Hiding in Plain Sight: Peabody’s Timely Indictment of American Journalism
The seemingly brash title of Fred Peabody’s latest documentary alludes to a turn of phrase commonly posited by one of America’s most integral investigative journalists, Isidor Feinstein Stone. Initially promoting a central focus to be that of the life, times, and impact of I.F. Stone; the subsequent docu is far less a reconstruction of the writer’s life and more of how the functionality of journalism has strayed from its true purpose.
Though the presentation and pacing of the work is scatterbrained and at times more dramatic than informative, the emotional resonance through its deconstruction of the affair between mass media and the State makes for weighty subject matter. All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception, and the Spirit of I.F. Stone is an incendiary yet investigative doc that clearly states that those who remain silent are as complicit as those who perpetrate wrongdoing.
All Governments Lie utilizes the career and impact of I.F. Stone as a starting point for how investigative reporting has evolved in the years since the conclusion of his newsletter I. F. Stone’s Weekly. It explores this through archived news coverage from a range of topics stretching from the current and past US Presidents, Watergate, coverage of elections, the Vietnam, Iraqi, Afghan, and Syrian wars, and the current humanitarian crisis in Latin and South America.
Inter-cutting these materials with interviews from prominent journalists and educators (such as Carl Bernstein, Noam Chomsky, David Corn, John Carlos Frey, Amy Goodman, Ana Kasparian, Jeremy Scahill and Matt Taibbi), the state of journalism is put on the hot seat in a very direct way. Through these insinuations that “all governments lie”, Peabody attempts to trace the direct impact of Stone on modern naysayers in the media, their impact, and how their stances have come to alter their personal lives and those on whom they report.
Tonally spread thin, the talking points are disorganized but that has more to do when journalists actually uncovered their findings, rather than history has told by a dated timeline. In one doozy discovery, we’re introduced the factoid that the falsification of atomic weapons being built by Iraq as justification for war occurs earlier in the film than that of the Watergate and Vietnam War scandals that rocked two presidencies. emotional approach to the facts it delivers rather than presenting a completely non-editorial view. This can be seen as a common attitude through some of Peabody’s previous work for The History Channel (“Modern Marvels”, “Unsolved Mysteries”), to which in this particular case can come off as a cheapening of the subject matter. That isn’t to say that the material covered is not at all emotional.
A segment detailing rows of boxes of anonymous remains of those Latin and South American immigrants buried in mass graves the desert is just as harrowing as the room of confiscated shoes currently on display in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The footage detailing quality of life in the Western Asian refugee camps is enough to give even the most hardened immigration opponent pause.
Juxtaposed with repetitive footage of random people walking around New York City and Washington DC, as well as appropriation of other docs (such as Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 and Laura Poitras’ Citizenfour) results in a less effective attempt to pad out the film between genuine bits of investigative documentation and revelation. This, again, may in part be due to the scope of all topics discussed, and probably would make for a much more concise mini-series with an episode devoting itself to each event and journalist covered rather than being smushed into a singular effort.
Mark Korven’s Koyaanisqatsi-like score channels much of the repetitious found in Philip Glass’ work, and to his credit, the music is effective in inducing a general feeling of apprehension, but ultimately their is a mismatch toward how mass media downplays the importance of war crimes and other government wrongs?
Far less about putting government entities in their places, as the title would suggest, this docu takes on a more call-to-arms to the next generation of I.F. Stones to assert themselves and stand for integrity in journalism over personal comfort of riding the system of acceptance that has become the norm. This doc approaches this audience with the ultimatum that one must assume all of those in power are always lying out of self interest and preservation; and by setting out to prove all parties involved are wrong, eventually the unbiased truth will be uncovered. All Governments Lie is voracious in its approach, resulting in an unapologetic must-see experience.