With a high-stakes presidential election looming in America and a global refugee crisis in full force, it is crucial that the media accurately informs the public without compromising its integrity. All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception and the Spirit of I.F. Stone highlights how the North American mainstream media seem to regularly fail at the accurate dissemination of news.
The compelling documentary argues that the media harm the public by choosing profit and sensationalism over responsible reporting. Fred Peabody, a Vancouver-based filmmaker, directed All Governments Lie, which focuses on the legacy of the late I.F. Stone. Stone was an independent muckraker who exposed government lies in his newsletter I.F. Stone’s Weekly — subscribed to by the likes of Albert Einstein and Marilyn Monroe — for nearly 20 years. Stone worked from home; barred from press conferences, he scanned government documents to uncover falsehoods and dishonesty.
Stone’s most important message to his readers was that “all governments lie.” The documentary takes aim at figures like President Barack Obama, former presidents Richard Nixon and George W. Bush, and current Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to exemplify how politicians are prone to lying in order to meet their own ends.
Jarring historical footage of men in suits plotting to shed blood in Vietnam and invade Iraq sets a dystopic scene, where largely deferential mainstream media neglect to challenge the intentions of many politicians, but rather use these conflicts for their own gain. Peabody exhibits how media giants like MSNBC, Fox News, The New York Times, and CNN have been complicit, allowing politicians to go unchecked and make poor decisions.
There is hope in the film seen through the journalists and independent media outlets that embody Stone’s spirit. Figures like Michael Moore, Glenn Greenwald, Amy Goodman, Cenk Uygur, and John Carlos Frey are framed as independent truth-seekers who, for their integrity and critical thinking, are largely shunned by mainstream media. These journalists critique the corporate media, which they view as more concerned with ratings and advertisers than with serious reporting.
Mainstream outlets are compared to independent news sources like Goodman’s Democracy Now, Greenwald’s The Intercept, and Uygur’s The Young Turks, which are by contrast depicted as virtuous, committed to the truth, and unfazed by more commercial pursuits.
The evidence presented in All Governments Lie is convincing. Intellectuals like Noam Chomsky also support the thesis that mainstream media are heavily compromised. During many of America’s most crucial moments, such as the invasion of Iraq, popular media outlets failed to adequately scrutinize and critique decision makers.
Peabody comes up short in presenting the full picture of the media landscape though. None of the mainstream journalists criticized are interviewed in the film — not for a lack of trying, according to Peabody in a Q&A after Thursday night’s screening — nor does the documentary mention the other side of independent media.
For every media outlet like The Intercept, there are several iterations of independent outlets like InfoWars and Breitbart that peddle lies and conspiracy, uninterested in journalistic integrity or even basic honesty. These outlets often agree with Stone on how governments lie; the difference is that, unlike Stone, they lie just as much, if not more.
All Governments Lie succeeds in critiquing powerful media outlets and championing independent muckrakers, but it still would have benefitted from exploring independent media from multiple angles.