A chronicle which provides a rare window into the international perception of the Iraq War, courtesy of Al Jazeera, the Arab world's most popular news outlet. Roundly criticized by Cabinet members and Pentagon officials for reporting with a pro-Iraqi bias, and strongly condemned for frequently airing civilian causalities as well as footage of American POWs, the station has revealed (and continues to show the world) everything about the Iraq War that the Bush administration did not want it to see.Written by
Sujit R. Varma
If You Think Micheal Moore Is A Bad Filmmaker With Good Ideas...
For me, Al-Jazeera means one thing: proof. When I think of how skewed and yellow video journalism is, I remember that millions and millions of people in the world are getting their news from Al-Jazeera. That's my proof that there is hope for the world. That they are willing to challenge and question everything from Arab leaders to the United States to the nature of unbiased news coverage Since their start in 1996, they've been slammed in the Arab world for being too pro-American and by the US for being pro-Al Qaeda. As most good lefties know, that usually means you're doing something right. I have much respect for Al-Jazeera and was excited to know that a documentary was being made about them and their take on the War with Iraq.
The film "Control Room" is further proof. With time-tested verité technique, we see what it is like to run Al-Jazeera and what kinds of people make up the staff from the translators to the journalists. The film travels back and forth between the stations headquarters in Qatar and CentCom which is the main press briefing room set up by the US military in Iraq. It's a breath of fresh air to see an entire network of people who are smart and committed to the idea of debate and communication. I don't think you could find that at any of the major news networks in the States. Their operations, anecdotes and analysis are worthy of a documentary alone.
But there are specific moments in the film that are especially profound and upsetting even to a long-time commie like myself. First and foremost, there is the death of an Al-Jazeera journalist. Before the troops entered Baghdad, the US committed air strikes on civilian targets including the building housing Al-Jazeera. In the attack, one of their correspondents is killed along with three other journalists. There is footage of the journalist facing him head-on right up until seconds before the attack. That along with a plea for justice from the journalist's wife and a completely absurd justification for the attack from the US is both infuriating and literally sickening.
The second most important moment in the film is the so-called liberation of Baghdad. As a result of the attack on Al-Jazeera, their remaining correspondents were forced to return home to Qatar where the network is based. Now recognized as a target of the US military, Iraqis were naturally hesitant to house anyone representing the station. In the end, only the ridiculous foreign press was there to cover the troops coming into the town square and the people toppling over the statue of Saddam Hussein. What's most illuminating is the analysis from the Al-Jazeera journalists as they watch the events unfold. Senior Producer Samir Khader talks about how he's from Iraq. He's lived in Iraq. The people that toppled the statue were not Iraqi. They didn't look Iraqi and they didn't have Iraqi accents. Another journalist wonders why there are only a dozen people celebrating. Where were the village people? Where were the women from the area? How is it that one of them just happened to have the old Iraqi flag in his pocket? Had he "just kept it there for the past ten years?" Producer Deema Khatib wonders where the troops were. Where was the army? It becomes very obvious, as people have been muttering for some time now that it was all a faked, staged event for Western "news" cameras.
Finally there is the case of Lt. Josh Rushing. Throughout the film, he is the American representative that has debates and discussions with the many Arab journalists. Despite having to take the absurd position of defending US aggression, he is intelligent and empathetic. At one point he becomes self-analytical and candid talking about how he had seen images of dead Iraqi casualties one day and it didn't affect him. The next day, he was footage of American casualties and it made him sick. At that point he really had to face himself and while still in the process at least recognize how much he hates war. That story doesn't end there. With the release of the film, the Pentagon ordered Rushing not to comment on the film. Offended by this gesture, he is now seeking to leave the Marines.
"Control Room" is a movie about the War with Iraq. But that's not the half of it. It's a movie that will hopefully widen the debate about television and what is objective journalism in this country. It's also another stone catapulted through the wall of Arab stereotypes. It's also an intelligent and engaging film that is as challenging as it is satisfying.
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