We’ve often criticized the military public affairs community—and for obvious reasons.
At various turns, the P.A. “pros” in the armed services have demonstrated an appalling ignorance of today’s ever-changing media landscape. During the early days of the Iraq War, they were reluctant to embed bloggers with combat units—never mind that many of the citizen-journalists were more balanced in their coverage than the MSM, and more than a few had prior military experience.
More recently, some public affairs officers have supported efforts to restrict (or even ban) blogging by military personnel. Instead of recognizing milbloggers as a new outlet for information—outside the filter of the MSM—P.A. types tried to maintain their monopoly, not caring that their “plan” was doomed to fail in an era of near-universal internet access, even from the battlefield.
And, when the public affairs community decides to engage the “media,” their efforts often fall flat, or produce unwanted embarrassment. The latest example was on display Sunday night, during the annual Academy Awards telecast.
Someone in Hollywood apparently thought it would be neat to have troops in Iraq introduce nominated films—a minor nod to the armed forces. You know, the troops that the entertainment industry supports, even if they oppose the mission. The military chain signed off on the idea, and Sunday night, a group of public affairs specialists introduced the nominees for “Best Short Subject Documentary.”
Nothing wrong with that, you say. Think again. On the same night the troops appeared, the Academy show-cased three feature-length documentaries that were decidedly against the War on Terror, Bush Administration policies, and by default, the U.S. military. “No End in Sight offers what New York Times critic A.O. Scott calls a "clear, temperate and devastating account of high-level arrogance and incompetence in Iraq."
“Operation Homecoming” is built around the “recollections of soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.” One of the film’s highlights is a former soldier reading his fictional composite of several events, which recounts the shooting of an Iraqi farmer by an American solider. The episode, according to Times’ reviewer Stephen Holden, reaches a tragically absurd conclusion in which the American treats the farmer, whose “vital organs were piled on top of him” with an IV.
The third anti-war film, “Taxi to the Dark Side,” tells the story of Dilwar, an Afghan cab driver who was detained by U.S. forces in 2002 and died in custody at Bagram AB a few months later. According to Mr. Scott, the film charts a path to Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, all the while insisting that the brutal treatment of prisoners in those places was hardly the work of a few “bad apples,” as Pentagon officials said. Instead, the sexual humiliation, waterboarding and other well-documented practices were methods sanctioned at the very top of the chain of command.
Never mind that multiple investigations have debunked those claims—and recent testimony revealed that only three prisoners were waterboarded. If you accept “Taxi’s” premise, the U.S. military is filled with bad apples, ready to torture anyone in their custody. Incidentally, “Taxi” won the Oscar for best documentary, and in his acceptance speech, director Alex Gibney delivered the obligatory anti-American diatribe: ““Lets hope we can turn this country around, move away from the dark side and turn back to the light.”
So, in other words, U.S. troops in Iraq wound up “sharing” the stage (even by satellite) with film makers who depict them as sadistic, traumatized, or willing dupes for a criminal administration. And, I don’t care how much time elapsed between the short and feature documentary segments, American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines should not be pawns for the Academy, or the public affairs community. New York Post film critic Kyle Smith (a veteran of the first Gulf War) spoke for many military personnel—current and former—with this observation:
Given that the most recent statistics show that approximately 97.4 percent of all documentaries present America as a scary place and of those 97.4, most are meant to present the troops in Iraq as overmatched at best and as abusive, sadistic criminals at worst, it’s pretty cheeky of the Oscars to have troops serving overseas present the Oscar for best documentary short subject.
“Move away from the dark side and back to the light,” the director of “Taxi to the Dark Side” says. I doubt our troops agree that we are stuck in the dark side. I think they would argue that the vast majority of them abide by the law, by the rules of engagement and by their own moral compasses, yet they get little feeling of support from their country because those who work in the media are bent on presenting sordid, depraved and illegal acts committed by members of the military and intelligence services (which are of course elements in this war, as they are in every war) as the norm in order to undercut the war and defund the troops.
My only critique of Mr. Smith is that he gives too much “credit” to the Motion Picture Academy and not enough to the Pentagon bone-heads who signed off on this project. The young P.A. specialists who provided the introductions were inadvertently placed in a difficult position. They performed admirably before a hostile audience (applause inside the Kodak Theater was middling, at best), but they should have never been placed in that position.
Someone in the Pentagon public affairs hierarchy will probably get a medal or a performance award for Sunday night’s spectacle. They should be fired.