Live From Baghdad (2002); Directed By: Mick Jackson; Starring: Michael Keaton, Helena Bonham Carter and Joshua Leonard

By: Elizabeth Hagele, Waverly Hurd and Lindsay Geier

October 24, 2016

The accessibility and instant ability today’s media platforms are capable of is essential to have as citizens of the United States. Mass communication is “the process of creating shared meaning between the mass media and their audiences” (Baran, 6). Over the past century we have become very reliant on mass communication platforms to understand and comprehend what is occurring in our surrounding societies. Live From Baghdad directed by Mick Jackson follows CNN reporters Robert Wiener, Ingrid Formanek, Bernard Shaw, and Peter Arnett as they first handedly experience and witness the injustices that are occurring leading up to the first war in Iraq. Throughout the film, audience members are subjected to make note of the trivial moments leading up to the war and the strong influence media had on both countries’ government officials.

When the United States was solely reliant on the radio, it posed the issue of spectrum scarcity. The Federal Radio Commission (FRC) put regulations on the amount of space that was granted to those who possessed licenses (Baran, 158). As time progressed, the technological continuity was exhibited, as the use of the television became a powerful and fundamental tool especially during the war in Iraq.

Throughout the progression of Live From Baghdad, CNN became a big name on the board for news channels. Weiner says, “We are a 24-hour network looking for a 24-hour story. One just fell from the sky…” (Live From Baghdad, 2:35). The footage CNN broadcasted to the American people was not only essential in helping citizens understand what was occurring through TV news coverage, but also helped government officials make decisions and state their opinion on the detrimental situation. CNN was able to be a 24/7 news-story due to an elaborate phone system creating 24-hour coverage live from Baghdad. This technological device, otherwise known as the four-wire, embraced cultural change in Baghdad (Baran, 16). CNN was now able to stream live coverage of bombings and mass destructions happening in those very instances. Wiener tricked Naji al Haditi, the Minister of Information, into obtaining this wire for his crew saying that it would be used to communicate with another CNN crew nearby, when in reality it was connected to their home base in Atlanta.  This wire was equipment only used by CNN and is debated to be the most significant factor in CNN’s rise in the television industry. Weiner claimed, “people aren’t gonna wait until 7 o’clock at night to find out whether we’re at war or not. They’re going to tune into CNN” (Live From Baghdad, 2:20).

CNN became the middleman between the government for Iraq and the United States. Both officials Sadaam Hussein and President George Bush used the power of the television to elude to particular viewpoints and actions to be taken by their countries. At 31:10, George W. Bush and the American government create a video to the Iraqi people. He says, “Once again, Iraq finds itself on the brink of war.” Bush eludes to the fact that he knows the Iraqi people do not want this but it is their miscalculated government who is at fault. The trickle effect from this video results in the bombing of Iraq (Live From Baghdad 1:25:00). As noted from this particular moment of the movie, as audience members it is extremely evident that CNN is benefiting from the situation as they become a reliable and essential source to the happenings in Iraq.

Throughout the moments where the United States and Iraq are communicating through CNN, Naji Al-Hadithi says: “All governments use the press.. That’s reality. I use you, you use me. We’re the same” (Live From Baghdad 52:45). Both countries use the media to their advantage to create a bias, as they attempt to manipulate the situation for their own country’s benefit. For instance, at 13:40, Hussein holds a press conference with a young British boy. This broadcast from the Iraqi people attempts to manipulate the situation by stating that their relations with the “guests” in their country is both peaceful and civil. As CNN gains permission to use Hussein’s segment to further broadcast to the American people, the newscaster Bernard Shaw states, “In the rest of the world they are called hostages, but here they are called guests.” This particular example demonstrates how CNN is trying to get a rise out of the American people and put things blatantly into perspective for them. Another example (Live From Baghdad 47:00) of how Iraq manipulated the situation to benefit themselves was when Naji sends CNN to the hospital following up on the story about how Hussein’s army unplugged babies’ incubators. Naji purposely sets it up for CNN to fail and to report to the Iraqi people and the American people that nothing has changed. Robert Weiner and Ingrid Formanek instantly realize that Naji used CNN to create a wild goose chase, ultimately making the CNN broadcasters the center story.

CNN revolutionized the television industry as “the people’s eyes and ears-and-power-where before they had little” (Baran, 211). The 24-hour story Live From Baghdad provided CNN’s audience and viewers with credible, hard news to ultimately provide “stories that help citizens to make intelligent decisions and keep up with important issues of the day” (Baran, 108). This film demonstrates how one media news network, CNN, was able to become the most influential and powerful among others because CNN was the first news station to broadcast live footage from a war-zone.