Anthony Lane, wry film critic for the New Yorker, is usually one of my favorite reads. He sure beats his co-critic on the New Yorker’s cinema page, the navel-gazing and tediously politically correct David Denby. Lane’s let me down, however, in his fawning review of Control Room, a flatter-flick posing as a documentary about Al Jazeera, the pro-Arab, anti-U.S. television station based in Qatar that’s supplied so much disinformation about the Iraq war. The review appears in the New Yorker’s May 24 issue–the one with cover illustration (drawn by Tokyo Rose, no doubt) of the U.S. soldier with the bulls-eye painted on his back (click here for a thumbnail in the upper right corner). Lane seems to have abandoned his usual apolitical detachment to join Seymour Hersh and Hendrik Hertzberg in the round of America- and Bush-bashing elsewhere in this and most other New Yorker issues lately.

Lane takes a fey approach to “Control Room” and its director, Jehane Noujaim. He writes:

“To release a documentary about Al Jazeera, the Arab television station, at this particular moment requires a certain style….

“[W]e are invited to eavesdrop on’or to get an earful from’such figures as Hassan Ibrahim, a jovial reporter with Al Jazeera, and Samir Khader, one of the network’s senior producers. Seldom seen without his coffee and cigarette (the weaponry of choice for every ironist from Paris to Kabul), Khader is a type of whom documentarians dream: professionally acerbic, philosophically fatigued. The message of Al Jazeera, he claims,

“‘is to educate the Arab masses in something called democracy. . . . To shake up these rigid societies, to awaken them, to tell them: Wake up, wake up, there is a world around you, something is happening in the world, you are still sleeping, wake up.'”

Yes, aren’t those Al Jazeera guys sweetie-pies? Lane can’t resist getting in a few anti-Bush administration licks–Donald Rumfield hates the station, he reminds us–and he throw in this Abu Ghraib-related dig at Dubya:

“For all the courtesy and humor of Al Jazeera’s personnel, few of the grievances that the Administration harbored against it will be allayed by this movie. For one thing, it replays President Bush’s stated demand from March, 2003, after American soldiers had been taken by the enemy: ‘The P.O.W.s I expect to be treated humanely, just like we’re treating the prisoners that we have captured humanely.’ Nobody likes to be haunted by his own words, and, when the President was interviewed on Arab TV, a couple of weeks ago, he spoke to two channels other than Al Jazeera. That was a slap on the wrist, no question; but what price a slap, when you miss out on forty million viewers?”

One thing Lane leaves out of his review: Al Jazeera’s efforts on its website to persuade the world that  that the videotaped beheading of Nicholas Berg was a hoax. No wonder that not only does the Bush administration justifiably dislike Al Jazeera, but the entire blogosphere, with the exception of the gushing far left, regards the station as a joke and an Islamic-extremist propaganda tool.

Anthony Lane, I expected better of you.