AMERICA IS NOT THE WORLD
With all the clamor around Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, it's easy to forget that he's not the only one out there making a ruckus. In fact, this weekend I saw what is probably a better movie that is no less illuminating about some of what is currently going on in our world.
Control Room is a new documentary by Jehame Noujaime, the director of Startup.com. Control Room is a peek inside Al Jazeera, the Arab news network that the Bush administration calls the "mouthpiece for Osama Bin Laden" and several Saudi governments have banned for critiquing their regimes. Their controversial stance of showing everything and letting the public sort it out alternately suggests the most studied objectivity of any news agency and, strangely, its own bias.
Much of Control Room is centered around the media's interaction with American Central Command at the start of the invasion of Iraq. Many of the journalists and producers from Al Jazeera are interviewed and explain their side of things. We also see how other news organizations from around the world interact with Al Jazeera and share a common frustration with an often ridiculously evasive US Army. (There is a notable scene where the army representative announces the famous pack of playing cards with the targets of Saddam Hussein's regime on them, and after telling them there aren't enough packs to share with reporters but they can look at the set he has, he retreats from the press conference and refuses to share at all. The reporters are practically beating down his door in fury.)
One of the more interesting characters, though, is Lt. Rushing, one of the Army's media relations people. While when he's on the job and being questioned he often staunchly defends the indefensible, he comes off in more private moments as a nice guy who is in the middle of an eye-opening education. He openly interacts with the reporters, honestly gauging their opinions about public reaction. He isn't afraid to say that if Al Jazeera is slanted towards the Arab viewpoint, it's no more than how American news is slanted towards America. There is also a sobering moment for him when he realizes how wrong it is that he is more affected by the images of American casualties Al Jazeera showed than he was by the Iraqi casualties from the night before; he realizes that isn't right, that all life is worth mourning in equal measure.
But, Lt. Rushing is more of a sidenote. The more important element of Control Room is the flipside to what we see, the other side of the propaganda machine that seems to so easily win over the US media. It's amazing how differently they viewed the American soldiers entering Bagdhad and pulling down the statue of Saddam. What was presented as spontaneous love and joy amongst the Iraqi people when shown over here is entirely different to their eyes. Did any US news outlets report a suspicion that all the men that walked with the tanks were not Iraqis, but Kurds that the Army brought in with them? Did anyone ask why one of them had an Iraqi flag that was over a decade out of date with him?
Even worse, did anyone ask why no one was concerned any longer with US troops firing on three news buildings in Bagdhad, killing one Al Jazeera reporter and essentially crippling the Arab news services the day before they possibly staged their biggest media event since the start of the conflict? Was it that easy to believe it was a coincidence, that they had supposedly been fired upon from those buildings and were just defending themselves?
UPDATE FROM SATURDAY: Coincidentally, not long after my last post, my mail arrived and I received a policy letter from Senator Ron Wyden indicating that he opposed any Constitutional amendment defining marriage. He gave his voting record to back that up, noting, however, that he was often outvoted in similar issues. Still, at least I know one of the people representing me is on my side.