A terrific film about journalism disappeared almost instantly when it was released several years ago. It’s called “Shock and Awe” and is now on Amazon Prime.
It’s the story of how one major news organization — Knight Ridder’s Washington Bureau — bucked the nearly universal bended-knee cheerleading for war (in Iraq) that prevailed in the American press after 9/11.
It’s not a great film, but it’s a fine and meaningful one. Rob Reiner directed and co-starred with Woody Harrelson, James Marsden, Jessica Biel, Milla Jovovich, Tommy Lee Jones, and others.
Knight Ridder was up against not just a relentlessly dishonest Bush administration back then.
KR was also up against a relentlessly dishonest journalism establishment, led in particular by the New York Times, which was headlining government lies as a matter of routine “coverage” that helped start a futile war in Iraq that did so much damage there and here. There was some sporadic contrarian coverage in American journalism, but the overwhelming message was the one the government wanted the public — still traumatized by 9/11 — to hear.
Portraying KR’s John Walcott, Reiner says: “If every other news organization wants to be stenographers for the Bush administration, let them. We don’t write for people who send other people’s kids to war. We write for people whose kids get sent to war.”
I was working then at the San Jose Mercury News, part of the once-great Knight Ridder chain. What our DC bureau did back then was profoundly important.
Knight Ridder had its flaws (and so does the film). But I’ve never been so proud to be part of an organization.