Compelling Documentary Examines Media's Coverage of 'Messy War' in Iraq

By Reese, Joel | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), June 11, 2004 | Go to article overview

Compelling Documentary Examines Media's Coverage of 'Messy War' in Iraq


Reese, Joel, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Joel Reese Daily Herald Staff Writer

"Control Room"

out of four

Opens today

A documentary directed by Jehane Noujaim. Produced by Hani Salama and Rosadel Varela. A Magnolia Pictures release. At the Century Centre Cinema in Chicago and Renaissance Place in Highland Park. Not rated by the MPAA. Running time: 86 minutes.

When Arab news station al-Jazeera focuses its cameras on mangled citizens and wounded American prisoners of war, the station managers believe they're accurately depicting the ongoing Iraqi conflict.

To Donald Rumsfeld and many others, though, al-Jazeera is broadcasting lies and anti-American propaganda.

Which side is right? And even if al-Jazeera is slanting its news, how much does that differ from American stations that won't show the casualties of war?

The compelling - if occasionally slow - documentary "Control Room" attempts to address these thorny questions. Director Jehane Noujaim follows al-Jazeera at the American military information center in Qatar during the first weeks of the war.

"Control Room" begins lethargically, with simple text providing flat background information about al-Jazeera's 40 million Arab viewers.

Things pick up as Noujaim's fly-on-the-wall approach finds al- Jazeera's journalists making spirited, articulate defenses for their station's war coverage.

"They can't have their cake and eat it," says husky, ex-BBC journalist Hassan Ibrahim, meaning the U.S. media want to accurately portray the war while not showing the physical effects of the American bombs. "It's not a clean war. It's a very messy war," Ibrahim says.

In another scene, chain-smoking senior producer Samir Khader points to a TV that shows a bloody Iraqi civilian.

"Rumsfeld calls that incitement," the likable Khader says evenly. …

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