July 08, 2004
I'm departing from my usual subject matter in order to offer a movie recommendation. Last night I went to see Control Room, and I recommend it very highly.
You may already know that it's a documentary about Al-Jazeera Cable Television and how they covered the Iraq war. You may already be aware that what news we receive depends on who we receive it from, and that no news source is truly unbiased. You may know that Al-Jazeera is relatively unique within the Arab world, an attempt at the kind of free press Americans have taken for granted for two hundred years. That they're harangued by Arab governments (several have banned their broadcasts because they refuse to be a mouthpiece for the state) and the American government (Rumsfeld calls them propagandists and liars) alike. You may already think, idly, that there's something wrong and controlling about how the American government doesn't want American casualties in the news (remember the brouhaha over that photograph of flag-covered coffins?); you may be aware that since Vietnam, media coverage has played an important role in war, because public opinion tends to shift when we can see images of war's devastation in realtime. You may know that Al-Jazeera is staffed primarily by BBC veterans, and that their aim is to provide fair and balanced information to the Arab world.
Even if you already know all of these things, you should still see this film. It does exactly what a documentary should: presents facts and footage and lets the audience draw their own conclusions. It provides useful insight into a fairly remarkable development -- free press, by Arabs, for Arabs -- which I think should be celebrated worldwide. I think the Bush administration's frequent slams of Al-Jazeera are embarrassing proof of their xenophobia. But don't take my word for it, and don't let the bad press Al-Jazeera's gotten in the States deter you. See the movie, and then make up your own mind.
The rest of the world sees America rather differently than we see ourselves, and we owe it to ourselves (and to the world) to come to grips with that. See Control Room and watch while Army press officer Lt. Josh Rusher struggles with the realization that seeing dead Iraqis on screen bothers him a lot less than seeing dead Americans; watch while Samir Khader, the station manager at Al-Jazeera, bemoans the war and then ruefully proclaims his hopes of sending his kids to America for college; learn about Tareq Ayyoub, the Al-Jazeera reporter killed in Baghdad; learn about journalism by watching Hassan Ibrahim at work. It's past time for Americans to start trying to understand how the rest of the world sees us; watching this movie is a good first step.