Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 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 Khader, 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.