Aleksandra Dukovska

The press and its standpoint on terrorism are not in the initial focus of Steven Spielberg Munich movie from 2005. Spielberg showed the press, reporter views and reports on terrorist attack at the Olympic Game in Munich as a part of the big picture to confront Israeli nation with its history and reluctance from the past.

Instead of focusing the viewer’s attention to the reflection of terrorist attacks on the Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympic games in Munich, Spielberg is showing archive footages of two notable American journalists who reported on the Munich massacre for ABC TV network. Spielberg used the archive TV reports for the first shoots in the Munich movie and made effective introduction to its story on the event that unfolded the news of international terrorism globally. How experienced Hollywood film director framed the press in the Munich and what can we conclude from it?

The public perceived the story and sharpened their views on already existing Israeli and Palestine conflict via mediators – journalists who reported from the Munich Olympics massacre.

As movie unfolds with the reconstruction of the horrible attacks in Munich, Spielberg shows archive TV broadcast of ABC sport commentator from the games, Jim McKay, who made 16-hours long coverage ending it with the words: “Tonight our worst fears have been realized. They are all gone”.

In an atmosphere of TV presence everywhere – at the hotel where the hostage drama occurred to the room of Israeli Prime minister Golda Meir, Spielberg continues with ABC’s youngest anchor and reporter Peter Jennings archive TV broadcasting materials.

This was the first breaking news story for Jennings. Journalist Sandra Martin from Canadian daily The Globe and Mail asked whether “his live reporting provided the context for Americans who were unfamiliar with the Palestinian group”. Such reporting was not approved by Israeli and pro-Israeli supporters.

The pro-Israeli groups criticized Jennings reporting and the wordings he used to refer to the members of Black September. According to the Web page Honest Reporting that claims itself as Israeli defender from bias reporting “in 1972, as a reporter covering the Palestinian murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, Jennings would not refer to the murderers as ‘terrorists’ and instead he called them ‘guerrillas’ and ‘commandos.’

The question is whether the reporting from Munich prepared the viewers in the USA and the world for the justification of Black September attacks on Israeli athletes. Spielberg in his movie Munich eschewed to portrait the media as focus element of his film.

He rather gave the space each viewer to construe his own opinion. By showing the archive of live TV coverage and close up shots of the members of Black September, Spielberg refers to the ways the press framed the terrorists.

We can hear the voice of Jim McKay summarizing the words of Jennings on the laws as obstacle for the German army to intervene and help to the German police. That can lead to the conclusion of the difficulties that Germany faced as a host of the Olympic games, brutally interrupted with this terrorist attack.

The whole atmosphere present in the movie tends to explain the complexity of actions that triggered secret Israeli operation to eliminate eleven Palestinians who organized the attacks. For the first time, Spielberg who devoted his career to explain complicated Jewish history made the movie and tried to find explanation for Palestinian demands for homeland. Through the main character Avner (Eric Bana) Spielberg challenges “an eye for an eye” actions of Israeli state after the Munich massacre. Back in 2005, this created different views and opinions among Israeli representatives and Israelis in the USA.

Journalist Anthony Berznican in his USA Today’s article ‘Messages from Munich’ from December 2005 asked for various Israeli opinions on the movie.  He wrote that “the Israeli consul general in Los Angeles, Ehud Danoch, attacked the movie in The New York Times, saying it tried to create “equivalency” between the Olympic terrorists and the Israeli government.

Berznican used the view of Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, who praises Munich and doesn’t see it as an indictment of Israel’s action. “Did it in fact bring about an end to violence? No,” Foxman says. Berznican wrote the statement of Calev Ben-David, director of the Jerusalem-based public advocacy group The Israel Project, who said Spielberg ‘is perceived as an American who may be appropriating Israel’s struggles as a way to comment on post-9/11 America.

“I can’t escape speculating that this film is as much, if not more, about 9/11” than it is about Israelis and Palestinians, said Ben-David, who wants to see the film but has not yet been invited to a screening. “This was a safe way for him to deal with 9/11 without risking a real kind of backlash. “Would he make a film where he has an al-Qaeda terrorist talk about the reasons why an attack on America was justified? It could be that a filmmaker would make it. But it would have to be a filmmaker braver than Spielberg — or at least less commercially oriented.”, commented Ben-David.

Spielberg made this movie thirty years after the Munich massacre that should be enough time to look at it without emotions. Maybe this is not sufficient time to heal open wounds for Israelis caused by the Munich massacre. Framing the terrorism, terrorist groups and describing the complexity of those events can leads to various interpretations of events.

In their book Framing the Terrorism, Pippa Norris, Montague Kern and Marion Just stated that the “essence of framing is selection to prioritize some facts, images, or developments over others thereby unconsciously promoting one particular interpretation of events”.

With carefully chosen archive press video materials highly mixed with the main storyline in the screenplay, written by Tony Kushner and Eric Roth and highly visualized by the director of photography Janusz Kaminski, Spielberg is creating ethical interpretation of post Munich events. It is almost like you are watching Shakespeare drama play, but in a context of 21st century. Some questions never dies no matter of ticking clock.

To summarize this essay I still have the dilemma whether the “bombs eliminate targets and terrified terrorist” or the legitimacy of the cause could justified the means used to achieve those goals. Spielberg doesn’t give that answer in Munich too, but brings up on the surface little bit of how the press is covering the terrorism. The journalists are there as mediators and they shaped the public opinion. If a terrorist attack such as Munich happens today some questions will be the same. But the media will be different. New media will spread the news and tell the story to the world.

Works cited:

1. Peter Jennings. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved February 18, 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Jennings

2. Peter Jennings: The ABCs of Bias. (2003, February 6). In Honest Reporting. Retrieved February 18, 2011, from http://honestreporting.com/peter-jennings-the-abcs-of-bias/

3. Breznican, A. (2005, December 22). Messages from ‘Munich’. USA TODAY. Retrieved February 18, 2011

4. Norris, P., Kern, M., & Just, M. R. (Eds.). (2003). Framing terrorism: the news media, the government and the public (p. 6). London, Great Britain: Psychology Press. Retrieved February 18, 2011, from http://www.hks.harvard.edu/fs/pnorris/Acrobat/Framing%20terrorism/Chapter%201%20Introduction.pdf