New Documentary Makes the Case for Independent Journalism

By Dan Verderosa, November 3, 2016

New Documentary Makes the Case for Independent Journalism

A new documentary partially shot at Ithaca College and produced by Associate Professor of Journalism Jeff Cohen makes the case that the mainstream media is failing to speak truth to power.

“All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception and the Spirit of I.F. Stone” is directed by Emmy-Award-winning filmmaker Fred Peabody and executive produced by Cohen and Peter Raymont.

The documentary features noted independent journalists like Jeremy Scahill, Glenn Greenwald, Amy Goodman and Michael Moore. They argue that while the governments have always sought to mislead the public, the mainstream media has increasingly abdicated its responsibility to investigate government policies or corporate actions in favor of seeking profits.

“I think the media is really nihilistic; it’s about making money,” says Rolling Stone Contributing Editor Matt Taibbi in the film. “What makes money in this country happens to be avoiding difficult truths about our society.”

Drawing inspiration from I.F. Stone, a renowned investigative journalist known for questioning official accounts and revealing government deception in the 1950s and '60s, the documentary presents independent journalism as key to exposing the truth in today’s world.

“A half-century after Stone’s heyday during the Vietnam War, in our current era of perpetual war and elevated levels of P.R. spin, he is seen as a national treasure for today’s investigative journalists because of his skepticism, his tireless research and his colorful writing,” said Cohen, who teaches journalism in the Roy H. Park School of Communications at Ithaca College and is the founding director of the Park Center for Independent Media. “Today’s journalists are addressing some of the same problems Stone excelled at exposing — militarism, racism, exploitation of the weak by the strong and media conformity.”

Cohen became involved in the documentary after being introduced to Peabody and Raymont by I.F. Stone’s son Jeremy at the 2014 Izzy Award ceremony. Cohen founded the award — which takes its name from Stone’s nickname, “Izzy” — to recognize outstanding achievement in independent media.

Several scenes in the documentary were filmed at Ithaca College. In one such scene, Jeremy Scahill and other journalists take questions from a group of students.

“I think that the future is taking so much of what’s amazing about the creativity and innovation of young people who are dipping their toes into the water of journalism, and the ideas that they have and the lack of cynicism, and we try to meld that with old-school muckraking techniques and slow-cook journalism,” Scahill tells the students. “Whoever figures out how to really wed those two things is going to create something very special in the media landscape.”

Cohen and his fellow filmmakers hope that their documentary will encourage a new generation of independent investigative journalists dedicated to uncovering the truth and holding governments and corporations accountable for their actions.

“My dream at the Park Center is to contribute to the next generation of Amy Goodmans and Glenn Greenwalds,” said Cohen. “We point students in that direction through a unique journalism class focused on independent outlets and a summer internship program that allows students to work at places like The Nation and Democracy Now!”

“All Governments Lie” premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2016. It opens for week-long runs in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, Nov. 4.