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Laramie Movie Scope:
Control Room

A look inside news organizations covering the Iraq war

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 31, 2005 -- “Control Room” provides an interesting look inside media operations in Iraq during the Iraq War. Three characters dominate this documentary, a young, idealistic military information officer (Lt. Josh Rushing, Central Command Press Officer, U.S. Army), a chain-smoking Journalist for Al-Jazeera television (the most popular Arab network in the world), and a heavy set reporter working for Al-Jazeera. Among those appearing in this film are Sameer Khader, Al-Jazeera Senior Producer, Hassan Ibrahim, Al-Jazeera Journalist, Deema Khatib, Al-Jazeera Producer, Tom Mintier, CNN Correspondent and David Shuster, NBC Correspondent.

The journalists talk about journalistic integrity, the ideal of objectivity, and how truth is the first casualty of any war. They also discuss how the victors in any war write the history of it. All this happens in real time during the coverage of the war. Tempers flare behind the scenes as journalists bristle and the news is managed. There is a funny episode when journalists at a press conference are shown the infamous “deck of cards” most-wanted list, and are promised a look at the deck, but then don't get to see it. All the journalists are similar in their reactions to news management by the military, regardless if they are from Arab countries or from the West.

One of the more dramatic events covered in the film is the day that several Bagdad news agencies are hit in separate air strikes, including one that hits Al-Jazeera, and a reporter is killed. It seems unlikely that these three attacks were all accidental. The attacks had the desired effect of getting Al-Jazeera out of Bagdad. The film also points out that Al-Jazeera, in addition to being vilified by the U.S. Government, is also vilified by some Arab governments. As a journalist (and I was one for 25 years), you feel you are doing a good job if both sides of the conflict are mad at you.

A quote from Rushing sums up the clash of world views at work: “It benefits Al-Jazeera to play to Arab nationalism because that's their audience, just like Fox plays to American patriotism, for the exact same reason because that's their audience. The big thing for my generation is for these two perspectives -- my perspective, the Western perspective, and the Arab perspective -- to understand each other better because, truly, the two worlds are colliding at a rapid rate.”

The problem with Rushing's view of news is that it portrays news coverage not as an honest attempt to describe truth, but as a commodity which can be bought by the highest bidder. Increasingly people are buying into the argument that all news is biased, so you might as well dismiss viewpoints you don't like and watch news sources that tell you what you want to hear. If you are conservative, you watch Fox News. If you are liberal, watch PBS. Neither network gives you all the facts, but both cater to your preconceptions. Neither network will shake up your world view. Both provide comfort from troubling facts in their own way. Increasingly, the people of the world are becoming ditto heads, willing to get their news only from sources that won't upset their world views. That's very dangerous. It is making this country, and the world, very polarized.

Although the film is funny and dramatic, it lacks any kind of closure on anything. It doesn't really prove anything. It just makes a lot of accusations. It is provocative, however, and it does explore the difficulties that journalists face in a war situation better than most films do. The film is directed by Jehane Noujaim (“Startup.com”). This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2005 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)