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Colorado Daily, January 27, 2000
Filmmaker to speak
on media deception
filmed U.S. war
By TERJE LANGELAND
Colorado Daily Staff Writer
killing unarmed women and children and torching poor neighborhoods. Bodies of civilians being
piled into mass graves. Occupying
forces controlling the media and
throwing those who disagree with
them in jail.
Scenes from Serbia's campaign
of oppression in Kosovo?
Guess again. Although you didn't learn about in the corporate-controlled media, these horrifying atrocities were financed with
your tax dollars and carried out by
American GIs during the 1989
U.S. invasion of Panama, according to a film being shown at CU
"The Panama Deception," which
won the 1992 Academy Award for best
documentary film, claims to tell the
ugly truth behind the invasion Ê from
the government's secret, sinister
motives to the killings of thousands of
The film's director, Barbara Trent,
will lead a discussion following the
screening, which is sponsored by the
Cultural Events Board and kicks off at
7 p.m. in the Glenn Miller Ballroom at
the University Memorial
The North Carolina
filmmaker said she plans
to use the film as a jumping-off point for discussing how the U.S.
continue to fail in their
mission to inform the
"We will talk about
how the media is able to
get away with giving us
such little information
about really important
issues," Trent said in an interview. "It'll
be Q & A, so it'll touch on lots of topics. It will touch on issues about the
economics of censorship, why it is that
we continue to get certain perspectives, why they become available in
our living room, on the television and
in the newspaper."
During the Panamanian invasion
and in its aftermath, the dominant
U.S. media ignored the human tragedy
that unfolded and instead served as a
mouthpiece for the propaganda put out
by the Pentagon, Trent's movie asserts.
The film juxtaposes statements by
government spokesmen who paint a
picture of a squeaky-clean military
operation with footage that tells a different story. A U.S. official says he has
no knowledge of Panamanian civilians
buried in mass graves, and the film cuts
to a grisly scene showing decomposed
bodies being pulled from a mass grave.
A spokesman says the operation targeted military installations only, and the
film cuts to sweeping scenes of entire
urban neighborhoods that were wiped
out, leaving thousands dead or homeless.
"It's such a crystal-clear example."
Trent said of the film. "The details
unravel so beautifully, which is why we
continue to use it as a basis to discussion about the world today."
During the invasion, the U.S. government controlled media coverage by allowing only a
"pool" of journalists to be flown in,
who were then confined to a military
base for one and a half days. Although
they grumbled over this treatment, the
major media still reported the
Pentagon's version of the truth while
ignoring trivial matters such as the fact
that the United Nations condemned
the invasion as a "flagrant violation of
international law," the film maintains.
This strategy proved so successful
that the Bush administration repeated
it during the Persian Gulf War.
"Panama was like a
little test ground for
Iraq, and it proved that
the U.S. public would
sit by and let it happen,"
Things have only
gotten worse in the past
decade, Trent said.
During the recent U.S.
war against Serbia, the
media played up the
humanitarian crisis in
Kosovo to help justify
while ignoring a much
larger humanitarian crisis in Iraq,
caused by U.S. policy.
While fewer than 2,000 people
were reportedly killed in Kosovo during several months of Serbian terror Ê
prompting a U.S. bombing campaign
Ê some 5,000 Iraqi children are dying
every month because of U.S.-backed
economic sanctions, a death toll
Secretary of State Madeline Albright
has said is justifiable.
"Can you explain to me the difference here?" Trent asked. "Am I missing
something? Why weren't the newspapers doing that analogy? ... We were
just fed and fed this information on the
Albanians, and we are encouraged and
we are prepared to do anything to end
this situation, even if it means killing a
whole bunch more people."
Part of the answer to Trent's questions lies in the corporate ownership of
most of the major media, she suggested.
"Some of the largest corporations
in the world (own) an enormous
amount of the media," Trent said.
"Anytime so much of your media,
whether it's a lot of your cable stations,
one of the networks, your radio, your
newspapers, if that's all being brought
to you by the same entity, obviously
you're going to get less diversity
because that entity is going to publish,
print, broadcast stories that serve its
interests around the world. ... What is
the value to Westinghouse if we go to
war? Well, obviously, they'll sell more
According to Trent, while "everybody knows they can't believe the government," Americans still seem to
believe in the myth of a free American
"The one thing about living in a
country that censors from the government down is when the people read the
paper, they know they're reading a censored paper," Trent said. "People in this
country, because we boast of having
the freest press in the world Ê free to
the highest bidder, as a rule Ê they
think they're getting the real news."
The sad reality, she said, is that
while the media in other democratic
countries usually offer opposing points
of view, "all of the major papers in
(this) country by and large give us the
same perspectives on each issue and
quote the same people."
News consumers should try to
remember "what a job title means"
when weighing the credibility of the
people being quoted, Trent said.
"If somebody's the CIA spokesperson or the Pentagon spokesperson, you
have to say to yourself, 'this man is paid
a lot of money to lie,'" she said. "I
mean, how many times do we have to
learn that lesson? When was the last
time a Pentagon spokesman told us the
"We just have to demand that our
media looks critically at everything
that happens in the world," Trent said.
"We have to assume that the major
corporations and all the major media
are feeding us the information that
serves their interest, and we have to
ask our local newspapers, well what are
their interests? ... Perhaps instead of
always demonstrating in front of the
federal buildings, maybe we need to
demonstrate in front of the major
media outlets in our communities and
we need to demand answers."
Even "The Panama Deception"
should be subject to skepticism, Trent
"I encourage people to question the
film," she said. "Even though we put
the sweat that we put into that film to
try to get it right, I encourage people to
take issue and to explore and see if they
can't dig out some piece that we missed
or that we got wrong."
For those who can't make it to
tonight's screening, the film "The
Panama Deception" is available at the
Boulder Public Library.
To book Barbara to speak at your institution contact:
2007 Jo Mac Road
Chapel Hill NC 27516
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