Now playing at the Quad Theater in New York, “War Made Easy” is the definitive study of how the mainstream media in the United States permitted itself to be used as a propaganda outlet of the Bush administration in the run-up to the war with Iraq. It places “embedded” journalism in the larger context of pro-war media going back to the early stages of the Cold War, and is particularly adept in making comparisons with the war in Vietnam. Just as the Gulf of Tonkin incident—an attack on American destroyers by Vietnamese patrol boats that never really happened—was used as a pretext for getting into Vietnam, so were false reports on weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein ties to al Qaeda used for this most recent imperialist debacle.
Serving as expert witness in this documentary written and directed by Loretta Alper and Jeremy Earp is Norman Solomon, an expert on corporate media abuse and author of the 2006 book “War Made Easy” that the movie is based on. (Narration is provided Sean Penn.) Solomon is a longtime associate of the media watch group FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting), a group that was founded in 1986 largely to challenge the mainstream media’s incestuous relationship to the Reagan administration. At the time, I was very involved with Nicaragua solidarity and found FAIR’s exposure of newspaper, radio and television bias on behalf of the contra war most useful. Unfortunately, due to the utter corruption of the mainstream media in the U.S., there will always be a need for a watchdog group like FAIR. My own organization went out of business shortly after the Sandinistas were voted out of office in 1990, but FAIR soldiers on responding to the blizzard of lies from our “free press”.
George W. Bush
Using the same kind of polished video editing techniques found in Jon Stewart’s Comedy Central News Show, “War Made Easy” allows CNN, Fox-TV, CBS, NBC, ABC et al to hoist themselves on their own petard. Using one key “talking point” after another that demonstrates media complicity with the war, the movie presents a medley of talking heads marching in lock-step with the administration. I was particularly struck by how television news programs all got caught up in military technology. One idiotic reporter after another is seen selling the merits of smart bombs, B-2 bombers, attack helicopters, etc, as if they were in an infomercial. Closely related to the fixation with hardware was the blatant reliance on retired generals and admirals even before the war began. All of them treated the war as an accomplished fact and no reporter bothered to ask whether the war was necessary.
There was one exception to the rule, however. Phil Donohue made a point of challenging the administration’s lies on MSNBC. For that effort, he was removed from the air by the brass who stated in a memo that the show was becoming a “home for the liberal antiwar agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity.”
“War Made Easy” shows how many of these knuckle-headed pro-war newsmen (and women) did a mea culpa after a couple of years when it became clear to the world that the justifications for the war were false. Additionally, it became harder and harder to wave the flag when it became obvious that it was a lost cause. In other words, the failure to win a victory on the battlefield led to a loss in fighting spirit among the media, especially its more liberal elements. Wolf Blitzer of CNN is shown confessing to another reporter that his network was all too gullible when it came to the administration’s case for war. “We should have been more skeptical,” he says.
Despite the reversal of many reporters (excluding the mouth-breathing hawks at Fox-TV) on Iraq, there are signs that the media is coming home to daddy once again as reports of General Petraeus’s “surge” achieve a kind of consensus among the political elite. When the Democrats begin to backpedal on the war, it automatically follows that CNN, MSNBC, the Washington Post, and the N.Y. Times will follow suit.
That is one of the reasons that the arrival of “War Made Easy” is so timely. The film reminds us of the monstrous lies and indifference to human suffering that the mainstream media is responsible for. It would spur us into renewed opposition, even if the Democratic Party candidates prefer to ignore Iraq.
If “War Made Easy” is not playing in your city, the DVD can be purchased for only $19.95 from the movie’s website.