'WMD: Weapons of Mass Deception,' What's Really Going Down with America's Mass Media

In today's so-called "information age" we have an excess and fallout of free-market fundamentalism, or as some call it "capitalism on steroids." The profit-over-truth values held by six of the monopolistic, multi-national corporations have consolidated most mass media under their control.

The feared and unfortunate consequence of these behemoths cozying-up to big government is the complicit willingness to be mere conduits for government-fabricated "news," and the rampant adoption of repetitive big-lie talking points by government officials with frequently little or no challenge by reporters.

Joseph Goebbels would have been proud to see our own modern Fourth Estate blatantly relinquish its age-old function in providing a healthy check upon our government, instead working to facilitate government objectives.

In a coalition of interests that finds such an outcome unacceptable comes SMC's Spring Semester 2005 Media Literacy Dialogue. Last Friday the free, on-campus screening of "WMD: Weapons of Mass Deception," a film by famed Emmy award-winning television producer, civil rights activist, journalist, educator and documentary filmmaker Danny Schechter, looked at these issues.

SMC Professor of Cinema Josh Kanin, who introduced the filmmaker to a packed house, noted that the purpose of raising the issue of media literacy by screening the film at the college is "to bring critical thinking to all media," empowering students and the community.

In a film dense with images and succinct commentary, Schechter shares the perspectives he gleaned from the many weeks he remained embedded in his own apartment during the 720-hour U.S. invasion of Iraq. He was surveying the various global coverage of the war.

With an acute awareness of the media's "incredible amount of sameness," Schechter said, "this is a real effort to break down the wall of uniformity and collusion." And thus his mission became an effort to deconstruct the two wars he witnessed - one of "shock and awe" and the other the "media war."

The film starts out with an amusing, but purposeful, parody of the opening scene from Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now." With the filmmaker as the tortured soldier (in place of Martin Sheen as Captain Benjamin Willard) wrestling with despair whilst prone upon his bed in a dingy hotel room with its ceiling fan whirring above and all set to the Doors' haunting, "The End," Schechter sets out to tell the story.

To understand how we got where we are today, Schechter reminds us that, "in Vietnam, the reporters did not get on the team, but sold out to the communist side," as perceived by the U.S. military and those supportive of the war effort.

Next stop was the 1991 Persian Gulf conflict with CNN shooting to the top of the ratings heap while scooping all other media with their own Peter Arnett remaining the sole correspondent in Baghdad.

From those earlier lessons, the U.S. government and military refined a coordinated battle plan to incorporate, co-opt and compromise the media and its reporting to fully support their own version of events in the run-up of the invasion of Iraq and the occupation to follow.

The rest of the film depicts various points of view to hammer home the effectiveness of the muzzling of the media and its own complicity in that relationship.

As part of a recent lineage of documentaries such as "The Fog of War," "Fahrenheit 9/11" and "Outfoxed," the film may be the most powerful and perhaps the most frightening to media conglomerates. With excellent production values, a talented and well-known maker, and a timely and well-told story, it continues to receive the cold shoulder by all variety of media including, surprisingly, NPR and PBS.

While most viewers stayed after the film for a lengthy Q & A session with Schechter, their comments were sometimes surprising.

Many praised the film, but more than a few made comments reflecting a certain difficulty in sitting through the enormous amount of information included in the film.

Without a certain "pre-digesting" of the topics covered, a viewer could easily experience a sort of information overload.

Another attendee noted that Schechter categorized the "news" partnership of military and media as "mili-tainment" and "info-tainment," and asked if "WMD" was not some form of "demogogue-tainment."

In the last scene of "WMD," we Schechter is in the dingy hotel where the film started. Recollecting Coppola's film, we know that Sheen's character accepted a mission to assassinate a renegade colonel. The allusion leaves unanswered the question of what institutions are to be slain in or by the film or filmmaker.