Arriving as it does in the wake of the re-election of George Bush, Danny Schechter's "WMD: Weapons of Mass Deception" can't help but feel anticlimactic. This slim documentary, an...
Arriving as it does in the wake of the re-election of George Bush, Danny Schechter’s “WMD: Weapons of Mass Deception” can’t help but feel anticlimactic.
This slim documentary, an exploration of the failings of the American media in covering the Iraq war, is unlikely to draw “Fahrenheit 9/11”-size crowds. The audience it does find will probably be a small army of true believers. That’s a shame; despite its flaws, Schechter’s film raises some crucial issues.
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A self-proclaimed media critic and “news dissector,” Schechter is upfront about his own politics. He’s a left-leaning liberal and professional skeptic who makes his living reading between the lines. He narrates the film and begins by probing the largely unexamined question about the basic way in which the Pentagon permitted coverage of the war.
That coverage, as we all know by now, revolved around the idea, minted especially for Operation Iraqi Freedom, of “embedded” reporters: journalists who eat with, sleep with and work with the troops they are covering, depending on them for their safety.
The film is structured loosely around interviews with journalists (or, as they’re sometimes succinctly called, “embeds”) and producers, excerpts of footage from various outlets and Schechter’s own musings on what happened and why.
There were, after the fact, some murmurings about whether or not embedding would allow objectivity. “Bad journalism,” Ted Koppel said, flatly. By and large, however, the major players fell into line.
“In this age of media mergers, has the media merged with the military?” Schechter asks. We learn that most media outlets, in exchange for permission to cover the war from embedded positions, signed a lengthy contract stipulating what they could and couldn’t do. And that the Pentagon issued recommendations about things like the best camera angles to use.
One memo suggested that television journalists should ” take it [the camera] off the sticks,” meaning they should move the camera around, shoot from jiggly hand-held angles, convey more of a feeling of action and excitement.
Schechter suggests that the coverage presented to the public which earned the name “militainment” in some circles was cynically manipulated at almost every level by the Bush administration.
Whether you agree with that, and whether Schechter’s oddly jaunty persona appeals to you or irritates you, “Weapons of Mass Deception” does open the door to an important discussion of the way in which this war played out in newspapers and on television sets across America.