A critical element of waging war is the maintenance of a well-oiled propaganda machine, one that carefully manages how much information is shared with the public. Truth, to reference the well-worn quote, is often the first casualty of war, but this powerful documentary also demonstrates that the mainstream American press has been increasingly complicit as it accepts official spin and unquestioningly reports it as fact—even if it happens to be a lie, like the Gulf of Tonkin rationale for the Vietnam War or the nonexistent WMD in Iraq. The film, narrated by Sean Penn and featuring noted media columnist Norman Solomon, charts the progression of government justifications for war since the mid-20th century, inspecting a blueprint for manipulation that appears unchanged between administrations, no matter the party. Often the media admits its wrongs after the fact, but the apologies ring hollow as government fabrications continue without challenge. Writer-directors Loretta Alper and Jeremy Earp neglect to examine the spin-doctoring of truth about covert wars in Central America and around the world, but their film otherwise offers a succinct and compelling lesson in how to greet the daily news with skepticism. NOTE: Solomon will attend the evening screenings Friday and Saturday to conduct Q&As.
Hes smiling because hes winning.
Runs at Northwest Film Forum, Fri., Jan. 11–Thurs., Jan. 17. Not rated. 73 minutes.