The other documentary about Iraq war: ‘WMD’

Greg Palast

Documentary filmmaker Danny Schechter, a former network news producer, doesn’t believe the media have a liberal bias. Instead, he sees a bias “against understanding” in the race for ratings and profits.


His latest example: coverage of the Iraq war, which he critiques in his new film, WMD (Weapons of Mass Deception), making its local premiere this afternoon at the Dallas Video Festival.

In their rush to “chase eyeballs,” Mr. Schechter said in a phone interview, news channels created “mili-tainment,” which emphasizes splashy graphics, dramatic music and other hyperbole over accurate reporting and in-depth investigation. And it worked: Audiences flocked to 24-hour cable news outlets for war coverage.

But by letting assumptions about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction go unquestioned, the media wound up as cheerleaders for the war, helping persuade Americans to support it, he said.

WMD screens at 1:30 p.m. today at the Dallas Theater Center, where the festival is being held through Sunday.

“No one is challenging the dominant narrative,” Mr. Schechter said. “But this film is not just Bush-bashing.”

Unlike Michael Moore’s box-office smash Fahrenheit 9/11, WMD focuses exclusively on “media failures,” including:

* A lack of background reporting on the historical connections between Saddam Hussein and the American government, which helped put his party in power.

* Superficial coverage of protests against the war, which reduced stories to crowd shots and sound bites. Left out were the reasons for the anti-war movement.

* Allowing the administration to control access to the war by participating in the embedded reporter program, a kind of “Stockholm syndrome.”

* Covering the toppling of the Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad as a spontaneous event. According to the film, it was planned by a military psychological operations unit.

Mr. Schechter brings impressive credentials to his current work as a “news dissector.”

He produced about 50 stories for 20/20 during eight years at ABC News and also was a producer at CNN. Since then, he has made more than a dozen documentaries and has created series on human rights and South Africa for public television.

Mr. Schechter likes to joke that he had embedded himself on his couch for the Iraq war when he decided to write a series of blogs at www.media channel.org examining the coverage. That evolved into a book and now a film.

Using Mr. Schechter’s background in news, WMD starts with a historical look at “how wars are covered or covered up.” After media coverage of Vietnam helped sour the American public on the war, subsequent administrations limited press access to military conflicts.

WMD quotes a University of Maryland study critical of Iraq war coverage.

“Virtually all of the news coverage accepted without serious question the political formulation ‘weapons of mass destruction’ as a single category of threat,” the study says. “The American media did not play the role of checking and balancing the exercise of power that the standard theory of democracy requires.”

As some news organizations have acknowledged, they favored the administration view. This resulted, WMD argues, in false stories, including the connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda and the details of Jessica Lynch’s capture and release.

To check out Danny’s films, books, and blog visit http://www.mediachannel.org