Heroes of the Zeroes: Control Room
Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.
Jehane Noujaim’s “Control Room” began as an interesting look at Al Jazeera — the Middle East’s CNN — on the eve of the Second Gulf War and shifted into a fascinating, unsettling treatise on spin perpetrated by the media and the military.
Any commander unmindful of propaganda is bad, said Samir Khaddar, a chain-smoking Al Jazeera senior producer in this 2004 documentary. It could be sparse — Osama bin Laden’s cave communications — or star-spangled, like the American military promoting soldier Jessica Lynch’s embellished story over a more-newsworthy release of most-wanted Iraqi playing cards.
Oppositely, Al Jazeera’s thirst for unfiltered wartime images drew Donald Rumsfeld’s ire, calling the network a bin Laden mouthpiece. Their pursuit — coupled with discourse between straight-talking U.S. press officer Lt. Josh Rushing and veteran journalists Hassan Ibrahim and Abdallah Schleifler — gives “Control Room” a cool-headed cerebral charge and accurately suggests that in a world of dizzying images, out of sight is still well out of mind.
Khader is tested mightily after a fateful incident involving Arab news outlets and American military action, which, it’s persuasively suggested, enacted prior restraint by way of retaliatory strong-arming. In hindsight, the cleared path for George W. Bush’s accomplished-mission narrative makes “Wag the Dog” look like a junior-high prank.
Ultimately, “Control Room” acknowledges that wartime journalism sits between objectivity and propaganda, indifference and passion. Neutrality doesn’t exist; to avoid gore is a stance. In a way, it’s about TV’s true reality — the impossibility to separate soul from duty in pursuing objective footage of horror.