Guerilla Journalist Fuses Film and News
“Always try to challenge your audience,” said Guerilla News Network Executive Editor Anthony Lappe, explaining the ethos of his alternative news organization to Oberlin students Thursday. In a presentation sponsored by the Oberlin Independent Film Series, Lappe spoke about the formation of GNN and showcased a few of its stories that covered topics normally neglected by the press.
“I come from a pretty traditional background in journalism,” said Lappe, a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism. Lappe said that after freelancing and writing for publications such as the New York Times, he became frustrated.
This frustration led Lappe and some fellow dissenting journalists to look for an alternative approach.
“We were trying to find ways to make news ‘cool,’ for lack of a better word,” Lappe said. “We received some attention from executives, but we were told young people aren’t interested in the big issues.”
In 2000, Lappe and three other collaborators founded the GNN. They produced what Lappe described as “short...hard-hitting videos that covered issues we thought were important and weren’t being covered in the mainstream media.”
Lappe presented several videos made by GNN. These videos addressed such diverse and controversial subjects as the Central Intelligence Agency’s role in drug trafficking, the American government’s exploration of psychological warfare techniques pioneered by Nazi Germany, the post-9/11 media environment and the Iraq war.
“One of the first breakthrough videos we did was ‘Crack the CIA,’” said Anthony Lappe.
“Crack the CIA” accused the CIA of allowing the smuggling of drugs in the United States to further the government’s policies in Latin America and Vietnam. The film was based on interviews with former law enforcement agents, professors and journalists in addition to clips from the Iran-Contra hearings. “Crack The CIA” went on to win an award at the Sundance Online Film Festival.
“Battleground: 21 Days on the Empire’s Edge,” a documentary on the first days of the Iraqi insurgency was, in Lappe’s view, another milestone work for GNN. In “Battleground” GNN covered the early suicide bombings of the Iraq war and followed the personal story of a returning Iraqi exile Farhan “Frank” al-Bayati, who had fled Iraq after fighting in the failed 1991 uprising against Saddam Hussein.
“‘Battleground’ was our evolution from the hip hop, Michael Moore style to a much more verté, I guess you could say ‘objective,’ journalism,” Lappe said. “We challenged a lot of the black and white ideologies about the war, even the ones I had. We needed to get away from making agitprop films for those already down with the cause,” he explained.
Lappe described GNN’s approach as an attempt to get away from “what I would respectfully call ‘protest porn,’ unedited videos of demonstrations or two-hour lectures by Noam Chomsky.”
“A lot of people think just the pure truth of what your showing...will
somehow set you free, but that’s not true,” he said. “You have
to learn to tell stories.”