Weapons of Mass Deception

At the time of the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003, 70% of Americans told pollsters they believed Saddam Hussein's government was partly responsible for the 9/11 attacks.

    Schechter analysed the US mainstream media for his film

    In the prelude to the war, the Bush administration hinted at the existence of a link between Iraq and the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.

    However, intelligence investigations commissioned by the White House and Congress have since determined the suggested links were false.

    According to 

    Danny Schechter, a media veteran of almost 40 years who nicknamed himself the News Dissector, the 70% figure suggests US media failed their public and led them to believe a baseless claim.

    As the invasion played out on television screens around the world, Schechter "self-embedded" in his living room and examined US media coverage of the war.

    He turned his conclusions into Weapons of Mass Deception www.wmdthefilm.com, a documentary film that examines how the media covered the war.

    In the post-September 11 nationalistic ardour, the film concludes the US mainstream media failed to challenge Washington over its reasons for going to war, shut out anti-war voices and blurred the lines between commentary and journalism.

    Aljazeera.net spoke to Schechter on the sidelines of last week's Aljazeera Television Productions Festival in the Qatari capital, Doha, where Weapons of Mass Deception was shown.


    Aljazeera.net: Why did you make this film?

    Danny Schechter: I have been a journalist since the 1960s. A

    nd in some ways, this project grew out of a lifetime of work. I worked in radio; I worked in local television; I worked in cable news; I worked in ABC; I worked in mainstream and I worked in independent [media] so I think I had a wide range of experience.

    I have also written six books about media issues, so I have had a chance to think about it more deeply; I think all that uniquely qualified me to take on this project.

    What are you trying to do in this film?

    I try to offer some fresh insights. I also try to speak to journalists about what this means in terms of our responsibilities to challenge and what this means in terms of democracy.

    In the film, I make the suggestion that the Bush administration practices deception as part of its strategy and military strategy.

    WMD accuses the US media of
    group think

    We know that everything they were saying about WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction)and the link with Usama [bin Laden] were not true and many of us knew it then and we said so, but everyone was saying something different.

    Now, with study after study they say it was "group think" in the intelligence community. That's why they screwed up.

    If there was group think in the intelligence community, what about the journalistic community? There was group think there, too.

    Are you influenced by Noam Chomsky and his theory of manufacturing consent?

    Noam Chomsky doesn't watch television; he is more of an analyst of the New York Times and elite journalism so I didn't go to him for an interview.

    I was more interested in journalists who covered the war and how they were debating it. So I feel that Chomsky had a brilliant analysis of media, but more of it is oriented toward print. It doesn't always take into account the techniques of the media.

    What do you think of Chomsky's critics who accuse him of overestimating the sophistication of media control, and that - in reality - it is more to do with day-to-day decisions and market forces?

    I don't buy the conspiracy theories of media. I remember a group of Syrians came to our office and they said: 'We agree with you because we really know the Jews run everything.' This was their analysis. I said, excuse me, Rupert Murdoch is not Jewish the last time I looked.

    You know the problem is corporate media and corporate-controlled media and how they operate within their framework.

    What do you mean when you use the term post-journalism era?

    Journalism is at a crossroads. There are many journalists today who still believe in the values of journalism but who are frustrated by the difficulty of practicing it because the companies they work for do not really respect journalistic principles. What they are there to do is satisfy their bottom line concerns, they have closed bureau after bureau.

    The film accuses the media of
    shutting out anti-war voices

    There has been a pattern of dumbing down, and by dumbing it down it means people inside media are dumbing themselves down. They are not asking good questions, they are not challenging official narratives the way they should be.

    If you look at Fox News, there is very little journalism, very little reporting. Mostly it is talk shows posing as news programmes and [they are] opinion driven, you have three times more pundits on air as opposed to journalists. That's another sign of the post-journalism era.

    Are blogs an alternative to mainstream media sources?

    There are now 10 million blogs. Of those, maybe 10% claim to be journalistic. Some of the bloggers are very responsible, really challenging and doing investigative digging that mainstream media are not.

    Journalists review copies of the
    9/11 Commission report

    Some are motivated just by ideological concerns. Recently, for example, Eason Jordan, the former chief of news at CNN - when he said at Davos 12 journalists had been killed by US soldiers there was a big shock and he was forced to resign. In that case, a blogger took an off-the-record meeting and just blasted it out there with out having a full record of what was said.

    I think a lot of blogging can be very irresponsible and some of it is sponsored by political forces by the Republican party or the Democrat party and the like, so it has a political and ideological not a journalistic function.

    But in my blog www.mediachannel.org what I try to do every day is take the top stories and report what is not being reported by comparing and contrasting.

    You credit American journalists who helped you make this film. Do you think many in the US media are sympathetic to your message?

    Whenever I talk to people in the media off the record, including anchormen, people are very supportive, people slip me footage from various networks. People are very helpful, but a lot of them are living in a lot of fear. Everybody feels vulnerable, people have mortgages; they have families - it's difficult to be courageous.

    Many American media people feel vulnerable and as if they are being bullied, they feel totally insecure. In the culture of the newsroom, if you put your head up, it will get chopped off. Everybody is getting along by going along and that's a dangerous kind of conformity.

    If the US is involved in another war, how do you think it will be reported in the US media? Do you think the media have learned from some of the mistakes of the Iraq war.

    The institutional practices have not changed. I feel like the coverage of the elections was very similar to the coverage of the war. The same templates are being used, the same approach, the lack of political scrutiny, the lack of other voices, the way things are being framed, the lack of investigative checking.

    The American media reported the Iraqi elections as a great victory for democracy. Everyone else reported them and asked Iraqis why they were voting and they said to get the Americans out and to end the occupation. Their reasons are very different from the way it was presented on American televisions. So we still have this propaganda system, in effect, but its credibility is starting to be questioned.

    And I hope my film will contribute to that.

    What I want to see is more journalists taking more responsibility for what they do and showing more solidarity when other journalists are shot and killed.

    How many people in the American media protested the killing of Tariq Ayub [Aljazeera's correspondent slain in Baghdad by US fire on 8 April 2003]? That was blatant, a completely blatant assassination and yet nobody said a word. We need to challenge that and show more solidarity with other media workers.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


    Interactive: How does your country vote at the UN?

    Interactive: How does your country vote at the UN?

    Explore how your country voted on global issues since 1946, as the world gears up for the 74th UN General Assembly.

    'We were forced out by the government soldiers'

    'We were forced out by the government soldiers'

    We dialled more than 35,000 random phone numbers to paint an accurate picture of displacement across South Sudan.

    Interactive: Plundering Cambodia's forests

    Interactive: Plundering Cambodia's forests

    Meet the man on a mission to take down Cambodia's timber tycoons and expose a rampant illegal cross-border trade.