Control Room is a documentary that takes us inside Al-Jazeera, the largest television channel in the Arab world. With a reputation for controversy in criticizing royalty and politicians, it was only natural that Al-Jazeera would turn their critical eye on the United States invasion of Iraq.
Remember the toppling of Saddam’s statue? The ‘Iraqis’ coming in with the tanks were not speaking in an Iraqi accent. The Iraq flag the one guy standing on the tank was waving was from 1991. It was a staged media event.
Most of the film takes place at the Coalition Media Center in Centcom (I think in Qatar?). Here each small office room is one major news channel after another: ABC, NBC, CNN, BBC… and every day they all assemble in the press briefing room hoping for a glimmer of truth to what is really going on. Everybody chainsmokes all the time.
The events of the movie make me deeply ashamed to be an American. I crawl inside my skin listening to Donald Rumsfeld speak about how important it is that captured Americans be treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions that Bush would later decide don’t apply to him a bit. I see a young boy screaming about Americans destroying his neighborhood – to witness that much rage in a mind so young was appalling. I hear of a journalist in a crowd of chanting children mis-translate their cheers as gratitude for Bush when in fact they are chanting God, Damn Bush!. I see the reaction of Al-Jazeera staff as American planes blow up the Al-Jazeera office inside Baghdad – plus the one for Abu Dhabi television on the same day – insisting that the planes were responding to fire. So angering.
One thing I really learned from the film was the cohesiveness of the Arab identity and ethnicity. That the Arab world sees Israeli’s bulldozing Palestinian neighborhoods and Americans rolling their tanks over Iraqi cars and they consider it as part of the same dynamic.
A faint trace of cognition comes over the Army’s press secretary as he compares his reaction to seeing dead Americans on Al-Jazeera one night and feeling furious and the next night they broadcast Iraqi men drenched in the blood of their family members and trucks loaded with dead bodies and he doesn’t feel as strong a reaction. That shadow of recognition was so powerful.
This is a film that everyone should see – it is the flipside of the shitty American coverage from the corporate media.