Separating the nation’s politics from its media is truly the Gordian knot of our time. The impossible task of journalism to provide an impartial view is further obfuscated by a news organization’s politics, a state’s politics, a nation’s politics, and the spin put on at each level of interpretation.
In such a polarized environment, a refreshing wind has blown across party lines, doing what the popular media has failed at during our war in Iraq. Huge media outlets with access to vast amounts of money didn’t even come close to the in-depth, humanistic coverage that a common citizen got with a fake press pass and a camera.
Mike Shiley has been described as an average Joe and an avid traveler. His words are simple, but combined with his daring actions, they pack quite a punch. “After seeing images of the Iraq war on the nightly news, I knew there was much more to the story than the mainstream media was telling us,” Shiley said. “I decided to go to Iraq myself to meet the people and document what was going on first-hand. The media only shows bombs and press conferences, the world deserves more.”
Teamed up only with local television affiliate KATU in Portland, OR and a local guide, Shiley donned his used bulletproof vest and captured some of the most brutally honest coverage of Iraq’s people the world has seen yet. “The result is a fascinating, unfiltered perspective– devoid of any overt political stance and unbogged-down by talking-head analysis,” according to a Missoula newspaper, The Independent.
Shiley’s 95 minute film, “Inside Iraq: the Untold Stories,” has been featured at six prominent film festivals. Reactions to the film have been very positive, with the expected negative responses mixed in. For example, this response came from a caller from Portland, Oregon, “Hi. I am a retired veteran (Vietnam era) and I think you are being very liberal with your views. I will do everything I can to get you off the radio. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.”
To get raw, unseen footage, Shiley put himself at great risk, traveling for two months through Baghdad, the northern Kurdish region, and the Shiite controlled south. The normal practice of the reporters in Iraq is to travel in convoys—limiting coverage by different outlets—and to stay far away from the highly dangerous areas and actual Iraqi citizens. Instead of following the normal procedure, Shiley broke off on his own and ended up finding remarkable stories of human suffering.
One summary of the film describes moving scenes inside a military hospital where children who have been maimed by land mines are treated and the primitive way that mines are removed— with a long rope. Shiley was quoted as saying, “An embedded journalist would never film that, because it’s not really news, but it’s news to me.”
Another interesting discovery that Shiley made is the incredible growth of illegal markets. Pornography has become a huge black market while the gun market thrives in simple roadside stands that offer rocket propelled grenade launchers for $25. Shiley explains that “the doors that opened in the name of democracy and freedom have also let in pornography, prostitution, drugs, and a thriving black market trade”, and many Iraqi citizens loath this western influence.
During the Persian Gulf War, one devastating attack left a horrible imprint on the Iraqi people. The Al Amaria bomb shelter in Baghdad was torn open by two bombs dropped by a US-led Coalition aircraft. 408 people— most of whom were children and women living in the local neighborhood— who were hiding inside the shelter, were burned alive. The imprints of their bodies can still be seen in the walls, which are now lined with photographs of the dead. After touring the memorial that now resides inside the shelter, Shiley asks a pertinent question, wouldn’t we call this terrorism if it happened to us?
Shiley’s film, “Inside Iraq: the Untold Stories,” will be shown on Monday, February 6 at 7:00 p.m. in Fraser Hall 4. This is a free event sponsored by the AS Social Issues Resource Center.
For more information regarding this event, contact the SIRC in the Viking Union 512 at 650-6804 or AS.ROP.Social.Issues@wwu.edu.