The Al Jazeera documentary Control Room finally came up in the Netflix queue and I got a chance to watch it tonight. The documentary follows Al Jazeera through the beginning of the Iraq war, from March to May 2003.
There’s no overarching theme of the documentary, it mainly just follows the reaction of Al Jazeera’s personnel as the war unfolds and the US military responds to its coverage. It makes for powerful viewing, especially now that we’re three years removed from the US invasion of Iraq. It’s surreal to watch people react in realtime to arguments and justifications that seem totally absurd today.
What really resonates today, though, is the huge list of baseless attacks made by Donald Rumsfeld and others on the professionalism and honesty of Al Jazeera. Rumsfeld actually accuses the network of fabricating the news, rounding up children and claiming that they lived in a building that was bombed. It’s not surprising to see the same people today make allegations against the New York Times and other media outlets that were made against Al Jazeera during the early days of the war. The criticisms were hollow them and are hollow now, but making them is a pathology for a certain proto-fascist segment of society.
The bombing of the Al Jazeera Baghdad office by coalition forces is given much attention in the film. I had forgotten that on the same day that the Al Jazeera correspondent was killed, the Abu Dhabi television office was also bombed, and a journalist in the Palestine Hotel was killed by a tank round. The idea that these incidents were a coincidental seems ludicrous, especially when the official response by the coalition was that the aircraft were taking fire from the building where Al Jazeera was housed. The Al Jazeera correspondent was broadcasting from the roof of that building only minutes before he was killed, and it was obvious nobody was firing from it. The film suggestively shows a US spokesmen (a thoughtful Marine lieutenant named Josh Rushing) commenting on the incredible accuracy of US bombs immediately before moving to the death of the Al Jazeera correspondent.
When I got the DVD, I thought the film may seem incredibly dated at this point. It doesn’t. It’s a difficult but mandatory watch, in my opinion.
In an interesting turn of events, Lieutenant Rushing has since been hired to host a show on Al Jazeera’s new English language station.