WMD: Weapons of Mass Deception
Opens Fri Feb 4
If anyone is qualified to take potshots at the corporate media, it's self-proclaimed "Media Dissector" Danny Schechter. With two Emmys and producing credits at both CNN and ABC under his belt, as well as a slew of documentaries and books, he's the ultimate insider turned critic.
In WMD: Weapons of Mass Deception, Schechter ambitiously tackles every aspect of the relationship between the U.S. military and the major news networks--from the networks' creepy, videogame-y presentation of new bombing technologies, to the problematic use of embedded journalists, to the possibility that the networks softened coverage of the war in order to encourage FCC deregulation. While these points are interesting enough, WMD forgets that we've heard most of this before; for all of Schechter's earnest attempts at muckraking, most of his revelations fall flat. It's no secret the military has been shacking up with the corporate media, and WMD sheds no new light on territory already covered by Outfoxed or Fahrenheit 9/11. So Fox News' red, white, and blue coverage of the "War on Terror" helped push other news outlets toward the right? Of course. The American public saw a largely sanitized version of the war in Iraq? Sure we did. The government learned a thing or two from the Vietnam War about the effect of uncensored wartime images on public opinion? Natch. In most respects, WMD is a thoughtful, compelling, and almost completely irrelevant piece of filmmaking.
What ultimately saves Schechter's film is not his conspiracy theorizing, but rather his take on reporters themselves. His commentary on embedded journalists--those reporters who travel with troops--is insightful, as he explains how the practice not only causes journalists to identify with soldiers, but inevitably colors their reportage accordingly. Equally unsettling is his depiction of the lives of foreign correspondents as revolving primarily around scripted White House press briefings and hotel happy hours. A more focused, pertinent documentary could have been devoted to the topic of journalists alone, rather than spending 90 minutes rehashing the same true-but-tired stories of corporate wrongdoing and governmental corruption.