Weapons of Mass Deception: New Film Documents How the Corporate Media Muzzled the Truth About Iraq

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A new documentary called “Weapons of Mass Deception,” by Danny Schechter of Mediachannel.org. documents the media’s biased coverage of the Iraq War. [includes rush transcript]

An April 2004 poll by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland found that almost half of the American public still believed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction before the invasion of Iraq and 57% believe Hussein gave substantial support to Al Qaeda. There’s no known documentary or physical evidence to date that these statements are true. So why do Americans believe this?

A new documentary called “Weapons of Mass Deception,” by Danny Schechter of Mediachannel.org. documents the media’s biased coverage of the Iraq War.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: There’s a new documentary that’s opening this weekend in Washington DC at the Landmark Theater and in Berkeley in San Francisco at the Oaks in the Embarcadero. It’s called Weapons of Mass Deception. It’s by that news dissector Danny Schechter, and the award-winning filmmaker who runs mediachannel.org. The film documents the media’s biased coverage of the Iraq war. And he joins us in the studio. Welcome to Democracy Now!

DANNY SCHECHTER: Thanks Amy. You know those studies are of course only the tip of the iceberg, and there have been other studies as well. 42% of the American people believe there were Iraqi hijackers on the planes that hit the World Trade Center. Again it was intimation, insinuation suggestion. You know if these guys hate us, if Saddam Hussein speaks Arabic, hates America — Osama speaks Arabic, hates America–therefore Saddam is Osama. This is the logic of a lot of the media reporting. The kind of slipping, merging of personalities, the idea that these are our enemies and therefore distinctions cannot be drawn, must not be drawn. This created a big percentage of people in the United States who supported this war based on what they thought was true. Their impressions. Not information. And this is where our media is to be faulted because it’s degenerated to the point where it does not challenge media coverage, rather presidential claims and government claims. And significantly, just two weeks ago, the presidents of the news divisions of ABC, NBC and CBS meeting out at Stanford University all admitted their coverage was not critical enough. Simply stated, we let the American people down is what the president of ABC News, David Weston said. Thank you, David for that admission, but it’s a little late, don’t you think.

AMY GOODMAN: Danny Schechter will be with us after the break. We also want to play a clip of the film, one of the clips will be what happened to un-embedded reporters in Iraq. We’re going to talk about a case that we have been investigating over the last few weeks in Madrid, Spain with the family of Jose Couso, the Spanish filmmaker who was killed when he was filming at the Palestine Hotel. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracy now.org, the war and peace report. We’re talking about a new film opening in Washington and California, Berkeley and San Francisco this week. It’s called WMD, Weapons of Mass Deception. The filmmaker joins us, Danny Schechter. We want to play a couple of clips from this film. The first is about Jose Couso. Set it up for us.

DANNY SCHECHTER: Were journalist targeted during the war in Iraq? There were a number of incidents, friendly fire. Was it deliberate? Were reporters killed who were un-embedded, who were challenging the dominant view that the American military wanted to get out by offering a contrasting narrative? That’s the question many people are debating. What happened at the Palestine Hotel on April 8, 2003 is very significant in this respect and we cover it in the film WMD.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I’ll say that I think everyone remembers what happened the day after, when the statue of Saddam Hussein was brought down by U.S. troops, because we saw that all day and night on television. This is what happened the day before.

NARRATOR: Journalists and media workers were targeted in Iraq. Was it deliberate? To keep the story on message by intimidating un-embedded journalists. How did the media in the street challenge these killings? Some were killed by so-called friendly fire. Others victims of calculated attacks, missiles, tank shells, and bombs dropped on or near journalists. Some media critics concluded it was intentional, although the Pentagon denied it. Before the war, the BBC’s Kate Adey reported she was told by the Pentagon that independent journalists could be targeted.

REPORTER: The 15th floor of the Palestine Hotel was the target. A US tank shelled the Palestine Hotel, which was crowded with journalists, killing two cameramen. One works for a Spanish network, and the other one works for Reuters.

NARRATOR: Now another incident. Look at this. An American tank on the bridge across from the Palestine hotel in Baghdad. A soldier claimed his tank was fired on. Listen carefully. There are no sounds.

SAMIA NAKHOUL: We moved to the Palestine hotel because the Pentagon asked our organizations to let us leave because it was a target and when we moved to the Palestine Hotel our organization told the Pentagon we were at the Palestine hotel. So did ever news organization.

NARRATOR: Again, minutes later no sounds were heard, no one firing at U.S. soldiers. Suddenly without provocation —

SAMIA NAKHOUL: We saw an orange glow, and this was the tank shell that hit our office. And you can imagine the panic, the wounded it was me and another photographer. I can’t imagine that they would target journalists. You know, I couldn’t believe why would they target us? What have we done to them?

NARRATOR: After the war press freedom groups were still demanding a real investigation. The Pentagon’s Victoria Clark told me there was a report that showed that the soldiers were acting in self-defense.

NARRATOR: Was there any attempt to find out the facts independently or a thorough investigation?

SAMIA NAKHOUL: No — the Pentagon never interviewed me personally on it. I don’t think any of my colleagues were interviewed by the Pentagon.

NARRATOR: Samia’s organization, Reuters demanded an independent investigation, but most media companies didn’t even press on this issue. No one was held accountable. It was all passed off as an accident, the fog of war and all that.

AMY GOODMAN: WMD, Weapons of Mass Deception, a film opening this weekend in San Francisco, Berkeley and Washington DC. Danny Schechter, the whole issue of embedded versus un-embedded journalists, actually, Jose Couso’s family — his mother and brother Javier–are coming to the United States, calling for an investigation. Javier went back to Iraq or went to Iraq for the first time on the anniversary of Jose Couso’s death and thanked the doctors who tried to save him and then went to lay flowers at Palestine Hotel. He told us last week on Democracy Now! that the U.S. military put a gun to his head and wouldn’t let him lay those flowers.

DANNY SCHECHTER: What’s also outrageous is that the American media companies did not demand an investigation of this, did not join Reuters in demanding an investigation. So it just wasn’t just complicity and collusion in the coverage of the war but a refusal to get involved in an effort to try to find out what really happened, what the facts were. To try to get at the truth of what happened to their own people. That to me compounds the shock of the way in which the media played the role it did. I’m a former ABC News, CNN producer. I’ve been working at global vision all these years, I’ve been trying to cover under-covered and unreported stories. And I felt that the coverage of the war was one of the most under-covered stories and one of the most important stories. Because if we can’t have a media we trust and depend on, how do we have a democracy or democracy now. That’s why I felt this story is so important. We made this film at 1% of the cost of Fahrenheit 911, it’s been a big struggle. The Cinema Libre company that distributed Out-Foxed is distributing this film to theaters. We need support — we need people to come out and see this film this weekend in Washington DC, and in Berkeley and San Francisco.

AMY GOODMAN: For people to understand the politics how a new film coming out works, what really determines it’s success, whether it gets out to a larger number of theaters is who comes out in the first or the number of people that come out in the first few days. They’re simply counting bodies.

DANNY SCHECHTER: Exactly. When we were in Boston, we’re going to be remaining in Boston at the, you know, the theater there in Cambridge and I believe that this film is very very important because it’s part of the whole media and democracy movement to get people to recognize we need to keep the media accountable and to understand the role that media plays.

AMY GOODMAN: Danny, set up this next clip that we will go out with and it’s about depleted uranium.

DANNY SCHECHTER: One of the things that WMD shows is what wasn’t shown in America in the media during the war. I compared and contrasted coverage here with coverage in other countries. And this section is information dominance which basically depends on censorship and suppression of information.

AMY GOODMAN: This is from WMD, Weapons of Mass Deception.

NARRATOR: Information dominance requires censorship. Little attention was paid to U.S. weapons that caused mass destruction like legally prohibited cluster bombs that target civilians.

RENE HORN: It was a cluster bomb. The bomb with multiple mini-bombs is dropped from an aircraft focusing on targeted areas.

NARRATOR: South African viewers learned about how cluster bombs worked and the damage they cause. An under-reported fact, half of Iraq’s population is under the age of 15. These young people became a primary target. This is what Baghdad’s pediatric hospital looked like–floor after floor of cluster bomb survivors. This was filmed not by a network but by independent filmmaker Patrick Dillon. Human rights watch reported cluster weapons caused several hundred casualties like these. There was extensive use of napalm-like Mark77 fire bombs. It was denied at first but then admitted. But more onerous was the almost total blackout on the use of radioactive depleted uranium, which hardens anti-tank weapons. This is especially ironic in light of Washington’s constant claims of an Iraqi nuclear threat. The issue was covered overseas. A German journalist documented this proliferation in an Emmy award-winning report for ARD in Germany.

INTERVIEWER: [subtitled] Are you aware that this tank is contaminated with radiation?

SOLDIER: [subtitled] No, it isn’t radioactive.

INTERVIEWER: [subtitled] But we have measured it.

SOLDIER: [subtitled] No, it isn’t radioactive, not this tank.

INTERVIEWER: [subtitled] It was destroyed by depleted uranium ammunition.

SOLDIER: [subtitled] Sorry, we have to get back to work.

BBC REPORTER: In the British back office a list of trouble …

NARRATOR: BBC took viewers into a back room at the coalition media center. On the wall, a list of subjects briefers were ordered to avoid. On that list, DU, or depleted uranium.

AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt from WMD, Weapons of Mass Deception. Again, it opens in Washington and San Francisco and Berkeley this weekend. In Berkeley at the Oaks theater, in San Francisco at the Embarcadero, and in Washington on E street at the Landmark. Danny Schechter, the filmmaker, the Emmy award-winning CNN, former ABC producer.

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