A thin man struggling to sit upright in a wheelchair named Tomas populates the screen with his agony. He cannot regulate his body temperature. He experiences dizziness so much that he must bend over all the way in his wheelchair to relieve the pain. Hooked up to a catheter, body lined with dry ice to keep his body temperature low, Tomas exemplifies why the war in Iraq should never have happened.
Tomas Young is the focus of Phil Donahue’s film “Body of War”, a film people across America should be clamoring to see and working tirelessly to get into their local theatre if it has not been there already. The film shows us how Congress failed right alongside a story of what war can do to human life and family. Despite the film being strong in content, the film has been designated as something that will not sell.
Phil Donahue, after a presentation of the film on Friday night at that National Conference for Media Reform in Minneapolis, explained the trials and tribulations of securing distribution for the film. He was lucky to get Landmark Theatres to pick up the film and had been touring the film across the country. He showed it to other people though and they wanted nothing to do with it. HBO won’t touch it and if HBO won’t touch it, than it definitely won’t be getting anything close to the distribution of a Hollywood summer blockbuster.
Is the film industry taking cues from a Washington Post article making the case that Iraq war films no longer sell? Or, might they be taking cues from the news networks themselves who are not giving Iraq the attention it warrants? (Don’t forget the companies that own these news networks refusing to cover Iraq also own film distribution companies, the same ones that Donahue wishes would show his film in their theatres.)
These companies refusing to distribute "Body of War" are the same companies that failed Americans and America in the run up to the Iraq war. These are the companies that Phil Donahue, Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., Amy Goodman, Naomi Klein, and Sonali Kolhatkar came together to scrutinize in a panel titled, “Media and the War: An Unembedded View,” on Saturday at the National Conference for Media Reform.
Naomi Klein offered the most direct and damning assessment of what the media has done:
“The question that we have in front of us is whether the media has learned from the mistakes that we saw so graphically and there has been a little bit of learning we’re told. But it’s interesting that this realization of a problem---a realization that mistakes were made---has coincided with another realization from the mainstream media which is that people aren’t interested in the war at all. So, at the same time that this new self-criticism has emerged, Iraq has largely disappeared from the mainstream media. So, we aren’t seeing any new coverage that would reflect that because of this projected disinterest on to the public.”
How convenient is this projected disinterest? Doesn’t it just let these news corporations doing business with defense contractors off the hook?
Scott McClellan’s new book, What Happened, did a wonderful thing. His claim that “the national news media neglected their watchdog role in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq" and that they were "“complicit enablers” of the Bush administration’s push for war" put the corporate media on its toes. What Scott claimed wasn't news to many Americans, but what was news was how members of the mainstream media finally acknowledged their complicity.
Katie Couric, in an article appearing in the New York Times on May 30th of this year, reported that she was “pressured by government officials and corporate executives to cast war in positive light.” She described the run-up as “one of the most embarrassing chapters in American journalism” and added that she sensed the pressure from “the corporations who own where we work and from the government itself to really squash any kind of dissent.” This was after she left NBC owned by General Electric, which is associated with defense contractors.
Jessica Yellin who was with MSNBC during the run up said journalists were “under enormous pressure from corporate executives, frankly, to make sure that this was a war presented in a way that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the nation.” She now works for CNN.
Even so, some could not bear to admit complicity. Brian Williams, Chris Matthews, and Dan Bartlett may have hinted at how they failed on the air recently but they did everything not to apologize. With Scott McClellan’s book out making them seem responsible for the fiasco in Iraq, these members of the press went to great lengths to explain how the press did its job and cannot be held responsible.
You only overexplain if you feel the need to justify your actions and if you have been made to feel guilty. Obviously, the prevailing sentiments that members of the press were lapdogs in the run-up to the war struck a nerve.
All three lied or dissembled as they ignored weapons inspector El Baradei’s report that there were no WMDs, a report that NBC has been ignoring because it does not jive well with their pro-war ideology, and continued on with their interviews in response to McClellan's book.
David Gregory continued to pretend there was no intelligence to avoid war on May 28th in an interview with Brian Williams:
“I think he [Scott McClellan] is wrong…I think the questions were asked. I think we pushed. I think we prodded. I think we challenged the president. I think not only those of us in the White House press corps did that, but others in the rest of the landscape of the media did that. If there wasn’t a debate in this country, then maybe the American people should think about, why not? Where was Congress? Where was the House? Where was the Senate? Where was public opinion about the war? What did the former president believe about the pre-war intelligence? He agreed that — in fact, Bill Clinton agreed that Saddam had WMD.
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