Making reference to Citizenfour and Outfoxed critically evaluate how documentary films have enhanced understanding of the war on terror.
The two films, Citizenfour and Outfoxed, both present compelling views and greater understanding of the term “War on Terror”. Both films are documentaries that present every facet of truth that the public needs to know about the violations of the government and the media in having their own way with regards to countering terrorism. While Outfoxed shows how media manipulates the public by spreading misinformation at a nationwide scale, even with the subtlety and the level of sophistication that Fox News has employed, it presents the flaws of the media as an institution to create awareness rather than spread lies. Citizenfour, on the other hand, presents an entirely different story. While the media may say things to the public outright, it is still up to the general public to judge whether a story is true or not, or whether manipulation is present. On a different note, Citizenfour exposed the foulness the government’s measures in detecting terrorism. The two films are different from each other in that the unveiling of the sensitive information present in Citizenfour would not have been possible without the initiative of the whistleblower of NSA’s surveillance, Edward Snowden (Greenwald, MacAskill, and Poitras, 2013). Nevertheless, both films provide elaborate information regarding what both the state and the media can and will do to gain advantage and get ahead of the game as far as politics and anti-terrorism advocacies are concerned.
Citizenfour is one documentary film that, apart from being informative and full of new information is also compelling and entertaining at some points. When Laura Poitras received an email message from an anonymous tip (Poitras, 2014), where it said that she is going to get her hands on some intelligence from the government of the United States which later turned out to be very shocking, that is where the film got really interesting. The anonymous tip was, of course, from Edward Snowden—more commonly known as the whistleblower of the National Security Agency. At this point, there is particular emphasis on the sobering fact that the government has indeed gone through great lengths for national security (Ward, 2014), as part of a protocol for war on terror in identifying potential terrorists and preventing their possible moves around the country. The film also emphasized the path of complete anonymity and precaution that the people involved have chosen, as Greenwald and Poitras met with Snowden in Hong Kong, a meeting that they claimed turn life into a spy novel (Lam, 2015). They stayed for more than a week at a hotel in the Chinese city. They spent their time interviewing Snowden, sometimes just staring at him while he shuffles across the hotel room or look out of the window for hours. They talk about the possible implications of the information that Snowden held for a time, and how to disseminate this information to the public.
The so-called War on Terror is an initiative by the government that indeed requires highly qualified and intelligent minds to accomplish tasks that could be mentally exhausting and, in addition, not for the faint-hearted. The job of the National Security Agency has been magnified ever since the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Snowden was hired because of his sharp intelligence and talent in concealing information through encryption and some IT skills (Harding, 2014), something that the agency has seen to be a great asset in both preventing and fighting terrorism. Citizenfour showed a visual portrayal of Snowden, where he came off as a character who is very appealing and cunning in nature. He may have struck the entire audience to be an eloquent, intelligent weirdo who is somehow self-centered. Since he is a whistleblower, he also came off to be mildly paranoid about what is going on, which was evident by the way that he is overprotective with his laptop password as he covered it with blanket while he typed (Poitras, 2014). At that point, it was not quite clear what Snowden may be eluding. Perhaps he thought that NSA somehow managed to hide a camera in his hotel room. Nevertheless, Snowden is certainly the character that this documentary film will not live without, as his statements on the government’s actions against terrorism made the story gripping and full of suspense, even if most of the audience already knew what would happen in the end. The film has started to drag at the point when Snowden was out of the frame.
In the latter part of the film, we see more of Greenwald and Poitras as they reunite with Edward Snowden at a hotel in Moscow, Russia (Mirkinson, 2014). That was where Greenwald reported of a potential second source of inside intelligence from the NSA, clearly inspired by the first one gathered by Snowden. It was later revealed that this news he carried was nothing new at all, particularly regarding a launch of a drone strike which went all the way up to the president of the United States, something which was considered common knowledge at that time. The information revealed in this part of the film helps the viewer understand the elaborate process and significant importance of anonymity. However, in this particular context, this cloak has been used against the government that swore to protect its citizens, since Snowden claimed of a monumental scale of invasion of privacy nationwide.
Citizenfour is one documentary film that pronounces War on Terror like nothing else, but it also showcased the extreme paranoia that the government may have had in the past years because of the 9/11 attacks, compelling them to take measures that cost the privacy of millions of Americans. As the film progressed, Greenwald has further disclosed that over a million Americans are being closely watched by the government. The program was called TIDE, short for Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (Danchev, 2016), which was later known to be managed by the National Counterrorism Center. The film definitely wants to make an impression that the statistics disclosed by Greenwald with regards to the number of people being watched was true, which raised panic to the general public. The program has allowed the existence of law enforcement entities virtually everywhere in the country.
The existence of such an intrusive government program, as claimed by Snowden in the film, is a clear form of abuse and invasion of privacy of the people involved, something that is counterproductive in the context of War on Terror. The program has definitely raised fear and paranoia to the residents of the United States (Blake, Robinson, and Dury, 2013)—fear of technologies that the people did not knew existed, and is watching their every move. The people fear that the program had made it virtually not possible for every single person to have the freedom of speech to speak against the power of the state.
Edward Snowden created a preface that sends the message about the probability of policies being switched sometime in the future. However, until the end of Obama’s presidential term, this switch has not materialized. The Obama commissioners released a report in which they stated that there is no evidence regarding the abuse of authority or any form of illegality associated with the targeting of political activities in the domestic scale. With this being said, the legitimate concern lies with potential abuse that these 1.2 million people are facing (MacAskill, 2014). As a step forward, the film conveys that the most sensible move would be the undoing of this national endeavor of looking into everyone’s lives, even if most of these people are not remotely involved in a possible terrorist attack.
A decade earlier, a documentary film has been produced by Robert Greenwald called Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism (2004), which is actually an impeccable exposure and dissection of the television network giant, Fox News, including aspects such as the methods, politics, and the company’s ambitious goals. The film shows how the company has indeed intended to spread misinformation to the general public, as well as to keep them in constant hostility and fear and direct these negative emotions and actions to very specific demographics such as people of color, Democratics, and homosexual individuals. In essence, the film shows the manipulative nature of the media that later showed implications on the government’s War on Terror.
The visual style presented in this film has shown in an elaborate manner just exactly how mass media has changed over time, especially in reference to the aftermath and the after-effects of the September 11 attacks and the War on Terror initiative. The film wants to point out that big news and media companies such as Fox are striving to attain huge control over the majority of the population, manipulating their political decisions so that they may be inclined to embrace these political views. The company uses specific audience who are well-versed at media themselves, and so that these people would eventually do their dirty work for them, through the use of web logs, emails, and even films created merely on inexpensive digital cameras. In essence, the company has harnessed the power of the influential people on the internet to spread misinformation to Americans all over the country.
The main premise of the film is to expose the Fox News Channel as one that is entirely biased, conservative, and favors the Republican party (Talbi, 2014). It is a known fact that the War on Terror is an advocacy that was initiated by former president George W. Bush, who came from the Republican Party (U.S. Department of State, n.d.). Outfoxed has indeed connected these dots that referred to favoring the Republican party and supporting this initiative through public manipulation by media. The film presents a fairly legitimate argument with regards to the opinion that the company’s claim to be delivering only balanced and fair news to the public is merely a lie (Fox News, 2004). This news cover about a news company then calls for a gripping, affecting, and nuanced cinematic feat, something that may have been expected by the audience from this documentary.
The film exhibits a compelling compilation of videos that are at the very least condemning, as well as testimonies from experts in the field which showed that Fox News has indeed violated the ethics of journalism and freedom of press (Grynbaum, 2004). In a way, the documentary sort of fell short on the way that cinema is supposed to be attractive and engaging. However, this is not to say that the evidence gathered by the media and the producers is not compelling and interesting at all. Through the use of many different clips from interviews and news aired on the channel, Robert Greenwald has somehow managed to give the general public a comprehensive view of how the company has twisted the truth in national television (Greenwald, 2004).
Outfoxed sits alongside Fahrenheit 9/11, the documentary about the presidency of George Bush and the War on Terror (The Independent, 2004). Outfoxed has indeed failed to communicate the ideas that were so abstract, that it may be watchable by the general audience. As the creator of Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore has demonstrated his talent as a maker of films, showing how national policy and internal corporate politics might affect the average American citizen (Frankel, 2004). In an almost exactly opposite way, Greenwald has failed to woe its apathetic audience because he used statistics to flash on screens (Grynbaum, 2004), instead of more interesting facts and an elaborate explanation of the events. This means to say that Outfoxed fell short in terms of showmanship. Nevertheless, the statistical elements were still useful in presenting facts that are closely related to the war on terrorism.
Outfoxed has some very meaningful offenses that are mainly journalistic and not cinematic in nature, and that in itself is a great irony of the film. Still, beyond the flaws that can be found on the surface of this film, it can be quite interesting to note that Outfoxed has managed to convey a very important message to the American. This is the fact that the coverage of the Fox News channel is full of half-truths, dishonesty, fear-mongering, and obvious partisanship. These are only the elements required for politics to dominate and misinform the public on what the government has in store for its war on terrorism.
Perhaps the most influential clip that was included in this film the interview of Jeremy Glick with Bill O’Reilly. Jeremy is a son of one of the victims of the September 11 attacks (Greenwald, 2004; Seifter, 2004). The interviewee has attempted to defend his position and refusal of the foreign policy of George W. Bush after the attacks. Bill O’Reilly was quite enraged at the response, and even exclaimed that Jeremy’s father would not have approved of what he had said. The interviewer has later claimed that Jeremy had just accused of the former president that he knew about the September 11 attacks and that he murdered Jeremy’s father. From the clip, it was quite clear that Jeremy Glick did not say anything of the sort, but O’Reilly created the implications for what he thought was the benefit of the show. Critics have seen this move as one repugnant behavior which has also clearly demonstrated the distortion and hypocrisy of the network itself.
The most striking quality of the scene as explained above is the astounding amount of bias that the network presents in favor of the Republican party. The host of the show was clearly paranoid and even accused the guest of alleging the involvement of George W. Bush in the 9/11 attacks, which was completely unnecessary, albeit in a subtle way.
Despite its flaws, it is quite easy to tell that Outfoxed is a more dependable film than Fahrenheit 9/11 as far as the telling of media bias in the War on Terror is concerned. Greenwald has managed to uncover the insolent qualities of Fox News on air, which later proved them to be highly biased and dishonest beyond reasonable doubt. The film did not fail to do this in its impeccable compilation of the clips. The documentary film indeed presents visuals that are less than appealing at most clips, but it also did not fail to dissect Fox News’ infamous strategies for twisting facts in every news report (WWU Department of Journalism, n.d.). The anchors have basically parroted most, if not all, of the talking points within the White House, inspiring fear among the audience using terminologies that are unsettling at best, and present uncertainty and untrustworthy reporting with the way that they phrase their news.
As a final note, upon close analysis of the two films, the main takeaway is that the two entities who have the power to manipulate the public and twist the truth are the media and the government. Citizenfour and Outfoxed presented a greater understanding of the War on Terror in the context of the paranoia and bias of the state and the media. Outfoxed is a documentary is one that presents a comprehensive investigation of bias in the news channel, whether they are unconscious or not. It shows the onset and aftermath of the War on Terror, in the context and perspective of the media. Citizenfour is an exposure of the outrageous activities of the government in the interest of detecting terrorism nationwide, at the cost of the privacy of millions of Americans. The greater understanding of the war on terrorism here is that both institutions can and will go great lengths and extra miles to counter terrorism, no matter the cost.References
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