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WMD: Weapons of Mass Deception

WMD: Weapons of Mass Deception

Not rated, 98 min. Directed by Danny Schechter.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Dec. 3, 2004

How can a military campaign of "shock and awe" be waged without cameras being present to record the effect? It’s one of those "if a tree falls in the forest" questions: Does the event exist without the sensory experience of it? Almost by definition, the term "shock and awe" means a spectacle, which, in our 24-hour news/reality-obsessed 21st century, translates into "media spectacle." Investigative journalist Danny Schechter, a self-proclaimed "news dissector" poses this and many other thorny questions about the media’s complicity in the war on Iraq. Schechter probes his subject matter not with the brain-teasing encouragement of a Zen koan master but with the dogged determinism of a no-bullshit journalist whose job it is to ask questions. The author of several books and an award-winning television producer who has worked at CNN and ABC’s 20/20, Schechter is currently the executive editor and blogger-in-chief of MediaChannel.org, the world’s largest media issues network. Just as we are now investigating the massive intelligence failure that allowed the events of 9/11 and after to occur, Schecter believes that there also has been a failure of the media to scrutinize the information doled out to them in government press briefings and news conferences, which has ultimately resulted in uncritical groupthink and a dereliction of duty. Instead of doing its job as a government watchdog within our democratic system of checks and balances, the Fourth Estate was quick to fall into lockstep with the drumbeat toward war. The media became a huge part of the story rather than the distanced reporters they were theoretically trained to be. Government propagandists used the fourth estate as a sort of fourth front in the war, using journalists as the means for getting out their daily message and overall mission. As a group, journalists are largely based in NYC, the media capital of the world, and as a result may have felt the impact of 9/11 more personally than other occupational groups. No sooner had they finished affixing flag pins to their lapels than the rush to embed themselves with the military began. One of the strongest sections of Schechter’s movie is his coverage of the impossibility for embeds to report objectively once they had become emotionally aligned with the subjects they were covering (something described as akin to the Stockholm syndrome). WMD: Weapons of Mass Deception covers a slew of topics and speaks with literally dozens of journalists and analysts, all while Schechter personally narrates the film. It’s impossible to take in all the information in one sitting and at times threatens to spin off in too many directions, but I guarantee this movie will provide plenty to mull over and inspire consumers to demand greater accountability from their media purveyors. Even when there is not a war on and human lives are not at stake, media accountability should be a goal of any democracy, and Schecter’s film serves as a trenchant reminder. (WMD: Weapons of Mass Destruction premiered in Austin during the 2004 Austin Film Festival, where it won the jury’s Best Documentary Award.)
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