Five nights a week on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” you can see the words of politicians come back to haunt them in news-clip montages that expose their perceived hypocrisy with biting hilarity.
Nothing is funny, however, about “War Made Easy: How Presidents & Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death,” a new documentary narrated by actor Sean Penn that will be shown at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Crest Theatre. Tickets: $10.
Left-leaning filmmakers Loretta Alper and Jeremy Earp use the same style of juxtaposing the harsh realities of the Iraq war with alternately sunny Bush administration sound bites made in the run-up to the conflict.
Indeed, it’s a documentary style used effectively in recent years by filmmakers Michael Moore and Robert Greenwald. In fact, many of the same clips trotted out here are those in Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11.” There’s President Bush’s “yellow cake uranium” sound bite, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's Seussian “There are known knowns...,” and Vice President Dick Cheney’s “we’ll-be-greeted-as-liberators” line.
But this documentary ratchets up its own agit-prop a notch by also putting sound bites of a smirking Rumsfeld talking about the humanity of U.S. “smart bombs” up against images (culled from foreign news footage, by the way) of Iraqi and Afghan children maimed by those same bombs.
What makes “War Made Easy” worth watching is not the charges of propaganda leveled against the government. Rather, it’s how the mainstream media, particularly cable TV news stations, played a major role in making the case for war.
Judging by the news clips pieced together, the media comes off as either co-conspirators or dupes, and seem little more than mouthpieces.
Alper and Earp wrote “War Made Easy,” but its inspiration - and much of the material - comes from progressive media critic Norman Solomon, whose voice is heard almost as often as Penn’s.
Solomon, a pundit for progressives, makes no pretense of objectivity. But using the mainstream media’s own words and images against them, he makes a persuasive argument that a “drumbeat media echo effect” helped sell the war to the American people.
Fox News’ pro-war coverage is taken as a given in this documentary. But Solomon comes down hard on CNN and MSNBC, as well, for stoking pro-war sentiment. Plus, the three networks and major newspapers, such as the New York Times and Washington Post, do not go unscathed.
Solomon, for example, excoriates a CNN news chief for boasting – on air – that the retired generals it was using for “expert analysis” got the “thumbs up” from the defense department.
Late in the documentary, clips of TV and print reporters issuing “media culpas” about how they should have been more skeptical is compared to clips of reporters saying the same thing in the latter days of the Vietnam War. “The media establishment,” Solomon says, “is always way behind the grass roots.”