General Tommy Franks described the media as the "fourth front" in his (Iraq) war plan, according to Danny Schechter, an award winning journalist and documentary filmmaker. What he meant by that was that winning the "media war" is an important part of winning the war in Iraq. Three years down the line with US stuck in an ever-worsening situation, we all know what happens when governments win the media war and succumb to their hubris.
Independent Intervention, a documentary by Norwegian filmmaker Tonje Hessen Schei, is superficially an exploration of how the Iraq war was fought on the "fourth front" in the US media. On a deeper level, it is a well crafted expose of the effects of media conglomeration on the style, topicality and quality of news.
Schei begins her documentary with a series of heartrending images from Iraq, images that were never shown on mainstream American media. This initial sequence provides the preface to her documentary - the Iraq war shown on the television screens of Americans was very different from the one being fought in Iraq. Schei, stuck by the jingoistic, bleached (of the horrors of war), video game-like coverage of the Iraq war in the US mainstream media, explores the reasons behind how and why the mainstream American media became a willing partner in the government's propaganda machine, helping it wage the war for the hearts and minds of American public. Using footage from the war and interviews with luminaries like Dr. Noam Chomsky, Amy Goodman and others, Schei persuasively argues that a majority of what went wrong during media's coverage of Iraq war can be traced to corporate media ownership.
The documentary does a stupendous job in tracing media's coverage of the Iraq war starting with the pre-war buildup by effectively using some well known statistics, for example about how during the two-week period around which Colin Powell gave his speech at the UN and during a time when more than half of the people opposed war, and – out of the 393 people who were interviewed on the four major nightly network newscasts – NBC, ABC, CBS and PBS only a meager 3% held antiwar views while a stunning 71% were pro war.
Independent Intervention is simply scintillating when it weaves snippets from local morning news shows to convey a point. It is jarring to see archival news footage of anti-war protests highlighting mundane inconveniences caused by protesters - "simply creating chaos during rush hour" or "protesters shut down the financial district in San Francisco" - and sneeringly fail to give time to explaining why protesters were against the war.