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HBO’s ‘After Truth’ Perfectly Captures Why Journalism is Dying

Documentary ducks reality, obsesses over Trump's election

Christian Toto
Review by Christian Toto

A talking head in HBO’s documentary tackling Fake News says the quiet part out loud.

“The worst part of 2016 is what we did to ourselves,” Georgetown University “disinformation expert” Molly McKew says about the subject in hand, revealing, well, everything.

We’ve seen the mainstream media, along with Hollywood and the Democrats, throw a three-plus year long tantrum over Donald Trump’s electoral victory.

Three-plus years!

And, given the very existence of “After Truth: Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News,” it’s not over yet.

After Truth: Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News (2020) | Official Trailer | HBO

The documentary debuts at 9 p.m. EST March 19 on the premium channel -- check the official HBO site for the full list of release dates/times.

At first glance, “After Truth” is a timely effort showing why our already low opinion of journalism cratered following Trump’s election. Instead, the film avoids that reality while punching so far down it might reach China before the end credits roll.

Did you know Infowars anchor Alex Jones was a fraud? That he makes stuff up while peddling nutritional supplements? What about how people use Facebook to share obviously false stories that, sadly, some take as the Gospel truth?

Thank you, “After Truth.”

Not only does the documentary state the obvious. It does so over and again. Anything is better, apparently, than diagnosing the rot infesting journalism today.

RELATED: Eastwood’s ‘Richard Jewell’ Punches Fake News in the Nose

The term “Fake News” came of age because the media tried to blame fraudulent news stories for Hillary Clinton’s loss. (Clinton herself later used it, along with a dozen other excuses, to explain her shocking defeat).

President Trump turned the phrase on its head, and the mainstream media followed right along. How? By generating more Fake News than any time in modern journalism history.

Peruse any right-of-center news site and you’ll find endless examples of Fake News, all of it aimed at either Trump or the GOP. Here’s the mother of all such lists from John Nolte of Breitbart News. His essential checklist is a year old, though, and was by no means complete.

His list might double today if he gave it a thorough update.

Nolte’s article doesn’t rely on obscure blogs, mind you. Think NBC News. BuzzFeed. The New York Times. ABC News. CNN.

Want another Fake News compendium, but this time from a liberal source? Try Glenn Greenwald’s scathing takedown.

Or, you can log onto Twitter pretty much any day ending in “Y.” This Tweet is two days old.


NOTE: Baker is the Chief White House Correspondent for The New York Times, according to his Twitter bio.

None of that, and we mean not one fake story on those lists, gets a close up in HBO’s “After Truth” documentary. Instead, we spend endless time revisiting the Pizzagate scandal, something tied to one news source – the oh, so credible Infowars.

Oh, and some Tweets, too. The film uses Tweets as hard Fake News proof. A lot.

The poor pizza shop owner who lived through the conspiracy deserves all of our sympathy, no doubt. Still, which Fake News scandal did a greater disservice to the country, a false meme which threatened an entrepreneur and his eatery, or serial lies designed to overturn the will of the American people?

RELATED: Here’s What’s Wrong with Borat’s Fake News Screed

The film, executive produced by Captain Media Bias himself, CNN’s Brian Stelter, blurs the line between misinformation spread on social media and “legitimate” news outlets.

That’s likely on purpose. It’s also why the film’s split personality can’t be reconciled.

We certainly could use a documentary about how digital misinformation (Facebook, Twitter and more) creates real world chaos, especially one savaging liars on both sides of the aisle.

  • How does it spread?
  • Why are we so susceptible to stories that don’t pass the smell test?
  • What are credible steps to battle it that don’t morph into censorship?
  • Why did we start tuning out mainstream news outlets in the first place?

That last one matters most.

“After Truth” flirts with some of those questions, but in a mostly insincere fashion. Hearing journalists rage against a hoaxster trying to pin a sex crime on Robert Mueller is, sadly, amusing. Remember how the same journalists dubbed the craziest sex accusations against Brett Kavanaugh “credible?”

Or, consider a documentary about how Fake News caught fire in the Age of Trump. You’ll never see that because journalists are incapable of shame and/or self-reflection.

So we’re left with this Frankenstein’s monster of a documentary. And boy, do the stitches show.

The mission is equally clear:

  • Explain away Trump’s 2016 election win (again)
  • Attack the GOP (we see a T-shirt of Trump urinating on the CNN logo)
  • Lay the ground work for questioning the 2020 elections should Trump win
  • Russia, Russia Russia!

The film obsesses over Russian “interference” in the 2016 election as if the Mueller Report never hit Amazon.

Still. Yes, after Mike Bloomberg sent $500 million down a hole to upend the Democratic race we’re to believe Russian bots swung a presidential election for Trump.

This recent bit of Russian collusion news is equally inconvenient for the film, directed by Andrew Rossi (“Page One: Inside the New York Times:)

“After Truth” comes closer to paydirt by re-examining the death of DNC staffer Seth Rich. Remember how Fox News’ pundit Sean Hannity pounced on that wafer thin conspiracy for all it was worth, while Rich’s surviving family members cried foul … and lawyered up?

The channel’s news side put up a story on the Rich scandal, too, but later retracted it in no uncertain terms. But where’s the apology, the movie asks, ignoring how many news sites pushed bigger lies without an ounce of regret, let alone any mea culpas.

The film does have its upsides. The production values are top notch, and few dull moments emerge. Watching hucksters like Jacob Wohl and lobbyist Jack Burkman reveal their true selves, and their hunger for social media affirmation, is a virtue in any setting.

“Are we trending on Twitter?” Wohl asks at one point. Gross.

After Presenting Allegations Against Mueller, Wohl Asked If He’s Prepared For Prison | NBC News

A team of veteran journalists dismantle the duo’s pathetic scheme to smear Robert Mueller during “After Truth.” Still, why give the takedown so much attention since it didn’t leave a scratch on Mueller’s good name? The special counsel’s congressional testimony last July, though, is another matter.

Still, here’s betting the next time either Wohl or Burkman stage a press conference more than a few scribes show up. It’s another aspect of the film left unexamined. Why do they draw a crowd in the first place?

The film’s wobbliest attempt at balance, and there aren’t many, involves a fake Facebook campaign meant to hurt Republican Roy Moore’s Alabama senate race. We meet, at length, the Democratic operative behind the deceptive effort.

See, Democrats game the Fake News system, too!

The segment ultimately savages the GOP, though, while the provocateur paints himself as a patriot for illuminating the system’s flaws. Hey, somebody has to be the hero, right?

“After Truth” inexplicably runs out of Fake News long before the end credits. Go back and look at all the examples listed above and consider how that’s even possible.

"Pizzagate" suspect charged after allegedly firing shot in D.C. restaurant

Instead, it revisits the PizzaGate scandal, Facebook’s culpability in Fake News and Jones’ one-man clown act. The latter allows the assembled journalists to Speak Truth to Power one more time.

Embarrassing. It’s like Kramer staring down a squad of children in his kara-TAY class.

Facebook critic Kara Swisher gets endless screen time savaging the social media platform. And speaking of platforms, the documentary cheers Jones’ getting de-platforming while ignoring the bigger problem afoot. What about other right-of-center souls getting deplatformed or harassed for simply sharing conservative views?

Think Prager U, for starters.

Where do we, as a culture, draw the line?

Again, it’s an important argument completely ignored here. And it gets a bit scary when Swisher says some of Jones’ rants aren’t “free speech.”

Oh, yes they are, as ugly as they might be.

Why lavish so much attention on Jones in the first place, though? Your neighbor’s toddler can tell he’s a scam artist from a simple glance.

Well, because he’s vaguely right of center, and movies like “After Truth” can use him as a cudgel against the conservative movement.

Otherwise, the best approach to Jones’ vile shtick is simple. Ignore him. Or, in the case of the Sandy Hook parents aghast at his suggestion their children’s deaths were fake, sue him into oblivion.

Sandy Hook families sue conspiracy theorist Alex Jones for defamation

HBO’s own press release describes “After Truth” this way:

…features exclusive access to the victims and perpetrators of false news stories as well as a variety of experts and journalists who contextualize its impact and reinforce the importance of quality journalism.

The term Fake News means shoddy, biased journalism, the very antithesis of what reporters should produce. “After Truth” twists that meaning so far, so aggressively, that it amounts to a denial of extreme magnitude.

Anyone following journalism in 2020, though, won’t be surprised by that at all. That includes Nolte.

Just this week the Breitbart News editor at large amassed a new collection of Fake News from the mainstream media. This time, the lies connected to the Coronavirus, the pandemic killing thousands worldwide and forcing American life to grind to halt.

Coronavirus is not a D.C. food fight. Like the CNN Race Riots of 2014, it affects everyday people: we have shut down our economy. The stock market is going insane. People are scared, worried, stressed, and have reason to be. Even if you remove the fear of the virus, no one can escape the fear of the panic, and the media’s blatant lies are only adding to this uncertainty and fear — and are doing so by design.

Someone ought to make a documentary about that, no?

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15 Comments

  1. Professions regulate themselves; law, medicine, education, journalism, etc. If they do not hold themselves to their standards, others will step in to do so. Most professions are getting ever less diligent in enforcement of their standards. The destroyers of professions think of their professional skills as tools to achieve their personal ends. Good is a professional outcome, not a personal agenda. The distinction illuminates the egocentric thinking that permeates Leftist thought.

  2. “After Truth “or A.T. This Year is 3 A.T. of the current “mainstream” media mendacity moaning about HiLIARy’s schlonging by Donald Trump. The “mainstream” media lied for a whole year about polling showing HiLIARy winning nearly every electoral vote and state, trying to suppress GOP voters and it suppressed the wrong ones. It suppressed the Democrats in nearly every demographic because they believed the “mainstream” media’s pro-HiLIARy campaign (because they were part of it) that she was going to win going away. The “mainstream” media had to quickly try to smear President elect Trump so that the dolts they fooled in the “HiLIARy’s gonna win” campaign might ask “Why was OUR media so WRONG about OUR inevitable win?” That’s why “After Truth” is so telling in its title…the “mainstream” media is in the post truthfulness phase of its contemptible “mission”. Contempt is all HBO, Hollywood, the “mainstream” media deserve…they’ve EARNED it.

  3. When it comes right down to it, the only criticism that any liberal has of the media is that it’s not biased to the left enough.

  4. It’s funny to see an idiot criticize and ridicule Alex Jones, who is an actual prescient genius selling healthful supplements to support his 24/7 superhuman drive for truth and honesty in government and media, using every tool at his disposal, including a masterful way of clowning, application of appropriate satire, & improvisational theater.

  5. Somehow, somewhere, somebody with deep pockets is going to get hit with a brainstorm and decide to launch an actual news service. He or she is going to start from the fundamental premise that the truth will be reported, in its entirety, regardless of who it helps or hurts. He or she will not hire anyone who currently works for what is laughingly called the “news media” and will definitely not hire anyone with a degree in what is called “journalism” these days. The men and women on the ground seeking news will be reporters. They will get and report the news — who, what, where, when, why, and how. They will not editorialize.

    I believe that such a service will be an instant hit because the echo chambers on both sides produce so much disinformation and static that the leadership on both sides is just as mistaken about current reality as the dupes on the streets the so-called media is trying to sway. Honest, hard facts are as rare as hens teeth. It can’t continue. Maybe the only solution is for the media to fall so far into disrepute that it has no choice but to reinvent itself based on those fundamental principles. If so, it won’t be long now.

  6. I may just watch “After Truth”. It all depends on how much aggravation I’ve had, and whether or not I need more of it.

  7. Hbo pushes every dead horse and who really gives a shit movie/story/narrative at their consumers. I shut them off. And then my cable service.
    Anything in the news or what it has become is similar to listening to a spoiled child who believes he can do no wrong and has a cause. It’s good to have one, but to what end- or just more intolerant unjustified outrage at the cause of the day

  8. The crown jewel of main stream media Fake News is repeating the lie that Trump said “Nazis are Good People.” He never said it, there is no written document, audio, or video of him saying it……………..but the NYT, WaPo, CNN, et al repeated it for months and still do. The Best vindication for Trump and takedown of the Fake News Media will be his re-election.

  9. The left goes after the biggest sources of “REAL” news and it’s the main reason the left went after Infowars early on .

    I never listened to Jones and that’s because i don’t listen to any video’s at all i much prefer printed information.

    A few people last week on Breitbart did bring up Jones and they said everybody needs to go back a few months and read what Jones was talking about and what was printed on his website.

    According to them everything that has unfolded over the last couple of months Jones predicted with stunning accuracy and i mean dead on accuracy .

    That’s something to think about . While i don’t listen to his podcasts i certainly can never rule him out for not being accurate . Infowars over the years has been incredibly accurate and the biggest reason the left was relentless in destroying that site.

    Fake news list

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c412d8ab8731ce7f2fab122603b65302965ce532f971481d929e9e9317fe607c.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/d3e632980b5b21fa2878a007b882005b232469a37abcf71b8349a0094f922139.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/6ed8b8d64fc492be764418093691348434b00676e2fba1156e6a4ca4b8f2155a.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/8aaa7967298b541adcc63ddfc6716374f35f2e05aecf6266cabf96ace5f5179a.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/91338777bbc998bdecf23cf449cc02497470f7fddd8d826085ccd05c97eff6b5.jpg

  10. I tried watching this and gave up the ghost about 20 min. They picked on some niche right wing types and ignored all the crap that happens nightly.

  11. “Journalism” is not the same thing as the ‘news media’. The “news media” is about partisan political propaganda. “Journalism” is about objective fact and truth.

  12. You’re way off base with Jones. You know, you don’t have to attack him with the same conjured leftest talking points in order to appear ‘fair and balanced’ or ‘centrist’. His products all are California approved (which is tough to get done, especially as a designated target), and he ends up being right more than wrong. Conservatives trying to ‘reach the higher shelves’ by standing on Jone’s body are only destroying themselves.

    He’s animated…we get it…the right has been beaten into a docile/timid submission of mankind…but stop trying to act like Alex Jones is some monster there to make ‘the right’ look bad. He’s more classical Libertarian than anyone currently over at Breitbart is.

  13. journalism is NOT dying….it is DEAD. We live in a post information credibility era. No one, no thing. no institution, no university, no publication, no study, no white paper, newspaper, tv station or web site can be trusted. therefore……WE ARE FXKED. and it was the arrogance of these very same institutions that got us to this point……ESPECIALLY THE PRESS.

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