Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Pentagon Mind Games Played with Fox News

At 3:33 into this video clip, FOX news begins a live video feed from the Pentagon site. They're shooting from an entrance ramp on Route 27, well north of the Pentagon building itself, and the opening image is of a sideways police car blocking the highway lanes, and in a little closer, is yellow police crime-scene tape, tautly strung from a merge sign support in the center. We get the message: do not enter. The FOX reporter on the scene, Audrey Barnes, has just arrived and is asked what she can see:
"I am on the grounds right across from the Pentagon and what I can tell you is it's still on fire, there is black smoke just billowing throughout the Pentagon grounds, there are several hundred Pentagon employees on the grounds, they are crying and hugging each other. I see about 15 pieces of fire apparatus, ladders its just a scene of utter chaos out here. Traffic, it's still getting by in front of the Pentagon, but most of this roadway has been shut down."
At about 4:04 the video suddenly changes to a much improved view---if not for disaster responders, at least for television viewers and journalists. We can see things! One of the first things we see is a uniformed state policeman moving quickly from left to right while craning his neck to look up--in that heavy-handed "checking out for attack" gesture from 40's gangster movies. I'm not complaining: some stage business!

It is 9:58am in real time, and the FOX network has suddenly been given a taste of the good life. The film that the viewers at home are watching, is identical to that which is running on CBS, whose viewers have grown fat on a steady diet of it. The sudden advent of exciting footage causes the skinny FOX anchor, Luke McCarthy, to interrupt her excitedly, to ask if she knows what it is we are seeing,
"because I'm not sure you can see the picture, we do have a picture now, we can see some people and we can see the smoke and flames you're talking about, and some of the emergency equipment, this is the first time we are seeing that, so please go on Audrey, from your vantage point, with what you are seeing, but we are seeing emergency crews, we can see flames, and a moment ago we DID see some people, so Audrey, go right ahead."
"Audrey Barnes? Are you still with us?" Asks another anchor, Michael Garguilo. McCarthy says, "I'm not sure if we can, I want to get them to pan back to the left here, to see what detail we can, oh, OK, we've lost that picture, well it's a camera we don't control." Honest words indeed.

September 11th, 2001, by the Washington D.C. affiliate of FOX5, and preserved for posterity at archive.org

At the moment of 4:44 in the film clip, which is displaying the time of 9:59am, and the temperature of 67 degrees on a particularly lucid and transparent chyron, which has just newly appeared on the screen, we see a police car that appears from the left of the screen and which moves rapidly to the right. However, it appears to be running in reverse, moving at 40 or 50 miles an hour! Luke McCarthy is too busy describing something and doesn't catch it, or at least doesn't react to it, however her co-host, Garguilo is heard to say softly, OK, as in, I get it, whatever it might be. Within four seconds the police vehicle is gone, hidden behind a replacement chyron that looks like a pair of 19th-century woman's bathing knickers by way of comparison.

The video has been switched back by this time to the telephoto lens shot from the absurdly distant spot FOX has been regulated to north on Route 27, and it stays focused in on the burning diesel-fuel fire, which is spewing black smoke at its most energetic rate of the day. This is the camera that FOX controls and this is the footage that FOX will get, and it is all very deftly managed.

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I finally made sense, to a degree, of what the reports of the plane hitting the helipad were all about. As originally conceptualized, this heavy element of the smoke pot was meant to meld psychologically somehow with the storyline of the plane crash. The earliest overview shots from the River House apartments weren't half bad, if you recall, in the sturmunddrang department---for some reason even the litter looked better than too. But someone handling the deus-ex-machina duties apparently went AWOL and the set changed into the "Pentalawn" look of the early yellow-jacketed firemen, where we might as well have been golfing at Augusta on a Sunday.

I have had my eyes opened here by the simple fact that in Washington D.C. on the morning of September 11th, the most intelligent and honest live television coverage was done by FOX News, the supposed lifetime media Hatfield's to my "we're going to finish what we started in the 60's" McCoy's. But FOX TV was also demonstrably the worst, which is what happens when you don't suck up---you don't get invited out to the party anymore. You are denied access, and information, and support in doing your job. Compared to the hoops CBS makes us jump through, especially with all the sighings and the furious pencil scratchings ("he's saying something important! He's taking notes!) I'd prefer to eat dry crackers with Audrey and Luke all day.

The moment you start to see something you didn't see before is startling. When I realized FOX was being fed tape that was running backwards, I felt a chill go up my spine, at the sinisterness and jokey evilness of the gesture. The larger chyron wasn't rushed in milliseconds too late, like the well-known nose-out fiasco. A beautiful and open one allowed us in for a look-see, for the psychologically optimum length of time, and then it was over. But when you've watched a video clip like 80 times in a row---and then you see it, well! It is like spotting the devil.

Because, although I can't be absolutely sure, my technical skills are too poor for a rigorous test, I do believe that this image of a police car running backwards is happening at the exact same moment tower Number Two is falling down in New York City. It is that moment, with the world gone mad, changing into its new mushroom-cloud reality that I've been finding my way back out of and homeward ever since. It's going well.


  1. The video does not match your narrative.

  2. You are terse!

    Right you were. Correction applied. Many thanks.