In a recent broadcast Bill O'Reilly called War Inc., the new film starring John Cusack, Marissa Tomei and Hillary Duff, "propaganda".
Propaganda, as we all surely remember from 8th grade, is information or ideas or rumors that are methodically spread by an organized group or government to influence people's opinions, to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc., especially by not giving all the facts or by secretly emphasizing only one way of looking at the facts.
In the solipsistic world of Fox News one is either for the Iraq debacle or he or she is not patriotic. Are we emphasizing only one way of looking at the facts, Mr. O'Reilly? To watch Fox News is to be told over and over one must either suspend Habeas Corpus or one must die in a terrorist attack. Not exactly a full spectrum, there, either. Fox News puts all the news in one context: America is infallible and deserves to have its way whenever and however it pleases. It frames those that disagree in one way only, that is, from the lunatic far lefty view that America is nothing but evil. If this isn't propaganda- methodically cherry picking information to emphasize one point of view in order to influence opinion- then propaganda does not exist in the world.
Does Fox News provide a platform for other points of view? Kindasorta. They offer some facts that don't mesh with their version of reality, but not all the facts required to elevate their broadcasts above the level of propaganda to actual journalism. For example, Fox News does not, to any significant degree, pursue a critique of the Iraq war as outlined by War, Inc., among others. Such critiques are quickly dismissed as un-patriotic or self-hating or some other kind of psychobabble. There is no room for facts or analysis.
When Scott McClellan's recent book critical of President Bush came out Fox News focused on McClellan's motivation and character and quickly side-stepped the credible allegations in the book that Bush and Cheney committed a vicious act of treason. They moved on quickly and re-focused on Rev. Wright, who, despite his gassy, ugly rhetoric has never committed treason. They routinely downplay, falsely discredit or exclude facts and other information that would contradict their entrenched world view. They clearly, easily meet the definition of an organization which dissembles at least some measure of propaganda. So much for Fox News.
Does War Inc. exclude facts in order to emphasize one point of view over another? By its very nature as a feature film, War Inc. must focus on one point of view among many, but does it omit any important facts or relevant points of view in order to support its own view of the world?
John's character is an assassin/business man poised to reap huge rewards in the aftermath of the invasion of a fictional sovereign Middle Eastern country, Turaqistan, by the fictional corporation "Tamerlane", which has strong, deep ties to the White House. In other words, John plays a neo-con. Not that all neo-cons are assassins. Many are not. But there are plenty of guys like that in the Middle East. Seems accurate to me.
Neo-cons believe in using America's considerable economic and military muscle to remake the world's trouble spots into lots of little, subordinate to Washington versions of America. That's straight from the Neo-Con handbook. That's not propaganda. That much is clearly represented in the film without exaggeration or omission.
Halliburton is a corporation with close ties to Washington that is currently slurping up huge, obscene gobs of money servicing the Iraq war. The corporation at the heart of War Inc., Tamerlane, replete with its own army and the ability to manhandle the levers of power in Washington, is a neo-con's wet dream. Tamerlane is what Halliburton wants to be when it grows up. That's not propaganda. That's true. The fact that Halliburton is so absurdly predatory it has become a satire of itself is just reality and too bad for Halliburton. Next time the country is at war show a little restraint.
Marissa Tomei's character is a liberal journalist who seeks to expose the gruesome reality of the hideously botched invasion and paint Tamerlane as a greedy, murderous criminal enterprise in the untrained eyes of the world. That is her character's point of view. The blogosphere is filled with people who see things that way. Seems accurate to me. Nothing left out there. Most people more or less fall in to some version of either character -- Iraq was a good idea and good will come of it or its a disaster.
What about the facts on the ground? In Turaqistan the streets are dangerous and in some places hellish. Just like Iraq. In Turaqistan many people are torn between survival and personal loyalties. Just like Iraq. Turaqi Government officials believe they are puppets and fear for their lives. Just like Iraq. The Americans are hunkered down and under constant threat of attack. Just like Iraq. The list of similarities goes on and on.
Is anything egregiously omitted that if otherwise present would alter the conclusions reached in the film? Does War Inc. show Tamerlane soldiers painting schools and kissing babies? No. You got me there. But it does show a business convention where Turaqi phone rights are sold off to the highest bidder. That's supposed to be what neo-cons call stabilizing the Middle East, right? That's the whole point- give Iraqis a better life. That's supposed to be a good thing. Seems fair and balanced to me.
The crucial facts are all represented in War Inc.'s satire, Mr. O'Reilly; they're just presented in a way that reveals a side of reality not commonly seen in other media outlets, most especially yours. The fact that War Inc. does not shine a flattering light on some of the real world results of neo-con ideology does not make it propaganda. It makes it opinionated if not entirely objective. And personal. That's allowed.
The purpose of the film is not to fully articulate all points of view, which it cannot possibly do, but to frame neo-con ideology in light of the Iraq war. That in and of itself is a whole lot to cram into a feature length film, perhaps too much. Yet, despite its limitations, War Inc. is far more ideologically inclusive and far reaching than anything presented by Fox News, which sees the world and everyone in it as either loving or hating America, or roughly through the eyes of an especially dull child.
Bill O'Reilly is free to be proud of the mess in Iraq and see in it proof of America's unfailing nobility, just as others see grievous but correctable mistakes. Dissenting opinion, however, is not propaganda, and some times, all personal bias aside, as in the case of War Inc., it's richly satisfying.