It is no exaggeration to observe that ALL GOVERNMENTS LIE, Fred Peabody’s provocative new documentary, is extremely timely as it puts forth its point-of-view. That point-of-view may not be original, but it still is well-worth repeating and pondering. And that is that politicians tell untruths as frequently as the daily sunrise.
In this film, which played at the Toronto International Film Festival prior to its pending theatrical release in New York and Los Angeles, the politicians in questions are U.S. politicians. There is no distinction between Democrat and Republican, whether it’s Richard Nixon and Watergate and his claim that he was “...not a crook”... or Lyndon Johnson and the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which directly led to U.S. escalation of the war in Vietnam... or Colin Powell testifying that the “facts and conclusions” regarding Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were based on “solid intelligence”... or George W. Bush... or Barack Obama. The film also covers the 2016 presidential primaries, with an emphasis on how Donald Trump has cannily manipulated the media and comes away with oodles of coverage.
The sub-title of ALL GOVERNMENTS LIE is: TRUTH, DECEPTION, AND THE SPIRIT OF I.F. STONE. For those who may not recall I.F. Stone, who lived between 1907 and 1989: He was a fiercely independent investigative journalist who between 1953 and 1971 published I.F. Stone’s Weekly, a now-legendary newsletter. To some, he was a bothersome pain, and we are told that he was not invited to press briefings. But to others, he was a man of integrity as well as an inspiration to future generations of journalistic truth-seekers, many of whom are interviewed in the film.
Stone is quoted onscreen. “I believe very deeply in freedom of the press and the role of the press in a free society,” he declares. Given his experiences as a journalist, he came to believe not just that politicians regularly tell tall tales but the conglomerates who control the mainstream media are more interested in ratings and profits than in serious investigative journalism.
Do those who run CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, or the New York Times have any ethics? Any morals? How can they claim to take on the Establishment on a range of issues when, in fact, they are the Establishment?
The problem, according to Amy Goodman, an I.F. Stone protégé, is that, here in the U.S., there is “the illusion of (a) free press.” Goodman observes: “We don’t have state-run media in the United States but, if we had it, how would it be any different?” And she concludes: “We need a media that challenges the corporate powers.” Chris Hedges, described in the film as a former New York Times correspondent, observes that reporters who “care about truth” eventually will become “management problems.”
One of the film’s sidebars involves John Carlos Frey, an independent Mexican-American journalist, and his discovery of the mass graves of countless Latino immigrants who may have crossed the U.S.-Mexican border and subsequently were murdered and buried in Texas. Frey pointedly declares that, within the mainstream media, this would have received much more coverage if the victims were Caucasian.
The theatrical release of ALL GOVERNMENTS LIE is meant to coincide with its push to cop a Best Documentary Academy Award nomination. But whether or not it wins one, it is a film that is well-worth seeing-- and contemplating.
Rob Edelman has authored or edited several dozen books on film, television, and baseball. He has taught film history courses at several universities and his writing has appeared in many newspapers, magazines, and journals. His frequent collaborator is his wife, fellow WAMC film commentator Audrey Kupferberg.
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