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Control Room

Inside Al Jazeera

by MIKE WHITNEY

There’s a chilling scene in Jahane Noujaim’s new documentary Control Room where an American F-16 is seen slowly turning in the sky over Baghdad. The plane arcs lazily in the blue sky and then quickly noses downward, following a straight line towards the building that houses the Al Jazeera news facility.

In a flash, two laser guided missiles are fired at the building and their impact knocks out the visual.

It all happens in a matter of seconds.

Veteran journalist, Tarik Ayoub was killed instantly in the attack.

Later that same day, fighter pilots would bomb the Abu Dhabi media facility in similar fashion.

The day’s events would end on the streets of Baghdad where an Abrams Tank slowly turned its turret towards the Palestine Hotel; the accommodation for all the visiting media in Iraq.

The tank lifted its muzzle towards the 13th floor, and moments later fired…killing a Spanish journalist and wounding three others.

No one who sees this shocking segment will confuse it for anything other than what it was….cold blooded murder, authored and directed by the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. (Al Jazeera even provided the US Military with its exact coordinates so they wouldn’t be attacked as they were in Kabul)

No officer, however vindictive, would have ever jeopardized his career with such a reckless and ruthless attack on innocent people.

The order came straight from the top, and it bears Rumsfeld’s imprimatur.

The footage of Ayoub’s colleagues back in Doha is devastating.

They all know what they’ve just witnessed, and the control room is silenced with a palpable sense of horror.

No one has any misgivings about the message being conveyed.

As Al Jazeera’s chain smoking manager avers, "We were told that ‘you are either with us or against us’….we have received receipt of that message."

It’s gut wrenching.

The majority of American’s dismiss Al Jazeera as radical, Muslim propaganda.

They need to suspend their judgment until they see this movie…then decide.

The Al Jazeera news room reminds me of one of those old Billy Wilder movies where everyone is frantically running into each other trying to get the story out.

It bears no resemblance to America’s assembly line news broadcasts, with slick looking male models delivering the "corporate friendly" version of events, suitably watered down with endless commercial interruptions and inane human interest stories.

This is hard-edged news.

It’s easier to imagine Mencken or Edward R. Morrow wandering these halls than the likes of Brit Hume or, God forbid, that fatuous fathead, Bill O’ Reilly. ("Just shut up!")

Most of Al Jazeera’s team are graduates of the BBC, an institution that is still respected around the world for its objectivity and in-depth reporting. ( although the quality of BBC reports seem to be on a steady decline)

This insures that the standards of journalism are high and that the stable of talented and committed reporters is quite expansive. (Up close, though, the reporters just look like "stressed out newshounds" trying to meet a deadline.)

Apart from the control room chaos, these are flesh-and-blood people and their humanity is readily on display. The documentary is a fascinating window into the everyday lives of people who are willing to put themselves at personal risk to present the events of the day in an unbiased platform.

In Rumsfeld’s parlance, this is tantamount to an act of war.

His response (bombing errant TV stations) indicates how seriously he regards the threat of news that doesn’t go through the Pentagon filtration system.

Al Jazeera that has created a furor among the head honchos in the Bush Administration. Their pictorial representation of the war in Iraq is at odds with the cheerful narrative of "liberation" and "democratization" being propagated in the western press. Charred bodies and dead children tend to disabuse viewers of the foolish notion that "wars of aggression" serve a humanitarian purpose.

American’s have been carefully screened from seeing any sign of the vast devastation and suffering caused by the conflict.

For many, Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9-11 was probably the first time they even saw video of either dead Iraqis or American amputees. These are the real costs of Bush’s illegal war. They are shockingly different than the "Pollyanna" footage of laughing children and "rebuilt" schools on the FOX News channel. The audience will have to decide for itself which representation comes closer to the truth.

American’s will feel at home with the main characters in Control Room. As a rule, they seem bright, sardonic and hopelessly disheveled. They are sadly reminiscent of the journalists who at one time made US newsrooms the center of the media universe. Regrettably, the have been replaced by cardboard paste-ups of "Barbie and Ken" who give the nightly news all the credibility of a Vegas strip show.

The boiler-room atmosphere of Control Room indicates that serious journalism is still "alive and well" at a far-flung TV station in Doha, Qatar.

At Al Jazeera the main players still talk about a world that is "conducive to freedom of the press and expression"; an idea that seems tragically out of step with America’s commercially manufactured news. In the US the "bottom line" has long determined what stories end up on the cutting room floor.

The compelling need to generate profits is simply incompatible with objective reporting.

Al Jazeera was recently criticized by Iraq’s new provisional government for "incitement."

In response they issued the following statement; "These kinds of allegations will not prevent the channel from pursuing its long cherished editorial independence, or its adherence to professional principles and internationally recognized media practices."

Editorial independence? Professional principles?

When was the last time these qualities were even remotely connected to western media?

FOX News, look out!

I’d be surprised if a lot of people don’t find this movie as fascinating and infectious as I did.

Give it a shot…it’s worth the 8 bucks.

MIKE WHITNEY can be reached at: fergiewhitney@msn.com