Daily Archives: May 16, 2004

The Control Room: Last Year’s Outrage

Some of us were aware during the weeks leading up to and immediately after the Iraqi invasion that Pub Ops were stage-managing the war coverage from a $Million$ Hollywood set they called ‘Centcom’–Central Command. CentCom pretended to the world that it was the nerve center of the Second Gulf War when what it was was a hyper-expensive shell of wood, glass, and canvas painstakingly got up to look like Hollywood’s (and therefore our) idea of what a ‘command headquarters’ might look like. I’m speaking literally here, not figuratively–Pub Op Deputy Secretary of Propaganda Jim Wilkenson hired movie designers to plan it and film-union carpenters to build it because he wanted it to look ‘authentic’ for the cameras.

What we didn’t know–at least I didn’t–was that a documentary filmmaker and protege of DA Pennebaker, Jehane Noujaim, had talked her way backstage of The Wilkenson Show by claiming she was doing a documentary expose on the Arab news network, Al Jazeera. Control Room, while Al Jazeera may be its ‘principle subject’, spends a lot of time looking at the Bartlett/Wilkenson Press Machine.

The true control room in “Control Room” is not so much the Al Jazeera HQ as the coalition media center. It is there, from a costly Hollywood set, that the military commanded its own propaganda effort, which was aided and abetted by an American press sometimes as eager to slant the news as its Arab counterpart. The attractively forthright American press officer we follow throughout the documentary, Lt. Josh Rushing of the Marines, doesn’t deny the symmetry: “When I watch Al Jazeera, I can tell what they are showing and then I can tell what they are not showing — by choice. Same thing when I watch Fox on the other end of the spectrum.”

The only ‘command’ it turns out CentCom was ‘centered’ on was command of what news got to US tv screens–and what didn’t. Noujaim focuses on the Jessica Lynch ‘rescue’ and proves, almost offhand, that it was, indeed, just as the British newspapers condemned by the right-wing said, a put-up job.

The documentary captures some of the briefing at which the dramatic Lynch story was first laid out. An American journalist on hand, the veteran CNN correspondent Tom Mintier, grumbles afterward about how the “minute-by-minute” account of the rescue has superseded the major news he and his colleagues had been waiting for: the fate of troops just entering Baghdad. His cavils were useless, however; the instant legend was moving too fast to be derailed. Soon the military would buttress it with a complementary video, shot and edited by its own movie crew: an action-packed montage of the guns-blazing Special Operations rescue raid, bathed in the iridescent “Matrix”-green glow of night-vision photography. But the marketing of this Jerry Bruckheimer-style video was itself an exercise in hype, meant to blur and inflate the Lynch episode further.

Mr Rich concludes:

In retrospect, much of what we saw during Operation Iraqi Freedom was as fictionalized as CentCom’s version of “Saving Private Jessica.” When we weren’t staging the news, we were covering it up. “A war with hundreds of coalition and tens of thousands of Iraqi casualties” was transformed “into something closer to a defense contractor’s training video: a lot of action, but no consequences, as if shells simply disappeared into the air and an invisible enemy magically ceased to exist.” That was the conclusion reached by one of the leaders of a research project at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs, which examined 600 hours of war coverage on CNN, Fox and ABC from the war’s March 20, 2003, start to the April 9 fall of Baghdad, “to see how `real’ the war looked on TV.” Of the 1,710 stories they surveyed, “only 13.5 percent included any shots of dead or wounded coalition soldiers, Iraqi soldiers or civilians.”

Then, it was a ‘controversy’ and we were attacked by the mainstream media, by the Bush Admin, and by right-wing cobras like Limbo and Savage for being outraged at the blatant propaganda attempt they were busy swallowing whole, like Kevin Kline at the fishtank in A Fish Called Wanda. They called us traitors, told everybody who would listen that we ‘hated America’, and used every slime-epithet on us that they could drag out of the pus-encrusted pie-holes they use for brains.

Now, a documentary filmmaker can show it to us live as it happens (on film), and it’s taken almost casually. A yawn. A little over a year later, Limbo’s too busy comparing torture to frat hazing and then denying he said any such thing as AirAmerica plays the tape of him saying it over and over, and Savage is too busy coming up with suggestions for the torturers:

Savage on the Iraqi prisoner abuse photos:I don’t mean to be too comedic in the political arena, but these so called abuse photos frankly are mild by comparisons to what goes on in South of Market clubs in San Francisco.

Savage on why “we need more of the humiliation tactics, not less”:

And eventually you’re gonna find that we need more of the humiliation tactics, not less. …

I don’t know what its gonna take for you to finally welcome what the troops are doing, what the interrogators were doing until you finally recognize the enemy, the true face of the enemy and what its gonna take to break this death grip that they seem to have on the minds of the Democrats. …

These people don’t fear death, they fear humiliation. The only way to humiliate them is take their deepest fear, the pig, the dog, the woman with the leash, and use it on them to break them!

Savage on the consequences of prohibiting “these interrogation tactics”:

What’s gonna happen is terrible. What’s gonna happen now is even worse that you can imagine. Because these interrogation tactics which were working, by everything I can read, are no longer permissible, you are gonna have an event in this country before the election, and you can thank your friends Levin and Kennedy for that, you can thank all the phonies on the Democrat side for that.

Seems like they don’t have time any more for last year’s outrage.

And so it goes in BushAmerica–in order to make you forget today’s lie, they tell you a bigger one tomorrow; in order to take your mind off the lie, they give you an outrage (and its accompanying denial) to chew on; in order to make you forget the first outrage, they commit bigger ones to occupy your limited time. And then they just escalate the outrages. You’re so busy dealing with today’s–and yesterday’s and last week’s–that last month’s outrages have just entirely vanished from your brainpan and last year’s never existed–did they?


But you know, eventually we catch up–and on. Eventually. I’ll give Mr Rich the last word.

But this movie has just started, and it’s beyond anyone’s power to spin it any longer. Yet when the president traveled to the Pentagon on Monday to look at previews of the coming attractions, he seemed as out of touch with reality as Mr. Limbaugh. It was nothing if not an odd moment to congratulate the secretary of defense, who has literally thrown the reputation of our honorable military and our country to the dogs, for doing a “superb job.” But to understand where Mr. Bush is coming from, one need only recall the interview he gave last fall to Brit Hume of Fox News, in which he griped about the press (“the filter,” as he calls it) that was now challenging administration propaganda from Iraq. “The best way to get the news is from objective sources,” the president said back then, “and the most objective sources I have are people on my staff who tell me what’s happening in the world.” Perhaps someone on that staff might tell him that, according to the latest polls, most of the country has changed the channel.

Women Blog, Too!

In a recent online conversation, a very smart woman who is just starting to get interested in blogs, said, ‘It’s all guys! Where are the women?’ She has been surfing the majors, I would presume, which is where everybody starts–Atrios, Kevin Drum (who I’ve just about stopped reading since he moved to Washington Monthly), Josh Marshall, David Neiwert, Hesiod, Kos, Billmon, Matt Yglesias–all the Usual Suspects. I sent her a list of links to some of the female bloggers I like the best, and it occurred to me that that might be useful to do here, as well.

Taking a leaf from Jeff’s Daily Link (Notes on the Atrocities), I am therefore inaugurating a new weekly (or whenever I think of it) feature called ‘Women Blog, Too!’ in which I’ll ‘spotlight’ (theater–it’s always in your blood) a female blogger of note or one who’s a good writer or just someone i like for whatever quirky, inexplicable reason I may have without even knowing it.

This Week’s Featured Female Blog:

ill-sorted ephemera, hosted by julie-beth.

julie writes short, concise posts that are almost one-liners, and links to off-beat sites that say something about our obsessions or our ideas of leisure or our images of ourselves. Her comments are wry and witty without ever (or at least rarely) dipping into sarcasm or bitterness, and her eye for the pompous ass, the entertaining oddball, or the just plain silly is unerring. For a taste of what she’s about, here’s one of her longer, more serious posts in toto:

of justification by faith and worksor

just a little god’ll do ya…

okay, so i’ve sworn off religion, but i still think there might, just might, be somethin’ to some of it. there ARE still people out there who i’d actually consider real honest-to-goodness christians, for instance. and it’s surely nice to see that progressive christianity finally has a good home…check out FaithfulAmerica.org to see the teachings of jesus christ in action, rather than just in words.

this takes off, them pharisees won’t know what hit ’em!

Go. It won’t take long and the worst that can happen is, you’ll smile once or twice. That’s OK, you’re tough, you can take it.

At From the Trenches


Recent Report from the National Center for Children in Poverty: ‘One-Third of US Children Live in Poverty’

After a decade of decline, the rate of children living in low-income families is rising again, a trend that began in 2000.

Low Income College Students Are Increasingly Left Behind


Poverty and the War of Statistics


The Meritocracy Myth