By David Swanson
The Independent Film Channel is airing a series of four programs this week that illustrate the kind of media we need in this country. The four programs, titled “Fear,” “War,” “Greed,” and “Disaster,” feature the reporting of four independent unembedded journalists: Max Blumenthal, Nir Rosen, Charlie LeDuff, and Andrew Berends. The 30-minute episodes premiere Monday, May 24 through Thursday, May 27 at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT.
I’ve had a chance to preview the “War” episode, featuring Nir Rosen, and highly recommend it. Rosen is a freelance, unembedded, writer, photographer, and filmmaker who has reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Somalia. The IFC show is, necessarily, self-referential, but the reporting included is of the sort that ought to be routine and not need to call attention to itself. That independent online and cable video always presents serious journalism as a novelty is precisely what’s wrong with our communications system; there ought to be serious journalism in all news media all the time.
By serious journalism, I mean the stuff that those in power would never pay you to produce. (And there’s the bind.) Rosen describes his work as “an act of defiance, trying to smack people in the face.” (Nobody pays you to smack them in the face.)
The IFC show looks at corruption and waste in Afghanistan, the corruption and waste of the United States and its “reconstruction” contractors in Afghanistan and back home. Rosen focuses on a major power plant built during Afghan election season by U.S. contractor and “Halliburton of Afghanistan” the Louis Berger Group Inc. One drawback is that the power plant does not work, does not do what the people in Kabul need or want, and the area is still dark at night.
The film includes the voices and faces of Afghans, and contrasts their views of the U.S. occupation with those of the corporate congressional complex in Washington, where $80 million is spent in a year by military lobbyists. There is clearly a wide chasm between plans for Afghanistan that are made in the United States or Europe and what might actually work in Afghanistan. The Minister of Planning in Afghanistan resigned in protest of corruption. A poster child for corruption is Louis Berger. The company was hired to build 420 schools and clinics, and built 90, while performing equally poorly on a contract to build highways.
That kind of performance might not look good, if anyone noticed. So what’s a responsible corporate “person” to do? Just what you would like to do, I suppose, if you’d screwed up to the tune of billions of dollars and put thousands of lives at greater risk. Louis Berger took more U.S. taxpayer dollars and produced a television show for Afghan TV celebrating the successes of its failed projects. Afghans have been shown on their television screens fantastical images of an idyllic and happy life in Afghanistan. Most of them, nonetheless, seem to be opting to believe their own eyes instead.
Rosen is shown returning to Washington, D.C., where he questions a Louis Berger vice president. When the vice president mentions his corporation’s “client,” Rosen asks whether that is the American people. No, the corporate executive explains, he meant the U.S. government. It’s an important distinction.