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Aljazeera: Empire – Hollywood and the war machine

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I thought readers would enjoy this program, which was broadcast late last year but is still relevant particularly now that the State Department has acknowledged that Aljazeera is beating US newscasters. From Hillary Clinton in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as reported by the Associated Press:

“Like it or hate it, it is really effective,” Clinton said. “In fact, viewership of Al-Jazeera is going up in the United States because it is real news.”

“You may not agree with it, but you feel like you’re getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and, you know, arguments between talking heads and the kind of stuff that we do on our news that is not providing information to us, let alone foreigners.”

This program focuses on how the Pentagon has been able to get Hollywood to, um, cooperate with its efforts to present a positive image of the military (hat tip reader Scott A). I must confess I enjoyed the action footage.

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42 comments

  1. Parvaneh Ferhadi

    Hollywood is for entertainment and as such does often not reflect reality. You should be aware of that when you watch those movies.
    The problem is that the ‘real media’, i.e. those that should be more grounded in the real world are basically running the same storyline that Hollywood does. So it’s no surprise that people start taking fiction for reality.
    As Noam Chomsky showed in his Manufacturing Consent, this doesn’t happen by coincidence.

  2. Charles Frith

    The Hollywood rot is more pernicious than just war movies. But I’ve no inclination to explain that because I think that Yves would be well placed to ignore economics given its impending doom and like this post blog the content that reflects what I call good judgement on how the string pullers pull strings.

  3. Otter

    Chris Hedges is speaking at 17:10 : “… You react as a child, which is to call for a saviour, a demagogue, someone who promises moral renewal …”. You vote for Obama.

    Good choice, Yves! This is one of Bishara’s best, and ever so appropriate, here, now.

  4. jake chase

    The love affair between Hollywood and the war machine began in 1942. These days, the moguls are selling anti-terrorism twenty-four seven. One wonders what they would use for material without it. Of course, television is for idiots and movies are for twelve year olds, so stop watching and read a good book if you can find one.

    You can get some perspective on all this from Thucydides.

  5. DownSouth

    For our geniuses-in-charge, enhanced truth-telling never plays a part in any proposed solution to this losing battle for the hearts and minds of the world’s denizens, and especially those of the United States. Instead, it’s full steam ahead in building a bigger and better propaganda machine.

    Of course when the truth is stacked against one, and to such a signigicant degree, what other option remains? Nevertheless, it seems like U.S. politicians place a great deal of faith in the power of propaganda—-in telling bigger and bigger, and increasingly more outrageous, lies. They seem to think there is no limit to their ability to hoodwink the people.

    But the obstacles the professional liars must overcome are growing. As this article (link furnished by Michael H) opines:

    [W]hat would the state-subsidized propagandists be able to boast about? Predator raids in Afghanistan? Guantanamo? Thirty million on part-time work or jobless in the Homeland? America is not the sell it once was, when the economic growth rate was headed up and capitalism seemed capable of delivering on its promises.

  6. Max424

    YS: “I must confess I enjoyed the action footage.”

    Me too. I especially like when our gunships move in and spray the Mogadishu rooftops with their 30 mm cannons. With a rate of fire at 4 thousand rounds per minute, and tasked with dispatching two or three dozen evil-doers ineffectively firing their AK 47 pea shooters, the 30 mm Gatling is a lock to get em all.

    And it does. That scene is the climax of the movie, in my opinion. The remaining hour is just an overlong denouement.

    Was there a greater genius than Dr. R. J. Gatling? He takes his patented mechanical seed planter and transforms it into one the great weapon systems of all-time. So simple in the beginning the deadly machine could be hand cranked. And it is still simple. The modern 30 mm cannon shares the exact same attributes as the 19th century Gatling machine, it just not hand cranked anymore, has bigger rounds (much, much bigger) and higher rate of fire (much, much higher).

    Former General Colonel Custer had an opportunity to take three Gatling’s with him when he went out — on his ill-fated adventure — to face the Lakota Sioux. He refused them. He thought they were, somehow, ignoble, and a tad unfair.

    Bad decision Georgy.

  7. Sufferin' Succotash

    Since when has the Dream Factory ever gotten its history right? From gross distortions of the Reconstruction era (Birth of a Nation) to exaggerating the importance of the 54th Massachusetts in the Civil War(Glory)Hollywood hasn’t been able to deal accurately with US history, let alone any other brand of history. Interestingly, British film-makers are just as bad, though their distortions of the historical record tend to be more subtle and understated.
    For a few decades starting in the late 1940s television news held out the tantalizing prospect of being a source of accurate contemporary history. But that prospect pretty much evaporated with the advent of cable news networks and the resulting race to the bottom of journalistic quality. The problem was that back in the day the major network news divisions were always money losers. Even a network chief like CBS’ Bill Paley–who believed in maintaining a strong news division for prestige purposes–had to sacrifice Ed Murrow and Don Hewitt’s “See It Now” on the altar of Higher Ratings.
    Minor correction for Max424: Custer didn’t take the Gatlings out of chivalry, but because he was afraid they would slow him down. In any case, it’s hard to see how they would have made any difference as far as Custer’s command was concerned, though Reno would have found them useful when he was defending his hilltops.

  8. Dan Duncan

    Al Jazeera on Hollywood? Really?

    And for support, you offer a two sentence preamble “rehabbing” Al Jazeera—with an appeal to Hillary Clinton’s authority (of all people!).

    Yeah, that should do it. Hillary Clinton says Al Jazeera is legit, so that’s the end of that….

    Oh…OK, Yves. Yeah, sure. And in the Arab world, “Hollywood” is not synonymous with “Jew World”. And nowhere in the Arab-Leftist world is there the Already-Primed-Narrative that Jews control Hollywood.

    Leftists, who will be the first to shout:

    “States Rights” is code for “resistance to black advances!”

    “Muslim” is really “an ambiguous catch-all term for dark-skinned people who are against Ameri-Christian values like capitalism and white hegemony!”

    But an Arab news outlet commenting on Hollywood? No Jew issue here!

    What a load of shit.

    I mean, seriously…you’re presenting a video on BIAS of all things…from an Arab centric news source “reporting” on Jews—in Hollywood.

    Once again: You can’t make this shit up.

    1. DownSouth

      As always Dan, you manage to read into things whatever it is that your ideology dictates. You say that “Hillary Clinton says Al Jazeera is legit,” when that isn’t what she said at all. Clinton is actually bemoaning the facts, such as this one reported in the linked AP story:

      Al-Jazeera’s television viewership hasn’t gone up much in the U.S. because it is still not widely available, seen only on scattered cable systems in Vermont, Ohio and Washington, D.C.

      But online viewership of Al-Jazeera English spiked during the demonstrations in Egypt — up 2,500 percent at its peak, with nearly half of the followers from the United States, the network said.

      Al-Jazeera has taken advantage of the moment, asking visitors to its website to click a tab that automatically generates a letter to the users’ local cable system encouraging them to add the network. More than 40,000 e-mails have been generated, spokeswoman Molly Conroy said.

      These are facts, Dan, not opinion. That you don’t seem to be able to tell the difference between fact and opinion doesn’t diminish the distinction, or the importance of the difference, between the two.

      Quite the opposite of your portrayal, Clinton clearly sees her relationship with Aljazeera as an adversarial one, as her comments from the same Senate hearing reported here make brilliantly clear:

      Clinton promptly volunteered that America is in an “information war and we are losing the war,” and furthermore, that “Al Jazeera is winning”.

      Instead of your histrionics, which amount to nothing more than a refusal to acknowledge factual reality, or an attempt to obscure factual reality, a more constructive approach might be to ask why Aljazeera has had such a marked upsurge in popularity around the globe, and especially in the United States.

      In this regard I propose two theories:

      1) The Egyptian uprising that Aljazeera applauded was a triumph of nonviolence over the war system propagandized by American media, and

      2) The Egyptian uprising gave Aljazeera the opportunity to showcase the varied peoples of a predominately Muslim nation in all their diversity, not branding everyone as a religious fanatic as American media is want to do.

      As to your interjection of Jews into this debate, I’ve noticed that the only people that overstate the role of Jews in U.S. militancy are neocons (like David Brooks and Barry Rubin) and Jew baiters. Both are willing to sacrifice the humanity of American Jewry on the altar of ideological conceits.

      1. Michael H

        DownSouth: “Clinton promptly volunteered that America is in an “information war and we are losing the war,” and furthermore, that “Al Jazeera is winning”.

        Alexander Cockburn (author of the article which is linked above), has never been a fan of Hillary Clinton, as he made clear in a 3-part series, “The Making of Hillary Clinton”, that he co-authored in 2007, which begins with the following excerpt:

        “Hillary Clinton has always been an old-style Midwestern Republican in the Illinois style; one severely infected with Methodism, unlike the more populist variants from Indiana, Wisconsin and Iowa.”

        And continues in this vein until the end, with frequent excerpts such as the following:

        “Of course she supported without reservation the attack on Afghanistan and, as the propaganda buildup toward the onslaught on Iraq got underway, she didn’t even bother to walk down the hall to read the national intelligence estimate on Iraq before the war.”

        http://www.counterpunch.org/cockburn11142007.html

        1. Parvaneh Ferhadi

          For that was the admission of Hillary, that the US media is supposed to carry the propaganda message of the empire but is badly failing to do so, as it is losing ground to Al Jazeera.
          That point somehow gets lost in the discussion, she may not be all that concerned about the US media not telling the real story, she is complaining that the corporate message is not being delivered efficiently enough.

          1. Michael H

            Exactly. Hillary (and all US elites) are concerned that the US propaganda machine is losing out to Al Jazeera. Her (and their) proposed solution is to step up the propaganda. But there’s just one little problem, as Alexander Cockburn pointed out: “One has only to watch US TV for 10 minutes to conclude that America’s communicators no longer have the intellectual resources and political literacy to mount successful, well-informed propaganda.”

        2. LeeAnne

          Hillary complained about the frequency of commercials which was a subtle swipe at corporate control of the media. At least as close to complaining about corporate power as anyone making a living in Washington dares. Don’t ever forget, however you feel about her, she is a brilliant woman and savvy politician.

          I personally have the impression, since her comments during the Egyptian uprising, that Hillary is as evil as the worst of the war mongers. But, in my book she still has time to redeem herself. Perhaps after this term she can turn her talents into some real public service like fighting to maintain the open Internet.

    2. Philip Pilkington

      “I mean, seriously…you’re presenting a video on BIAS of all things…from an Arab centric news source “reporting” on Jews—in Hollywood.”

      But they didn’t ‘report’ on ‘Jews in Hollywood’. You’re just reading that into it because you assume that all Arabs are virulent anti-Semites. You say this explicitly while you read your prejudices – because they ARE that – into a show dealing with how the world’s largest superpower represents itself to itself on an important topic such as war.

      What about the protracted discussion on Vietnam? Was that an attempt to pin the war on ‘the Jews’? I somehow doubt it. This was, as far as I can see, an honest piece of film-making with no ‘hidden’ undertones.

      Will some make the connections that you allege they will make? Sure. Will everyone? Certainly not. Did I? Certainly not. Did Yves? I doubt it. Do Stone, Moore and Hedges? I doubt it. Finally, does the presenter? I’d be very surprised.

      Your hermeneutics of suspicion – your aptitude to read your own fears into other people’s intention – is more than a little paranoid. You conclusions are delusional and tinged with racism.

    3. readerOfTeaLeaves

      Golly, Dan. I hate to rain on your parade, but I actually watched this clip (twice) while doing some sundry catch-up on a Sunday, because I thought the piece was so well done.

      Around 19:50, Michael Moore speaks about markets for movies; his Fahrenheit 911 has made half a billion dollars, and he points out that at the time he made it, he was dismissed as if his career was **over** — precisely at the time that he won the Oscar for it.

      Moore posits that there is a market for accurate information that explains the world as it exists, not simply as those of us who live in the US would like to believe it is.

      That market is global. The movie market is global, and so, increasingly is television. Al Jazeera is presenting a perspective held by millions of people; to fail to listen carefully is willful blindness.

      Michael Moore didn’t make a movie that earned half a b-b-billion dollars simply by shoving his fingers in his ears and hollering ‘neener-neener-neener!’. He did it by thinking about the world and assembling documentary evidence, then telling the story of what it all meant.

      If you want to believe that this film clip is simply about ‘Jews’, then that’s your choice. I found it to be a thoughtful, relevant examination of what it means to portray war as ‘entertainment’. What does it mean to glorify war? How does that affect a culture, and its economy and its politics?

      Your comment makes quite clear you didn’t take the time to watch or listen to this AJE production. It’s well worth the time, for anyone who is interested in listening to a variety of perspectives in a global economy.

    4. Psychoanalystus

      No problem, Dan. We now return you to the O’Reilly Factor, program which in your home is always already in progress…

      Psychoanalystus

    5. Deus-DJ

      hmmmm….who was it who labeled Al-Jazeera as a propagandist and anti-american? To be brief: Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bill O’Reilly, and a few other conservatives.

      So you’re someone who believes these guys. And yes, you are, because your comment indicates you’ve never even watched Al-Jazeera. Oh, and this video has nothing to do with Jews, you retard.

      You pathetic Bush/Cheney/O’Reilly believing maggot.

    6. Salviati

      I smell an Israel-firster. If patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, then crying anti semitism at the mere sight of an arab, must be the first.

      But at least you shed some light on the elephant in the room, namely the question of whether there is an asymmetric concentration of Zionists in Hollywood, particularly among producers. While the link between the War Dept. and Hollywood explains the dehumanization of America’s enemies, it does not explain why Palestinians have been the most acutely and frequent target of demonization by Hollywood.

    7. bob

      Why is everybody always picking on Dan?

      His wit and sense of humor always leave me feeling better about myself and my fellow humans.

      1. lambert strether

        Ouch!

        I’ve got to remember that one. It’s far better than my line for trolls: “Thank you for commenting, ____. Your comment is very important to us. Please do not hesitate to comment again.” Perhaps I should randomly alternate them.

    8. AR

      this guy is really, really, not well.

      I would suggest some highly potent lithium and shock

      1. Cleetus Awreetus

        oh, you mean like how the Soviets treated their inconvenient critics, by psychiatrizing them ?

  9. DownSouth

    In order to understand what it is in human nature that makes war propaganda—-the appeals to violence, racism, nationalism, loot and plunder, etc.—-so beguiling, there’s probably not a better book than Peter Turchin’s War and Peace and War.

    In order to understand the fall of the “war system,” and the concomitant rise of the alternatives—-people’s war and nonviolence—-there’s no better book than Jonathan Schell’s The Unconquerable World.

    And in order to understand the nuts and bolts of the resurrection of the “war system” in the United States after the Viet Nam War, which should have been the death of it, there’s no better books than Andrew Bacevich’s The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War and its sequel, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism.

    According to Bacevich, the military profession was “at bay” following the Viet Nam war. However, militarism was unleashed again upon the American people by a confluence of forces:

    1) The neoconservative movement (“Chapter Three: Left, Right, Left”)
    2) Hollywood and Ronald Reagan (“Chapter Four: California Dreaming”)
    3) Right-wing evangelical Christians (“Chapter Five: Onward”)
    4) The military industry (“Chapter Six: War Club”)
    5) Realpolitik (“Chapter Seven: Blood for Oil”)
    6) The fact that the “American people have persuaded themselves that their best prospect for safety and salvation lies with the sword” (“Chapter Eight: Common Defense”)

  10. Jack Rip

    We got used to the propaganda arm of the rich masquerading as network news. Al Jazeera is a news organization period. It has some biases but it is mostly a good new TV. Although it is an Arab network, it will interview Israeli politicians when appropriate. Could you imagine Al Qaida spokesperson appearing on ABC news?

    Even our best papers have become, at least partially, arms of the ruling class. The best of them, the NY Times and in particular the WaPo, have long bouts of ruling class drunkenness.

    The protests in Wisconsin have been a great manifestation of a major event with social, political and financial ramification that the TV networks have practically ignored and played a 3rd banana in the papers.

    You would think that Hosni is our leader.

  11. Brett

    Great video — never thought about how Pentagon is involved behind the scenes in some of these movies.

  12. Blurtman

    John Wayne, star of numerous blood and guts war movies, bailed on military service, in what was then the most noble war of all.

    1. readerOfTeaLeaves

      There’s pretty good evidence that GW Bush went AWOL from his National Guard obligation.
      Richard Bruce Cheney had five (count ‘em, FIVE) military deferments during Viet Nam era, and later became Sec. of Defense under GHWBush.

  13. Ohmy911

    911 truth is the invisible elephant in news rooms of us media. Damned both way, if they do or don’t cover it. How to win an unwinable war? The nature of 911 truth is 9.81m/s2 which means it is obviously international, and unchanged.

  14. emca

    War and Hollywood are not new, only a current replay of convention:

    This 1957 Film Trailer:

    “Hellcats of the Navy”

    The trailer ends with “Greatest Glory” flashed across the screen as a come-on which would seem odd in that some had already had their shot at ‘glory’ a decade or so back and wouldn’t need actors to remind them of such…but than how quickly we forget.

  15. emca

    In case anyone thinks RR was only hawking military viewpoints (and Borax)in his pre-political life, this archival clip expounding nuances of modern (read GE) electric light proves otherwise:

    “1950′s electric lights promo”

    (a little canned laughter has been tastefully added, appropriate to mentality of the media past and present)

    Kind of like a training film on a civilian level.

  16. nonclassical

    The classic video expose’, “CONTROL ROOM” shows al-Jazeera
    reality. Reporters targeted by U.S. military, marine captain who later joins al-Jazeera, having travelled to middle-America to “poll” response to al-Jazeera, largely ex-British Middle-East correspondents from BBC make-up of al-Jazeera…

  17. Psychoanalystus

    Chris Hedges, who was featured in this Empire program, has written an excellent book called Empire of Illusion, which is highly recommended. He had an excellent interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now about his book. It comes highly recommended:

    http://www.democracynow.org/blog/2009/12/18/chris_hedges

    I think Hedges is 100 percent correct. This nation is an illusion. We borrow money to create the illusion of prosperity. We hallucinate in front of our Facebook page to create the illusion of a more (much more) perfect self, we send hundreds of text messages a day to create the illusion of relationships, we are addicted to reality shows where “we too” can any day now be a protagonist in order to sustain the illusion of our own celebrity. I can go on and on and on. So then why should we be surprised that Hollywood manufactures our craved illusion for victory?

    To me, as a psychologist, our sinking into illusion, delusion, and borderline hallucination is very troublesome. If any of you have children, you had better become informed about this problem, because this version of Kansas is truly scary and massively destructive to the human mind.

    Psychoanalystus

    1. notexactlyhuman

      Bazinga! I inhaled both Rushkoff’s Coercion and Hedge’s Empire of Illusion in a sitting. It was an overwhelming experience.

      While the masses are subdued by what are now nearly wholly manufactured and unnecessary human struggles within this grand global illusion, self-appointed kings are playing war-games with their marionettes for the sport of it. Capitalism is the biggest fraud ever perpetuated, in that it now serves but one purpose, to camouflage and preserve the ruling class.

      1. psychohistorian

        So when they come for you and I, will anyone care?

        We only have the example of how we live our lives and as much education of others as we can accomplish until our time is up.

  18. Bernard

    that Al Jazeera actually reports news is what is so strange here for Americans. we haven’t seen news in such a long time, Pre Bush, that may be one reason Hillary et al are so concerned. the internet has shown us that “real” news is factual and unbiased or at least should be.

    Here in America i haven’t seen news on American media for so long, i no longer bother looking for it on our “Liberal” media.

    the internet may not save freedom in America, but at least we know what unbiased reporting/news sounds like. ever since i saw “Wag the Dog” i knew the media was complicit in the Goebbels’ Big Lie the Republicans have successfully conned Americans with for the last 40 years.

    i really doubt America will ever see real “news” ever again. As Hillary said about the Drug war, “there is too much money in it” for truth to be spoken.

  19. lambert strether

    Agreed, Bernard. The most amazing thing for me when I live-blogged the Egyptian revolution was that Al Jazeera seemed like a throwback to the way that the networks used to be, twenty or thirty years ago, when they really could rise to the occasion: Anchors and producers who really could orchestrate the story in real time, reporters risking their lives, live camera coverage of events as they unfolded, 24/7, masterful use of split screens and the crawl, job descriptions that included covering the story, instead of propagating the official view, and on and on and on.

    When Mubarak finally left, the anchor conveyed the news, and then… Turned up the sound of the crowd in Tahrir Square and let them cheer. Because the story was about them, and not about him, or his feelings, or the reactions of some talking head in Versailles. A totally, totally classy gesture.

    Granted, Al Jazeera has its own biases — Brookings Doha, for pity’s sake, is well represented on its own roster of talking heads — but the contrast between the quality of their coverage and the propagandistic pseudo-coverage emitted by the fawning authoritarian followers in our own famously free press couldn’t have been more stark, and shows how very much we’ve lost in the neo-liberal regime that took over in the mid-70s.

  20. wendy davis

    I heard Clinton’s lament differently than most of you. I think she was calling for an increase in funding for State-run news agencies that would push American propaganda.

    I poked around the web, and found this:

    Analysts suggested the Secretary of State may have been hinting at taking the propaganda war to a whole new level. “Clinton seems to be calling for a government news network to compete with other government news networks (Russian and Chinese),” wrote media commentator Bruce McQuain in a piece for the conservative HotAir blog. “Sounds like someone really, really, really wants a government propaganda channel set up so we can present what we ‘truly are as Americans.’”

    http://www.thenewamerican.com/index.php/usnews/foreign-policy/6576-clinton-on-propaganda-budget-us-losing-information-war

    Dunno who ‘the new american’ is; it may not matter a whit.

  21. TC

    It was interesting that, at last Sunday’s Academy Awards as coincidence would have it, Oprah Winfrey (big Obama backer) gave out the award for “Best Documentary” to Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs for “Inside Job,” and when Ferguson laid bare “change you can believe” with a remark that, rather than drawing guffaws brought a fair amount of applause, it really was like a bomb going off. Just too many coincidences for this not to be imagined possessing something of the same quality of a mass strike action, such as is exploding all over the world.

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