Though it is always a good time to reflect on media ethics, the election of Donald Trump is cause to redouble our consideration of the well-being of the Fourth Estate. For that reason, the documentary All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception, and the Spirit of I.F. Stone could not be timelier. A rousing call to arms for anyone interested in honest, issues-based journalism, and a well-deserved recognition of stalwarts who have done yeoman’s work for decades, this is an antidote to the spectacle-driven corporate media that assisted in the rise of President-elect Donald Trump.
I.F. Stone was something of a blogger long before the Internet existed, issuing a fiery, fact-filled missive to thousands of dedicated subscribers in the I.F. Stone Weekly, from 1957–1971. The film features interviews with the many journalists, activists, and critics of American policy who were inspired by his work, such as Noam Chomsky, Glenn Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill, Michael Moore, Amy Goodman, and Carl Bernstein. There isn’t much biographical information about Stone himself. Rather, he is used as a jumping-off point for stressing the vital role that a critical, independent media must play in a free society.
Stone was something of a lone voice of reason during the 1960s who was able to see the Vietnam War for the naked imperialist aggression it was, and he called it as such. Of course, then as now, a voice as critical and rational as his was excluded from mainstream discourse, though we do see a great clip of Stone explaining the unjustness of the war on The Dick Cavett Show. Although the talk show was both mainstream and popular, it was also intelligent and adult; in other words, a breed that has gone the way of the dodo.
The film emphasizes that critical, intelligent voices, blissfully free of corporate control, can be found on the Internet, and they are fringe voices no longer. More than two decades in, Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! news program continues to grow in popularity, as does The Young Turks network and the website The Intercept, which regularly publishes important, fearless journalism that can’t be found elsewhere. While these outlets and others carry on the work of Stone of calling out power structures for their lies and deceit, the documentary singles out Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi as perhaps the purest embodiment of the spirit of the late journalist. Stone wrote with a certain jocularity and irreverence, though always with a high-minded seriousness, that Taibbi has in spades. This has served Taibbi well, as his area of focus is the arcane, tortuous crimes of high finance, which can make even the most eager reader’s eyes glaze over in soul-sucking boredom.
The lack of real investigative journalism in mainstream, corporate media has serious consequences, as the documentary’s focus on the work of John Carlos Frey makes clear. Beginning in 2014, Frey was almost the sole voice covering the mass graves of 200 people found on the U.S./Mexico border in mass graves on American soil. On what planet is this not huge news?
One of the film’s strongest sections deals with the selling of the Iraq War in 2003. Mainstream media led by Fox News (although it was by no means their effort alone) was all too ready to assure the public that the glaringly false reasons for that war were in fact rock solid. Here Fox News’s Sean Hannity breathlessly intones Colin Powell’s now-discredited testimony at the U.N Security Council: “It was so compelling. I don’t see how anybody now could not support this effort.” This, in brief, is a perfect description of why corporate media has failed so spectacularly. Not only was Hannity not critical of claims having to do with matters of war and peace, he shut down any possibility of potential criticism. Media should not narrow and close down the scope of critical inquiry but broaden it, and those who carry on the spirit of Stone understand that.
Striking a hopeful tone despite its thorough chronicling of mainstream media failings, All Governments Lie portends a future filled with diverse voices critical of the power elites, carrying on the legacy of I.F. Stone.