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Sanzgiri
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The Production of Belief

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(screenshots with subtitles from the 10min video "The Production of Belief")

 
 
In 2009, outtakes from a 1991 Persian Gulf War live report from CNN’s correspondent Charles Jaco were released online. The leaked footage shows Jaco and his crew joking around on set all while supposedly broadcasting live in Saudi Arabia. Conspiracy theories emerged about the bright blue walls (in addition to the leaked outtakes) being evidence of CNN falsifying live coverage of the war, exposing the footage as proof of a film set designed with a blue screen. Yet, upon further investigation, the blue walls and palm trees are actually a key feature of the architecture of the Dhahran International Hotel – a bland modernist building with self- orientalising tropes left over from the pan-Arab movement. The building is located directly where Jaco claimed to have been.
 
This 10 minute video “The Production of Belief”, interweaves the debunked conspiracy against Jaco with re-created footage of the scene including fake palm trees against a blue background, monologues addressing my birth in 1989, and archival television and video game footage from 1991. The video aims to complicate the realities and fictions of war, propaganda, and entertainment.
 
 
 
 
Amid the conspiracy theories of Jaco, his crew, and CNN at large, many "debunkers" online use images such as the satelite photographs above to locate Jaco's claims and to provide an analysis through image of the acuracy of his reporting to prove CNN was not in fact faking news stories.

 

 

Yet, still, some are not as convinced. The lines blur as proponents of the conspiracy see Jaco's broadcast as poorly acted and excesively theatrical thus turning to the leaked outtakes as the final authority.
 
 
The above photo has been used to show the architecture of Dhahran International Hotel (فندق الظهران ا)  as a means of confirming the truth of Jaco's broadcast, whose blue walls and green shurbery produce the effect of disbelief due to their similarity to a film set. This hotel was also used by many other live reporters stationed in Saudi Arabia simultaneously as a luxery resort hotel and broadcasting space.


 
Ironically, to get a better view of the bombings from a distance, the reporters built an actual stage on the roof of the hotel from which to film their broadcasts. This evidence simultaneously confirms and denys the conspiracy theorists belief that the Jaco footage was recorded on a film set.
 
 
 

 

 

I recreated the scene of Jaco's broadcast and the subsequent architectural features of the hotel by placing a fake palm tree against a blue screen blown by a box fan and lit by studio lights. Close up shots of the fake tree blowing by wind created off scene closely mimic the production value of the original broadcast on CNN. The resulting video contains the combination of the original outtakes, my re-created footage and archival footage from news broadcasts at the time.


 
The Gulf War was indeed a heavily staged and produced event with the cooperation of news outlets and journalists complying with US and Saudi military censorship (and aditionally profiting off high ratings through the enhancement of wartime spectacle yet reporting none of the death at the time), all of which make the question of conspiracy claims against Jaco and CNN all the more difficult - they are indeed guilty by implications.