This is a review of the documentary film Shadows of Liberty; 93 minutes; PG; Jean-Philippe Tremblay, United Kingdom, director; 2012; distributed by KinoSmith Inc.
By Barrie Zwicker (Special to Truth and Shadows)
I’m hard-pressed not to see Shadows of Liberty as other than a bait-and-switch job, a false flag op that seeks to marshal audience confidence if not admiration by blowing the whistle on a handful of media crimes not widely known to the general public, but that in the end distracts audiences from much larger media crimes, particularly media complicity in the cover-up of the truth about 9/11.
Because so few documentaries take on the corpstream media energetically, for the “average viewer” this one might rate one thumb up, just as Noam Chomsky provides some nourishment about U.S. imperialism while performing left gatekeeping on really significant crimes from JFK’s assassination through 9/11.
The strengths of Shadows of Liberty include that it dares to use capitalism as a bad word and that it provides a handful of important case histories of corporate malfeasance. It’s technically well-done in my old-fashioned view but some younger reviewers might find it somewhat plodding.
The weaknesses (or if they’re intended, the perverse strengths) of this documentary are several.
The film includes a medley of cases when two or even one would have enabled more damning detail, putting more oomph into the project. As well, the cases are rather old. The lead-off case is NBC’s craven collusion with Nike as media sponsor of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics even after Nike was thoroughly exposed by an NBC investigation for its Third World sweatshop conditions. NBC killed a follow-up of its original expose.
Others include Gary Webb’s 1996 exposé of CIA involvement in the crack cocaine epidemic; the 2006 NBC “To Catch a Predator” media-police sting that led to a justice official’s suicide; and Colin Powell’s February 2003 dog and pony “proof” at the UN of Saddam’s (non-existent) weapons of mass destruction.
Perhaps most telling, the talking heads that are the spine of Shadows of Liberty are all 9/11Truth left gatekeepers; some also are left gatekeepers on other fraught issues, such as JFK’s assassination. More about these talking heads further on.
Shadows has attracted self-interested positive blurbs by film festivals, where people who love the film are the same ones who love left gatekeeper Noam Chomsky. An audience fooled – and partly prepared to be fooled– by Chomsky will be sitting ducks to be fooled by Shadows of Liberty. They’ll be treated to a generalized critique of the capitalist media, built on an expose of a half dozen assorted cases. This could lead viewers to envelop themselves in a cocoon of satisfied indignation while remaining oblivious to the omissions and misdirections that are the main, if invisible, flaws(or successes) of this film.
TWA Flight 800 as double litmus test
The strongest case included in the documentary by Canadian-born director, producer and co-writer Jean-Philippe Tremblay for proving that corporate media kowtow to military industrial financial elites is the destruction of TWA flight 800 over Long Island the night of July 17th, 1996. All 230 Paris-bound passengers and crew died. It was the second-deadliest aviation disaster in U.S. history. Other things being equal (which they never are) Tremblay could almost certainly have made a documentary with more impact by taking on TWA 800 alone.
To summarize this case clearly, as the documentary fails to do, there can be no reasonable doubt that the airliner was shot down by a US Navy missile. It was an error during an incredibly irresponsible “live fire” exercise at the edge of a major civilian airway.
There additionally can be no reasonable doubt that what ensued was one of the most thoroughly co-ordinated official cover-ups in U.S. history, reaching to the White House and rivaling the 9/11 cover-up. More than a dozen official agencies, including the U.S. Navy, Central Intelligence Agency, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Federal Aviation Agency, U.S. Coast Guard and New York National Air Guard colluded either very quickly or over months in the brazen cover-up spearheaded by the organizing black widow spider, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and its chief stinger, one James Kallstrom.
Media giant CBS then joined. It’s hard to know whether CBS on the one hand, or all other corpstream media on the other, were more complicit on the media side of the equation. CBS began by authorizing an investigation, then betraying its investigators. The other media didn’t even try. Take your pick.
TWA flight 800 is a case I hardly ever hear referred to in 9/11Truth circles, yet it clearly ranks up there with Oklahoma City and the assassination of Paul Wellstone (NTSB and CIA involvement being common to both).
Once CBS caved in to the government and killed its own investigation it had to disappear one of its best journalists, investigative producer Kristina Borjesson. She had previously won an Emmy and a Murrow Award for her work.
Borjesson didn’t stay disappeared. She went on to assemble and edit a 2002 hard copy anthology, Into The Buzzsaw: Leading Journalists Expose the Myth of a Free Press.
The book’s 18 chapters provide evidence of betrayals by mainstream media of the sacred responsibility to inform; three of them deal with TWA 800. Since Borjesson co-operated fully in the making of the documentary, director Tremblay had to be closely familiar with the Buzzsaw chapters dealing with TWA 800. These comprise an excellent primer on the case.
The book makes mention of Flight 800 Independent Researchers Organization (FIRO). FIRO perseveres in a way 9/11Truthers can identify with, but fails to make it into the documentary. (I owe to Truth and Shadows readers a caution that I saw Shadows of Liberty once, last month, and have no access to seeing it again. So memory failures on my part about some details are possible. I will appreciate anyone’s setting me straight if needs be.)
In her TWA 800 chapter in Buzzsaw, Borjesson lists questions that arose early on about the TWA 800 disaster, a list Tremblay fails to include:
- What was a sub hunter doing in the area?
- Why was a missile cruise ship in the area?
- Why did the Pentagon deny military presence in the area that night?
- Why was the FBI involved from day one, when normal procedure is to have the NTSB determine cause?
- How do you write off the findings of missile experts who stated [that] what [civilian] witnesses saw was consistent with a missile?
- How is it that military personnel in the area reported seeing nothing when civilians saw a lot?
A straight bulleted text of these questions in the documentary would have been memorable, and indeed easily twice as many questions could have been bulleted. The list above was included in an October 18th, 1996 memo written by CBS’s law enforcement consultant, Paul Ragonese. Ragonese is described by Borjesson as “a no-bullshit cop from Brooklyn” who served on the New York Police Department bomb squad and counter-terrorism squad for six years. Ragonese also learned, from two high-level members of the FBI’s task force into the disaster, that three months after it occurred, their superiors still had not given them permission to ask any questions of the military.
But in Shadows, director Tremblay, instead of pursuing or even just including such questions, chooses to highlight one piece of incriminating evidence (seat fabric proven independently to be laced with residue of missile solid fuel) obtained by Borjesson but supinely returned to the authorities by CBS. The media giant allowed itself to be bullied by the government’s puerile claim that the evidence was stolen. Meanwhile the FBI was stealing or tampering with hundreds of pieces of evidence.
One need not have years of experience analyzing media to imagine how beneficial to the public interest and for CBS’s reputation it would have been for CBS to stand its ground and fight the government demand. It would have triggered a showdown the government would have lost, at least in the court of public opinion. It would have approached the status of the refusal of The New York Times to hand over the Pentagon Papers.
Since the damning seat fabric highlighted by Tremblay presumably will never be seen again, The Globe and Mail’s Kate Taylor was able to write in a Feb. 15 review of Shadows that the segment on TWA 800 was one of those “twisted tales that are the subject of conspiracy theories.” The viewer “can’t really know” whether Borjesson “was a victim of a complicit media owner with arms contracts at stake buying the government line or just an obsessive reporter who wouldn’t accept it was time to take a new assignment.” The thought-stopping “conspiracy theory” putdown is trotted out for the readers of Taylor’s review. “Obsessive” is just kicking Borjesson after knocking her down.
What would have gone a long way toward clinching in the documentary’s audiences’ minds that TWA 800 was a massive government-orchestrated cover-up was the number of eyewitnesses who saw the streak of light the Navy missile made as it screamed into the civilian airliner. Tremblay failed to highlight this aspect.
Genuine 9/11Truthers will note a close parallel here with the eyewitness reports, gathered by Citizen Investigation Team, of the large jet that overflew the Pentagon on 9/11, eyewitness reports that reveal the alleged impact of Flight 77 for the big lie it is.
Those damned eyewitnesses
As Borjesson writes in Buzzsaw: “The FBI’s ‘thing’ about the eyewitnesses was…apparent at the [NTSB’s] public hearings held on December 8th, 1997 in Baltimore, Maryland. Days before the hearing, James Kallstrom [the FBI’s evil genius lead liar and bully, key manipulator and cover-up co-ordinator-in-chief] wrote to NTSB Chairman James Hall to ask that information on the eyewitnesses and the red residue found on the seats not be discussed at the hearing. Hall complied with Kallstrom’s request.”
Philip Weiss, who currently co-edits Mondoweiss, wrote about TWA 800 for the New York Observer. He recounts in Buzzsaw that he first learned about an alternative view of the disaster at a forum in Washington, D.C. conducted by the right wing group Accuracy In Media. “A beefy and homespun former navy aviator named Bill Donaldson gave a rambling talk about his personal investigation of the matter,” Weiss writes. The talk included audiotapes of several interviews Donaldson had done with eyewitnesses. “The eye witnesses,” writes Weiss, “sounded calm and sane, and each of them said that he had seen a flare-like streak go up from the surface of the sea, followed after some seconds by a fireball in the sky.”
Intrigued, Weiss went to the community of Centre Moriches near the crash scene and found a half-dozen eyewitnesses himself. “What I found – and what many other reporters found, before and after me – was that there existed a large group of people who had seen something that the government later saw very differently. Indeed, these people felt misrepresented by the government version and insulted by the cartoon enactment of the crash that the CIA had produced, without talking to a single one of them.” (James Kallstrom lied that the CIA had talked to them.)
Eventually 670 eyewitnesses were tracked down by a phalanx of hostile FBI interrogators. The eyewitnesses’ statements were buried or squelched one way or another. The NTSB spoke only to about a dozen of them, according the NTSB Witness Group Chairman Dr. David Mayer.
A final note about eyewitnesses: A series of specials entitled “Oliver Stone’s Declassified” was given the green light byABC in the Summer of 1997. An early segment of the series was to be on TWA 800, focusing not on the disaster per se but rather on “an investigation of the investigation.” The print equivalent in 9/11Truth terms would be David Ray Griffin’s The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions And Distortions.
Thirty eyewitnesses had been found willing to go on camera for a national TV audience. As the shoot was being set up, Stone received word that ABC had cancelled his series. “Oliver Stone said it was one of the worst things that had ever happened to him in his professional life,” Borjesson writes in Buzzsaw.
THE 9/11 bait-and-switch
But it is its failure of to pass the litmus test of 9/11 that should earn Shadows of Liberty Most Dubious Documentary standing in the Left Gatekeeper Bait-and-Switch Awards.
Introducing 9/11 with iconic if overused footage of airliners, Shadows of Liberty strongly suggests that the audience is about to learn the truth behind the crime of 9/11. It then drops the ball entirely. It leads the audience astray into the story of Sibel Edmonds, a Turkish-speaking translator for the FBI. Edmonds became a whistle-blower regardingone of the numerous cases of alleged foreknowledge of “Bin Laden’s group… planning a massive terrorist attack in the United States.”
Since bin Laden had nothing to do with 9/11 (apart from being made the patsy) Edmonds’ “information” about “foreknowledge” was the opposite of information. What she chanced on was one small link in a chainof disinformation: multiple claims, planted worldwide, of an imminent “al Qaeda attack.” These were planned to surface over time lending verisimilitude to the “al Qaeda attack” Big Lie.
For Tremblay to trot out the Edmonds case as proof of lack of truth-telling by government and media is akin to a film that introduces a dreadful bus crash, with bodies lying all over the place, that then focuses its investigation on a broken tail-light – on a nearby car.
On the trail of the trailer
Proof of bait-and-switchism is highlighted in the doc’s trailer. Trailers are where films’ creators put their best feet forward. The first voice heard is that of Amy Goodman, notorious 9/11Truth left gatekeeper. Her first words are: “All we ever get is a veil of distortion and lies.” She should know. Later she beats the drum for the film’s main contention: “Corporations are making profits off the killing.” This clip accurately reflects the documentary as a whole, in its emphasis on the danger of commercial control of information.
Seems worthy at first hearing. But is commerce finally the devilish core of the problem? I would argue not. First of all, the vast omissions, serial distortions and outright lies of corpstream media arise from their collusion with right wing ideological equal-opportunity wrong-doing partners in the highest reaches of the financial, military and surveillance elites. This collusion at the expense of profit is inherent even in the case of CBS’s TWA 800 crime of omission,and even as depicted in Shadows.CBS surely would have raked in a handsome profit by blowing the case wide open.
Secondly, if private-for-profit broadcasters are the final problem, how explain the craven obfuscation, truth marginalization and outright lying of public broadcasters such as PBS, the CBC and my favourite nomination for ongoing media scum, the long-compromised and infiltrated smarmy BBC? These and most other public broadcasters and print outlets have shown themselves complicit accessories after the fact in the state crimes of 9/11 by seldom even questioning, let alone investigating them.
Now look at the other left media critics besides Amy Goodman given platforms in Shadows of Liberty. All are, like her, 9/11Truth left gatekeepers: actor-activist Danny Glover, whose presence more than one reviewer found puzzling; Dan Rather (also a notorious JFK assassination gatekeeper); Daniel Ellsberg; WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange; Norman Solomon, founder and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy; David Simon, son of a PR director for B’nai B’rith;media and communications guru Robert McChesney; Janine Jackson of F.A.I.R. (Fairness and Accuracy In Media) and the otherwise terrific Chris Hedges — a Rogue’s Gallery of 9/11Truth left gatekeepers.
All, either directly or by association, in this documentary identify lying, censorship, militarism, secrecy, corruption and pursuit of power as toxic hallmarks of corpstream media. True enough. But oddly and tellingly, not one of them mentions the supreme crime and power of these media. That is omission. It’s startlingly evident in the case of 9/11 but also, in this documentary, in most of the cases dealt with.
The trailer, true to the film overall, winds up its list of sins with a triple mention of the film’s chosen key sin: “Profit, profit, profit.”
On the trail of the profit motive
Sure profits run thicker than blood, but ideology runs thicker than profits, as can be seen when nations go bankrupt pursuing war. It’s the Unholy Alliance (to borrow the title of Gary Webb’s series on the CIA) — not just the profit motive — between corporations and the national security-surveillance state that’s the radioactive core of the diaboligarchy that’s killing the Earth and all upon it.
Profit, in the biggest picture, is a by-product. Distorting as its pursuit is, it’s less lethal than psychopaths pursuing every kind of power. When they have media power, which they always do, they will sacrifice media profits in the greater cause of serving the diaboligarchy’s war and financial goals and systems.
This documentary is itself a minor example of how profit-taking is secondary or even subsidiary. Shadows of Liberty is unlikely to return even a small profit. But by stealthily misleading the opinion leaders who attend film festivals, it does its bit to redirect the public mind away from the seat of problems with the media and heir partners in crime. By doing so it protects them. So what entity would bankroll it? There’s an answer to that question. It’s the UK’s docfactory, an avowedly for-profit film services outfit. Yet its documentaries are not likely big money spinners, to say the least. It’s not immediately transparent how it stays solvent. Currently it’s working on Article 12. This focuses on personal privacy when its focus should be the depredations of the national security-surveillance state. Privacy may be almost a lost cause but exposing the vast spy, disinformation and false flag networks should not be.
By all means go and see Shadows of Liberty if it comes to a cinema near you. You’ll enjoy some generalized inspiration including great quotes from revolutionary journalist Thomas Paine. The film’s title is inspired by Paine: “When men yield up the privilege of thinking, the last shadow of liberty quits the horizon.” His sentiment must be applied to this film. When it is, it will become evident that despite surface appearances Shadows is more part of the problem than of the solution.
 The most egregious case here is that of Dan Rather, who notoriously reversed, in his JFK assassination report on the Zapruder film, the direction JFK’s head as he was shot. Rather’s account had the bullet entering JFK’s head from the rear, supporting the lone gunman theory. The truth of the film, not revealed until 1975, was the JFK’s head was knocked backwards, showing the fatal bullet came from the grassy knoll in front. In the case of TWA 800, Rather decided to lead his show one night with former White house press secretary Pierre Salinger’s claim that a navy missile was involved. He did so, he told New York Times reporter Matthew Purdy “primarily in order to knock it down.” Borjesson writes that Rather “(purposely or inadventently) took off his journalist’s hat and became a communications officer for the government. It wouldn’t be the last time.” One would think that Shadows of Liberty director Tremblay would consider Rather damaged goods for his documentary, if not a time bomb.
 Borjesson now is a key member of The WantToKnow.Info Team.
 Malicious irony had to be in the black hearts of the behind-the-scenes players when CBS fired Ragonese as its law enforcement consultant and replaced him with none other than James Kallstrom.
 This was around the same time that a book on TWA 800 to be co-authored by Borjesson with the working title Unauthorized Access was scuttled. The reason was that the would-be authors’ literary agent’s auction failed because every publisher that had shown an early interest backed out.