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WMD: The Movie

Amy Goodman talks to Danny Schechter about his new documentary exploring the U.S. media's inadequate coverage of the war in Iraq from the lead-up to the fishy deaths of unembedded reporters.
 
 
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Editor's note: WMD is opening in New York City, Buffalo, and Portland on Feb. 4. For more info go here.

Amy Goodman: This is Democracy Now! We're talking about a new film opening in [New York] 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 U.S. 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 every 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 [New York]. 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 percent of the cost of Fahrenheit 9/11, it's been a big struggle. The Cinema Libre company that distributed Outfoxed is distributing this film to theaters. We need support – we need people to come out and see this film this weekend in Washington D.C., 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 [New York] this weekend. Danny Schechter, the filmmaker, the Emmy award-winning CNN, former ABC producer.

Amy Goodman is the host of the nationally syndicated radio news program Democracy Now