(2004)  

Alan:

Ebert: BBC: TV Guide:



Warning, minor plot points revealed!

Unlike most people, I watch an insane amount of news coverage.  I have CNN on TV in the background while I'm at work all day and my computer homepage has been set to the CNN website for the last 12 years.  Every time I sit down at the computer I scan the headlines and all day I watch the news of the world unfold in as close to "real time" as possible.  

I'm not deluded into thinking American news is completely accurate or unbiased.  I know full well that what I am watching and reading is filtered and sanitized for my "protection."  In many cases CNN actually tells us when they are editing their broadcast due to graphic content.  For example when the news of Nicholas Berg's beheading by al-Qaeda in Iraq broke, it was accompanied by a film clip that was not shown on American T.V.    Film footage was also provided when those civilian contractors were killed, burned, dragged through the streets and hung from a bridge.  But we didn't see it.  Most people will catch their first glimpse of those murders in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11.  CNN did cover the sad story of Ali Abbas.  The 12-year-old Iraqi boy who lost both parents and both arms when a missile struck his home in Baghdad.  But as far as American audiences know, he was one of the only civilian casualties of the entire war.  

Basically, I know I am getting the sterile version of events from CNN but at least they are, in my opinion, more "Fair and Balanced" than the pseudo-patriotic liars at Fox News.  However, when I "really" want to know what's happening in the world, I always check out the online newspapers from overseas.  

Although our coalition co-conspirator England has as much blood on their hands as we do, the BBC News has always been critical of the war in Iraq and therefore provides good hard reporting.  But the finest news coverage of the war has been from the people who know the Middle East the best, because it is their home, the controversial "CNN" of the Arab-speaking world - Al Jazeera.  The Al Jazeera news is a raw unfiltered view of what is actually happening.  The footage and reporting is graphic, pure and unedited.  It is Al Jazeera that shows the rest of the Arab world that little Ali Abass is not the only civilian casualty of the war, he is but one of thousands.

The documentary Control Room provides us with a brief look at the inner workings of a network, watched by 40 million viewers worldwide, that Donald Rumsfeld calls a source of anti-American propaganda, "willing to lie to the world to make their case."  The film covers the time period starting right before the war in Iraq up to the fall of Baghdad.  It mostly takes place at U.S. Central Command headquarters (CentCom) in Qatar which is also the home of Al Jazeera.  This is where the war is staged from and where all official press briefings take place.  

We see Al Jazeera producer Samir Khader as he is made to constantly defend himself for showing exactly what is happening.  He says, "I'm supposed to call this incitement? I call this true journalism, the only true journalism in the world."  Fact and truth are his only goals and he believes it is his duty as a journalist to provide this no matter the cost, terrible and disturbing as it may be.  (It is worth noting that the rest of the world has a much higher threshold for what is "disturbing" than does the squeamish and sheltered United States.) 

 

Al Jazeera journalist Hassan Ibrahim (who was a recent guest on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart) is a wonderfully friendly man who charms his way through interviews that result in very insightful newsgathering.  When Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld charges that Al Jazeera's interviews with US POWs (photo above) violated the Geneva Conventions.  Ibrahim laughs in disbelief, "What about Guantanamo Bay?  What about the Iraqi prisoners on American TV?"  And this was filmed before the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal broke.  

Control Room for the most part is not as visceral in it's accusation and condemnation as Fahrenheit 9/11.  You do cringe when you see President Bush, on March 23, 2003, as he condemns the Al Jazeera interviews with US prisoners and says, "I expect POWs to be treated humanely, just as we are treating the prisoners we have captured humanely."  It is moments like these when the film has the opportunity to "twist the knife" but they don't.  Control Room is not necessarily a polemic.  

The film does feature journalists from American news organizations as well.  NBC's David Shusterand and Tom Mintier of CNN are featured.  We see as they, along with the other journalists struggle to extract information from the military.  At one point the famous 'Iraq's Most Wanted deck of cards' is introduced at a news conference but the military spokesman will not allow the press to even look at the cards.  This drives the reporters crazy and it also illustrates the point that the news, as provided by CentCom, is completely on their terms.  

One of the more disturbing parts of the film features the targeted and obvious murder of Al Jazeera journalist Tarek Ayoub by U.S. forces not long after Rumsfeld and others complained about Al Jazeera's coverage.  We see Tarek, on camera, in helmet and flack jacket, scared to death on the roof of Al Jazeera's Baghdad offices just before a US missile slammed into it and killed him on April 8, 2003.  This footage is displayed immediately after military spokesperson Lt. Josh Rushing explains that they are only using "smart weapons" that result in very limited civilian casualties.

One of the most enlightening parts of the film discusses the obvious staging of the famous Saddam statue toppling in the Baghdad square.  From Al Jazeera's vantage point the square was deserted of all civilians except for a small group of men that were "brought in" to surround the statue, cheering and waving flags.  Khader notes that when interviewed the men "do not have Baghdad accents" it is also observed how unlikely it was that one of the men "happened to have the old Iraqi flag in his pocket."  I remember watching this moment live on CNN and from the prospective and camera angle presented, the whole city came out to cheer on the troops as they provided the ultimate photo-op to illustrate their "victory."  

Ultimately, Control Room provides the world with a better understanding of Al Jazeera.  They are a solid news organization that is condemned by America for showing undiluted coverage of our atrocities in the Middle East.  If a house full of women and children is struck by one of our "smart bombs", Al Jazeera dives right in to show the bloody real aftermath.   The same report on Fox News would mention how another 10 or 15 civilians were "wounded" and "allegedly killed" during an attack on an insurgent safehouse. 

Be advised.  The news has been, is, and will always be edited for it's intended demographic.  There is no such thing as a "No Spin Zone."