This was a braided-stream of a documentary, cutting between several major threads: a mass grave in Texas, the effect of I.F. Stone on various journalists, the Iraq War and a few other minor threads. I had never heard of I.F. Stone and the film made that seem pretty astonishing in terms of his accomplishments, and the fact I’d missed him entirely was simultaneously good evidence about the many failings of the “Main Stream Media”.
The key conclusion of the film was depressingly foregrounded – it’s right there in the title. Governments lie, and the main stream media doesn’t call them on it. It was made at the outset of the current US Presidential cycle, so given the cavalcade of lies on both sides of the aisle this time I can only shudder at what the sequel might reveal. The key point that the film makes again and again is the deleterious effect this has on the political discourse, and on the public in general. What it doesn’t do is dig into a deeper causation – it constantly laments that ratings drive content to the lowest common denominator without offering any structural view on why trivial things get good ratings, or how editorial controls work. A more technological forward-looking documentary on this topic might also have tackled the echo-chamber effect of “likes” and “+1s” that cause you to only see things that reinforce your own view.
Unfortunately in a way, this documentary suffered intensively from the same echo-chamber effect for the Toronto audience: preaching to the choir. I already feel disconnected from all of the major news agencies it discusses. It didn’t touch on anything really outside of the USA, so no real commentary on Al Jazeera or the BBC, who must surely count amongst the big news players in English. It very briefly discusses Snowden, but not Assange. It doesn’t tackle alternative strategies, but most damningly, it doesn’t tackle the question of why governments should feel the need to lie.
Ultimately I found every bit of this interesting, without feeling like it came together as a holistic statement of, about, or for anything. The big take-away from me is to look up I.F. Stone and see whether he belongs in my pantheon of reporters with H.L. Mencken, Alistair Cooke and Hunter S. Thompson.
An introduction from the director: