By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on March 9, 2013)
Greedy Lying Bastards: Do we have to draw you a picture?
I know it’s cliché to quote from the Joseph Goebbels playbook, but this one bears repeating: “If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.” That’s pretty much the theme that runs throughout Craig Rosebraugh’s documentary, Greedy Lying Bastards. As a PR consultant seems to reinforce in the film: “On one side you have all the facts. On the other side, you have none. But the folks without the facts are far more effective at convincing the public that this is not a problem, than scientists are about convincing them that we need to do something about this.”
The debate at hand? Global warming. The facts, in this case, would appear irrefutable; Rosebraugh devotes the first third of his film to a recap of what we’ve been watching on the nightly news for the past several years: a proliferation of super-storms like Hurricane Sandy, rampant wildfires, “brown-outs”, and one of the worst droughts in U.S. history. Climate scientists weigh in.
Granted, this ground has been covered extensively via the surge of eco-docs that followed Davis Guggenheim’s 2006 film, An Inconvenient Truth (one of the top 10 highest-grossing documentaries of all time). And one could argue that moviegoers have stayed away from subsequent genre offerings in droves, leaving many hapless (if earnest) filmmakers preaching to the choir (ever attended a matinee with 3 people in the audience, including you?). Rosebraugh separates himself from the pack by devoting most of the screen time going after those “folks without the facts”, and analyzing how and why they are “far more effective” at this game.
Using simple but damning flow charts, Rosebraugh follows the money and connects the dots between high-profile deniers (who one interviewee labels “career skeptics […] in the business of selling doubt”) and their special interest sugar daddies. The shills range from media pundits (very few who have any background in hard science) to members of Congress, presidential candidates and Supreme Court justices. Various “think tanks” and organizations are exposed to be glorified mouthpieces for the big money boys as well.
If you enjoy a generous dollop of heroes and villains atop your scathing expose, you should find this doc to be in your wheelhouse. Sadly, the villains outnumber the heroes. It’s a bit depressing, but as you watch, you’ll thank the gods for the Good Guys, like politicians Henry Waxman and Jay Inslee, and science-backed voices of reason like Dr. Michael E. Mann. The idiosyncratic Rosebraugh narrates throughout like an ironic hipster version of Edward R. Murrow.
At one point, the director gets into the act, Roger and Me style. After unsuccessful attempts to arrange an interview with ExxonMobil’s chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson, he goes guerilla. Hiding his tats with suit and tie, he gains admission to Exxon Mobil’s annual shareholder’s meeting, where he asks the chairman (from the audience) if he would (at the very least) acknowledge the human factor in global warming. Tillerson’s answer, while not exactly reassuring, is surprising. What does reassure are suggested action steps in the film’s coda…which is the least any of us can do.