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Review: Control Room

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Everything you think you know about Al Jazeera is wrong.

You can think of “Control Room” as being like the opposite of “Outfoxed,” the documentary about the Fox Network.

Where Outfoxed deftly demonstrated how biased, slanted, one-sided Fox really is, Control Room clearly shows how Al Jazeera is more balanced, accurate and of a higher quality than anyone listening to Donald Rumsfeld and other talking heads would have you believe.

The documentary, from the director of the equally excellent Startup.com, provides an up-close look at the most popular network in the Arab world from the start of the war against Iraq through the U.S. takeover of Baghdad.

The network was attacked for showing images of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians injured in the war.

But war is not clean and precise and does the network not have a responsibility – despite what politicians and other critics say – to show viewers the consequences of war?

I led a discussion of this movie Sunday night and the consensus was that the story and issues involved were much more complicated than one might initially expect, a view I tried to express here.

Attendees had the same reaction I did in finding fascination with the evolution of thought by military flack Joshua Rushing.

And therein lies an interesting, telling postscript, in that the most honest, articulate spokesman for the military in the movie is the one penalized for those views.

In one of the conversations that ultimately got him into trouble, Rushing compared Al Jazeera to the Fox Network, saying:

“It benefits Al Jazeera to play to Arab nationalism because that’s their audience, just like [the Fox News Channel] plays to American patriotism, for the exact same reason — American nationalism — because that’s their demographic audience and that’s what they want to see.”

But it was this comment which I found most powerful, as summarized here:

On camera midway through the film, Rushing spoke of being disturbed that footage on Al Jazeera, an Arabic-language satellite television channel, of civilian Iraqi casualties had not affected him as much as images shown the following night of dead American soldiers.

“It upset me on a profound level that I wasn’t bothered as much the night before,” Rushing said. “It makes me hate war. But it doesn’t make me believe we can live in a world without war yet.”

This is a movie that will make you think and I think that’s always a good thing.

I give the movie a 9.

PUB, ED: TAS

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About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been doing special education work for about five years He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.
  • ss

    I haven’t seen Al-Jazeera, so I can’t really say what it’s content is like.
    My bet is it has plenty of it’s own bias.

    I did see a clip of an executive at Al-Jazeera saying when the network first began, it would interview Isreali and American politicians, to show all sides of a story, so the nationally owned Arab media outlets accused them of being a mouthpiece for the ‘state terrorists’, and tried (often successfuly)to have them banned, or lobbied their patron to have the offensive content removed. He said they weren’t to suprised though, they expected knee jerk reactions and attempts to censor from the existing Arab media and governments.

    He went on to say it was very discouraging, then, when they attempted to show all sides of the Iraq war and let al-Queda play it’s video tapes, that the American media and government, the model they thought they were basing their conception of freedom and a free press on, react in exactly the same way as Arab media and Arab governments.

  • http://www.scoopstories.typepad.com Scott Butki

    I’d encourage everyone to check the movie out because it really makes you think about bias, bodies and war coverage.

  • http://journals.aol.com/vicl04/VictorLanasINADARKTIME/ Victor Lana

    I am going to amaze even myself (as someone who lost people on 9/11) to say that if we can have something like Fox (think TRIUMPH OF THE WILL back in the 1940s) there doesn’t seem to be any reason why the Arab world can’t have Al-Jazeera in 2005.

  • http://www.scoopstories.typepad.com Scott Butki

    But it’s not just good for the Arab world. If you believe the movie they do a pretty good job of covering other perspectives too.

  • http://www.scoopstories.typepad.com Scott Butki

    David Frost has joined the network. Should be interesting to see how THAT plays out.

  • http://counter-point.blogspot.com Scott

    I enjoyed this documentary. Definitely a different look at what Al-Jazeera actually is than what I believed it was listening to Bush administration officials and U.S. media outlets. Some very poignant moments (the rain at the end, the death of the Al-Jazeera reporter). I’d recommend it.

  • http://www.scoopstories.typepad.com Scott Butki

    I encourage lots of people to show it.
    I showed it on 9-11 at my church for a movie discussion.
    That went over MUCH better than showing them Monty Python’s Life of Brian on Sunday.
    “What did they say?”
    “I can’t understand their accent?”etc.

    My bad.

  • http://www.thebluesmokeband.com Brian Sorrell

    Scott,

    Thank you for posting this review! I actually saw this documentary over the weekend and it was, as you point out, a deeply thought-provoking knockout. My feeling is that the controllers of Al Jazeera, particularly Samir Khader, are probably the best, bravest and most radical journalists on the planet.

    No to be glib about it, but if they’re hated by governments on every side, they’re probably doing something right.

    On the less glib side: there are moments in the film that are so gripping and so revealing that you can’t help but question the motivations and effects of American MSM.

    Definitely check this one out!

    Brian.

  • http://www.scoopstories.typepad.com Scott Butki

    You’re welcome, Brian. Yes the movie rightly makes you question why the American media is purported to be better than, say, Al Jazeera.

    The screening led to a good discussion of just who CAN you trust and we were short on answers.

    Between the channel hiring David Frost AND Josh Rushing – the press office who was thoughtful, engaging and – well – got in trouble for some of the things he said… I’ve approached Al Jazeera to see if I can interview one or both of them.

    Here’s some background on the hiring of Rushing and a more in-depth piece
    here

  • http://www.fotolog.com/butki13 Scott Butki

    Poll question
    If you were stuck on an island and could only have one television network what would you rather have – Fox News or Al Jazeera.

  • Scott Butki

    No answers?