CONTROL ROOM

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Mandatory viewing. Rarely has my heart broke while watching a film. It did for sure during Control Room. Possibly more than once. I will get to exactly where in a bit, but I have much to say and your wretched attention spans to contend with. On the surface. Control Room deals with the satellite news channel Al Jazeera and it’s coverage of the war in Iraq from mid-March to Mid-April of 2003. The amazing thing is, that in actuality Control Room deals effectively with the entire situation that is Bush’s clusterfuck in a straight foreword and intelligent manner. Look, I’ll be honest, I don’t know much about Al Jazeera outside of what I heard Rummy and Co say about them on the TV. I don’t speak Arabic and I am sure that their coverage of the Palestinian situation makes Israelis out to be Nazis–which I do not agree with.

That said, holy hell has this station been smeared by our government. Right off the bat, we get introduced to Samir Khader, an executive from Al Jazeer who explains that their mission is to show Arab people the “truth.” Before 9/11 Al Jazeera was getting its ass banned in several Arab countries for showing such truths; mostly having to do with exposing the corruption of Arab leaders. Then the Bush Administration called Al Jazeera the, “mouthpiece of Osama bin Laden.” Now Al Jazeera is the number one watched news source for 40 million Arabs. I want to pause a moment here, because this part really is important. Al Jazeera was demonized by our government for doing what media organizations are supposed to do; present facts. For being free and independent of government control. And because of this, many of the despots in the Middle East were banning them from broadcasting. And then just like that, the current cabal of goons in Washington opens its effing yap and BOOM–Al Jazeera suddenly speaks for all Arabs, everywhere.

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One aspect that I found interesting, was that almost all of the Al Jazeera correspondents shown are not only moderate to liberal in their world views, but they have been educated in the west and speak very good English. Moreover, almost all of them are former BBC employees. Contrast this with how Al Jazeera has been presented by our media. To our eyes, they appear as the mouthpiece of Osama bin Laden! And these people are not giving the “Arab Street” a free pass. Early on, when we meet reporter Hassam Ibrahim, he lashes out at the Arab peoples for being, “asleep.” Essentially he was saying that by allowing such corrupt bastards as Saddam to stay in power, they have brought the war to themselves. Nor should you think that Al Jazeera is anti-American by design–like FOX News makes them out to be. When asked by a fellow Arab journalist, “who will defeat the Americans?” his answer is, “The Americans will defeat the Americans. I have ultimate faith in the American Constitution.” In other words, Ibrahim respects our country greatly. He’s just anti-Bush, like the other 93% of the planet. Too bad we let him down a few weeks ago…

As the movie and the war role on, Al Jazeera broadcasts images that outrage the Bush administration. We see dead American soldiers strewn about like garbage, four-year-old Iraqi kids with their intestines hanging out or elbows blown off, American men in uniform beating Iraqi men in the head while the latter’s hands are strap-tied behind their backs–Al Jazeera basically shows everything we didn’t see that was actually happening. Reporters in Iraqi with cameras were sending the images they were capturing back to Qatar (Al Jazeera is HQ’d in Qatar) for broadcast. And as soon as an “unpatriotic” image appeared, Rumsfeld would then hold a press conference and denounce the TV station as “liars.” Of course our “news” channels were giving us play-by-play accounts of Jessica Lynch while Al Jazeera was reporting that Allied tanks had entered Baghdad.

In one particularly telling scene, Lt. Joshua Rushing, one of the many spokes-holes at “CentCom” (Central Command) is explaining to Ibrahim that Al Jazeera should be broadcasting images of Saddam’s use of human shields, innocent Iraqis being forced to fight, atrocities by the Republican Guards, etc. Ibrahim responds that if Rushing will provide him with the images he’ll broadcast them, but to his knowledge, the images simply did not exist. It was just American Military bullshit. More amazing is that Rushing is intelligent enough (all other troops shown represent our country’s worst and dullest) to understand what Ibrahim is trying to express to him. At one point he says;

The night they showed the [American] POWs and dead soldiers… it was powerful, because Americans won’t show those kinds of images. It made me sick to my stomach… I just saw people on the other side, and those people in the Al Jazeera offices must have felt the way I was feeling that night, and it upset me on a profound level that I wasn’t bothered as much the night before. It makes me hate war.

To clarify, Rushing has seen the actual truth–that we are just locked into this insane tribalism where certain types of humans matter more than other humans to certain humans. We brand Arabs as terrorists. They call us Imperialists. All we do is hate, hate, hate while the “House of Bush, House of Saud” becomes wealthier than any of us ever could even imagine being.

Ahem…

Continuing, at one point–and this was really by far the most disturbing aspect of Control Room–a US plane shoots missiles at Al Jazeera headquarters in Baghdad, killing an unarmed reporter sitting on the roof trying to cover the war. The US response is essentially “shit happens” (the actual response was that “War zones are dangerous places”). By the way, that morning (April 8) we also hit another Arab news TV station and killed another Arab reporter in the Palestine Hotel. If, as Al Jazeera maintains, this reporter was killed as a warning that Al Jazeera better shut up (and it is pretty fucking clear that is exactly what happened) then I am even more outraged than I thought possible. How the fuck can we “export democracy” to Iraq when we are fucking killing people for exercising what is our most basic right? Oh right, we can’t. And we never really wanted to, either.

Now for the heartbreaking part. Even after all the shit; America declaring “pre-emptive” war under false pretenses, even after being targeted for assassination by virtue of being reporters, and so much more that really you ought to watch for yourself–after everything, Samir Khader says this;

Between us, if I’m offered a job at Fox News, I’ll take it. Instantly. I will send my children to go to America after high school, I will pay for them to go, to exchange the Arab nightmare for the American dream.

Friends, America really still is the most miraculous experiment in the history of our little orbiting rock. For the time being, the barbarians have seized control and we are sliding down a cliff. Anyway, my heart broke because as bad as America is right now, and as bad as it sure to become, it is still the best hope that we humans have. Simultaneously, I was very proud to be an American and totally certain that the human experiment is doomed.

Special Ruthless Ratings:

  • Which is better; Control Room or Fahrenheit 9/11: Sort of Apples against Oranges comparison. Fahrenheit 9/11 is definately funnier.
  • Yeah, but like, I can only take so many anti-Bush documentaries. Which do I rent: Control Room is more of an anti-military, anti-Rumsfeld movie than anything else.
  • But doesn’t it make Bush look like an idiot: No. tWit, who is an idiot, makes himself look like an idiot. Control Room just runs the tape.
  • You still haven’t answered my question–which one: Personally, I like Control Room better. Especailly the scenes with Rushing and Ibrahim which really ought to be required viewing for all.
  • Thank you: You’re welcome.
  • Anything else: i just want to leave you with one more quote from Rushing that I couldn’t figure out how to include in the actual review;

    “When I watch Al Jazeera, I can tell what they’re showing and what they’re not showing by choice. It’s the same thing when I watch Fox on the other end of the spectrum.”


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Review Posted: 11.23.04

About Jonny Lieberman

Jonny was the site’s co-founder and helped carry the place in the early years. There was a falling out with Erich and he left the site for good, but a lot of his reviews live on. He has moved on to a successful career writing about cars. Look him up.