Embedded in the Spin Cycle...of Mass Deception

Embedded in the Spin Cycle...

Isaac Baker

NEW YORK, Feb 15 (IPS) - An incisive new documentary is taking aim at the U.S. media's one-sided coverage of the war in Iraq, arguing that its collective complicity deceived the populace and made the war possible.

"WMD: Weapons of Mass Deception", which cost just 200,000 dollars to produce, points to a wide array of failures in the accuracy of the reporting, as well as an unwillingness to question the George W. Bush administration's claims and actions.

It was produced by Danny Schechter, a self-proclaimed "network refugee" who worked for CNN and as a producer for a prominent television news show.

"This is the central problem of our democracy," he told IPS in an interview. "This isn't a sidebar issue. You can't have a democracy when people aren't being informed."

The film documents the U.S. media's near-unanimous acceptance of the George W. Bush administration's claim that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein possessed nefarious weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and therefore must be removed from power by unilateral U.S. military action.

The film also attacks the media's credulity of alleged links between Hussein and the al-Qaeda terrorist network -- claims that were unsupported by any actual evidence.

"The fact that they [the media] allowed the Bush administration to manipulate the truth so grossly and so nakedly in the run-up to the war made the war possible," Eric Alterman, media critic and writer for the Nation magazine, says in the film.

Schechter told IPS he was disturbed at the adherence to the government's line and lack of journalistic questioning among U.S. news outlets before and during the Iraq war, a time he calls "a really shameful period for journalism."

"It hints at the emergence of a state media system in our country," he said.

The film references a study by the media watchdog Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) of on-camera sources used in television news in the run-up to the war. Out of 1,167 experts brought on camera during news broadcasts, the study shows, only three percent opposed the U.S.-led invasion.

"You had this incredible imbalance where people who were critical couldn't be heard," he said.

The film argues that this marginalisation of dissent and the media's refusal to question the war in Iraq was in part due to journalists and networks fear of being seen as "unpatriotic."

"In the post 9/11 media there was a lot of patriotic political correctness," Schechter said. "You have a president who says, 'You're either with us or with the terrorists,' so if you criticise him you're with the terrorists. This created an intimidating environment."

One aspect of the "media war" the film deals with in detail is the vast number of "embedded" reporters in Iraq, a policy that Schechter says led to jingoistic coverage.

An embedded reporter eats, sleeps, and lives every day with a specific group of U.S. troops. The policy was championed by the Pentagon media chief Victoria Clarke and other public relations experts in the Defence Department, who had been planning it before the war started.

The film argues that since an embedded reporter's life is essentially in the hands of the soldiers, and they spend so much time together under extreme circumstances, the reporter grows attached to the troops. The bond that is formed jeopardises the reporter's ability to be accurate and objective and leads to cheerleading instead of critical journalism, Schechter says.

In the film, several embedded journalists talk about their experiences on the front.

"We got to know these soldiers and we wanted them to be successful," says Gwendolen Cates, a reporter for People magazine who was embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq. "How will I be able to handle it if one of my soldiers dies?"

Schechter believes that the problem of media irresponsibility goes deeper than just a few journalists or networks who reported the war in a biased manner.

"It's hard to get people to see this as an institutional problem," Schechter told IPS. "They focus first on policy failure, second on intelligence failure. I'm saying no, it's a media failure."

"WMD" has already received international acclaim and is being screened at theatres from Scotland to Australia. It won the Austin Film Festival and Denver Film Festival Awards for best documentary.

However, the documentary has also seen its share of criticism, much of it from the very U.S. media corporations and outlets the film targets.

Some critics have argued that Schechter's film is a poor spin-off of Michael Moore's 2004 high-grossing documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11." Vanity Fair magazine said Schechter was merely trying to "out Michael Moore Michael Moore."

Schechter, however, was quick to point out to IPS that he made his first documentary in 1968, years before Moore's debut.

The film is scheduled to come out on DVD in March to coincide with the second anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. (END/2005)

"Weapons of Mass Deception"

...to Change the World...


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