Activist Films / Videos
Gatewood Documentary
Media Facility
Barbara Trent
Current Activism

Contact Us

lecture topics

Barbara's Schedule | Lecture Topics | Barbara's Resume

Colorado Daily, January 27, 2000

Filmmaker to speak on media deception

Academy Award-winner filmed U.S. war with Panama


Colorado Daily Staff Writer

Soldiers indiscriminately 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 Boulder tonight.

"The Panama Deception," which won the 1992 Academy Award for best documentary film, claims to tell the ugly truth behind the invasion from the government's secret, sinister motives to the killings of thousands of innocent civilians.

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 Center.

The North Carolina filmmaker said she plans to use the film as a jumping-off point for discussing how the U.S. establishment media continue to fail in their mission to inform the public.

"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," Trent said.

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 American intervention, 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 prompting a U.S. bombing campaign 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 weapons."

According to Trent, while "everybody knows they can't believe the government," Americans still seem to believe in the myth of a free American press.

"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 free to the highest bidder, as a rule 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 truth? ...

"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 said.

"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:
Empowerment Project
2007 Jo Mac Road
Chapel Hill NC 27516
Phone: 919.967.1963
Fax: 919.967.1963


top of page


Activist Films & Videos | Gatewood Documentary | Media Facility | Speaking Appearances | Resources | Current Activism | Contact Us

Copyright © 2000-2003 by the Empowerment Project. All rights reserved.