Thursday, March 05, 2015

“Merchants Of Doubt”– Movie Review




This week, I attended a screening held by The New York Times Film Club of the new documentary “Merchants Of Doubt


When the mainstream media presents experts to debate an issue, what happens when one of the so-called experts is merely a shill employed to refute the opposing viewpoint for a hidden agenda?


Over the last few decades, scientists’ independent research have consistently shown that society faces certain hazards, many of which have been brought about by man. But once aware of these hazards, what is being done, if anything, to preserve and protect the way of life enjoyed by people around the country and around the world? Well, if action taken winds up negatively impacting the bottom line of big business – and it usually does – there will likely be precious little done. Where it also becomes difficult to take action is when certain information severely conflicts with the personal and political beliefs of others.

Regardless of whether it’s called Global Warming or Climate Change, there has been overwhelming scientific evidence showing an alarming increase of CO2 which has in turn had a direct impact on the planet’s environment. Despite this, there have been individuals who have vociferously denied this and have consistently disregarded facts presented as proof. As it turns out, many who have refuted the charges of environmental issues may in fact either not possess the expertise they claim or are merely serving as a paid mouthpiece to convince the public that the charges are not true; often, they are employed either by businesses or lobbyists who represent a politically-motivated faction.

Similar behavior is seen regarding cancer and fire safety; ultimately, science winds up identifying the root cause being directly related to smoking, but the tobacco industry has stood up to these claims by propping up their own supporters who receive a paycheck for either espousing the virtues of the industry or decrying the claims by painting those who make them as having questionable credibility. Even when people who start out as skeptics of claims perform their own research and change their mind, they are soundly discredited by the opposition. Could it be possible that all of these claims are being made by Communists looking to destroy the American economic foundation?


“Merchants Of Doubt” is a slickly-produced documentary – which may be taken as a compliment just as easily as it could be a criticism. The movie starts with a professional magician showing how he can deceive people through the powers of misdirection – which cleverly sets up the audience for how people presented as experts are shrewdly able to change any given conversation in a way that will best suit whoever it is that has hired them to produce the much-needed Public Relations spin. Director Robert Kenner ambitiously shows how these bogus pundits are paid to take on climate change, the tobacco industry, chemicals and pharmaceuticals.

One problem here is that this is a documentary that will only preach to the converted – which is also the point of the movie. People who agree with the viewpoints set forth here will likely be the sole audience; those who should see it probably never will. This is because, as the film itself states, people don’t want their values questioned and will consistently refuse to support anything that fails to buttress their own opinion. They basically take the stand, “Please don’t confuse me with the facts because I’ve already made up my mind”. Those secure enough in their thinking that can be sufficiently open-minded to view “Merchants Of Doubt” will most surely be in the minority.

If there is any value to this documentary, it is that it shows how easily facts – and the general public – can be manipulated. However, where it fails is that it only blames the conservatives for doing this. Are we to believe that liberals do not pull the same trick? Furthermore, if that’s the case, isn’t the movie itself guilty of what it’s accusing others of doing – manipulating the facts to suit their own purposes? To be sure, “Merchants Of Doubt” is by no means either objective or even-handed in its approach to telling its story. Should the documentarians aspire to be truly journalistic in their practice, they would do themselves well to avoid merely contributing to the propaganda machine.

Merchants of Doubt (2014) on IMDb

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