The Origins of The Echo Chamber Project

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Dr. Cline asked me to give him some more background information as to the events leading up to why I decided to start The Echo Chamber documentary project for a paper he's working on.

I told a lot of this same information to Charles Cohen when he was profiling my wife and I for the cover story on this project that was published in the Baltimore City Paper a year ago. But not all of it made it into the final story, and so I thought I'd share it here as well.

At what point did you say to yourself: "I have to do something."
Going back to April 20th, 2002, I had attended one of the first anti-war rallies in DC before the Bush Administration kicked off their PR campaign to sell the Iraq war 4 months later. This is where I heard Phyllis Bennis from the Institute of Policy Studies speak for the first time.

After this, I saw Scott Ritter's name come up a number of times online and that's why I went to go hear him talk on August 22nd when he came through Baltimore. Ritter accurately predicted that the Bush Administration was going to go to war in Iraq, and that they were going to use WMD to sell it to the American public.

Four days later, I was on vacation when I saw highlights of Cheney launching the PR campaign to sell the war in Iraq. Ritter was so eerily correct in predicting what was going to happen that I started recording C-SPAN when I returned home in September and October of 2002. I had a very strong hunch from Ritter that the Bush Administration was going to sell the war based upon questionable intelligence...

I started reading analyses by Phyllis Bennis of the Congressional Authorization and UN Security Council Resolution 1441. She seemed to also be parsing through the superficial rhetoric and getting down to the true motivations and intentions -- something the US media really failed to do.

I originally intended to document the potential lies that were going to be told when I started recording C-SPAN. I then realized that the evening newscasts had better highlights of what the President had said each day.

But then the sniper case broke and became the top story by October 7th and dominated all news coverage leading up to the Congressional vote on October 10th & 11th. I really wondered why there wasn't more coverage of a debate about whether or not to authorize a potential war with Iraq.

I had also attended 4 out of the 5 major anti-war rallies on the East coast on 9-28-02, 10-26-02, 1-18-03 & 2-15-03. I heard so many dissident perspectives not being covered on the mainstream media.

I was also closely monitoring other perspectives from the UN and around the world that was being covered on C-SPAN, but not being included in the mainstream media anywhere else.

The thing that really put me over the top were daily shows like COUNTDOWN: IRAQ on MSNBC that were so completely focused on when the war was going to start without any curiosity of asking any skeptical or hard-hitting questions. There were also other documentaries on CNN that were assuming that war was inevitable.

When the war started on March 19th, I started recording anywhere from 60-80 hours of media coverage of the war a day until July 2003.

After monitoring a lot of the coverage of the war and leading up to it, I decided that most of the failures of the media were in the pre-war time period. I thought that they really failed to cover the full story that was taking place on an international scale.

The media were looking through the lens of US domestic politics and totally missed the story because they were not challenging any of the assumptions held within our US political bubble, but that were being challenged at anti-war rallies or within the International news coverage.

After the first couple of weeks when the military intervention began, I knew that there was too much information for me to sift through to make a film about that and ultimately decided to focus on the pre-war time period.

When did you decide to do the project?
The Echo Chamber documentary project evolved out of the timeline above. It also evolved out from my disgust from how the editors of the television programs were more interested in presenting dynamic pictures of military exercises than they were with reporting on the many inconsistencies between the Bush administration's domestic PR strategy and international PR strategy taking place at the UN.

The media seemed more concerned about the embedding process and military tactics than they were with doubts coming from rest of the world and the UN about the Bush Administration's evidence.

I also found the lack of moral outrage disgusting because in some cases it seemed like the journalists actually wanted the war to happen. I wanted to interview these journalists to find out their side of the story.

The documentary aspect of the project covers how the television coverage performed leading up to the war in Iraq. The latter phases of the project's roadmap deal more with incorporating techniques to harness the potential of grassroots and distributed journalism.

It's hard for journalists to make political judgments about facts over time, and I'd really like to try to incorporate more sophisticated intelligence analysis techniques to the field of journalism.

I believe that this pre-war time period is ripe with political deception that is just now starting to break through the mainstream consciousness. The many individual inconsistencies are too subtle to make journalistic conclusions on them alone because there is no one document or one source who is saying that the Bush Administration was using the UN as a pretext for war.

The Downing Street Memo is the most concrete evidence of this, but the US press can't report on it without aggregating sets of facts over time. The emergent meaning of many facts that scientists call theories is what journalists have difficulty in reporting. They may intuitively know the true story and be extremely candid in interviews for a documentary, but they don't connect these types of dots in their day-to-day coverage.

The scope of The Echo Chamber Project's Roadmap is too large for just one journalist or even on news organization -- but it is certainly possible with the appropriate tools and analytical methods that can harness the volunteer labor coming from across the world through the Internet.

If there is enough momentum through the first couple of phases of post-production on The Echo Chamber, then I'd love to explore some of the ways that I propose for accomplishing the democratization of media

Awsome production process idea, I question the topic though...

I was working in television news during the build up and first year of the 'war'. During my time as a video editor at the local level, I watched tons of news reports, packages and video, as well as read thousands of news wires (AP). I was working for the CBS affiliate so what I have to say really only applies to that network. From what I saw, CBS seemed to be biased AGAINST war and the Bush administration.
As the invasion loomed video protests were aired every weekend and on the rare weekdays that they occurred, and my particular station would go out to multiple protests every weekend. Sure there was video of Condalisa Rice, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfield going on about the need for the war, but there was also video of the chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix saying he didn't think Iraq had WMD's and video of Iraq giving up it's weapons documentation and it's Al Samud missile systems, as required by the UN.
My humble opinion is that this was not a failure of CBS in getting out the information, simply a failure in the audiences acceptance of the information. Post 9/11 the general public seems more willing, and wanting, to believe what our elected officials had to say; and the public values their word more then the opinion of a German born UN weapons inspector (especially when Germany was anti-war), and the public didn't trust any of the other people speaking against the war. It is an unfortunate truth that when the President speaks, people listen, no matter what he says, they listen. His office has a voice that cuts through the masses.
I sincerely hope that you take that into consideration while producing this documentary. The truth was there, on TV, in the papers, people just didn't listen.

On a production note; as a video producer, and news man, I find the scope and technology of your project to be astounding. This is truly a inspired step towards the future of film making in the era of free flowing information.

Hans Blix is Swedish, not

Hans Blix is Swedish, not German. While Sweden has not been part of the war effort, they did not strongly oppose the war, in the same way that Germany did. All I can say about the rest of your post, as a viewer at home, is that I didn't see it that way. Certainly the national/cable news outfits were uniformly pro-war. This perception is backed up by studies of airtime of protests and anti-war commentators vs. those supporting invasion during that period.

WMDs were a subplot not a pretext

Saddam had to be removed. He had started two wars in the most volatile part of the world and 9/11 showed that the region was becoming more unstable. Bush (and Clinton) knew this but there was the problem of how to get the American public behind the war. So Bush used the only argument that would give him the support he needed. He emphasized the threat Saddam posed to America itself. But he wasn't dishonest about that threat. He repeatedly said that the threat must be faced BEFORE IT BECAME IMMANENT. This point should be obvious to anyone who considers the nature of the weapons available now. So it was never about what Saddam had but what he would obtain given the chance. I know this was the point Bush made because it was the point that made me change my mind about the war. The real threat was always Saddam himself.