media Center in the Gulf. No stranger to staging press events, the film reveals that one of Wilkinsonís most successful previous productions was the "grassroots protest" held outside the offices of a Palm Beach County's Board of Election office during the 2000 election. For those with memory loss, Wilkinson's protest turned out to be those employed by the Bush campaign, and helped to shut down the vote count in Palm Beach...and we know how that story ended. And as if the players in this Machiavellian script were not clownish enough, it turns out that the multi-media CENTCOM press center run by the US-military in Qatar was designed by the only professionals with the proper training to do so...Hollywood set designers.
These are only a few anecdotes, but they offer the strongest proof in support of Schechter's operating thesis. The director makes the case that the triumph in selling the war to the US-public was mostly a triumph of packaging; the ability of the war planners to craft a "selling" narrative, and to set rigid parameters that would bring the US-press corps along, complacently, for the thrill of military show.
The argument is convincing, perhaps overly so as the film is at times too eager to analyze every narrative revolving around the press and the war. The targeting of non-embedded reporters by the US-military, for example, is treated with much more grace in the film Control Room, a documentary that takes an intimate look at the lives of correspondents for the Al Jazeera news network during the US-invasion of Iraq. In Control Room, viewers come to know one of the victims, a journalist killed during a US-bombing raid, through the words of his friends and family. In the blur of talking heads and two-minute segments, this is the sort of depth that WMD never quite achieves.
Minor criticisms notwithstanding, Schechter's contribution to the debate on the media's role, and acquiescence in, the US-invasion of Iraq, is an extremely dense and fact-filled 100 minutes of cranky, unadulterated, unpolished muckraking.
For clips, information about the film, and theater locations, please view WMD: Weapons of Mass Decpetion's website at http://www.wmdthefilm.com
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