Combustible Celluloid
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With: Elizabeth Williamson, Molly McKew, Derrick Broze, Craig Silverman, James Alefantis, Keith Alexander, Bryce Reh, Daniel Saperstein, Oliver Darcy, Will Sommer, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Molly Levinson, Claire Wardle, Jason Goodman, Yochai Benkler, David Folkenflik, Aaron Rich, Mike Gottlieb, Scott Shane, Adam Goldman, David Lazer, Meryl Conant Governski, Kara Swisher, Soroush Vosoughi, Andrew Feinberg, Tristan Harris, Shawna Thomas, Angie Holan
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Andrew Rossi
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 95
Date: 03/19/2020

After Truth: Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News (2020)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Fact Up

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

One journalist compares sorting through "fake news" to "bathing in garbage," and indeed, the documentary After Truth: Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News is a very tough sit, but it also offers tools for viewers to begin identifying this poison.

The film explores several alarming instances of "fake news," beginning with the so-called "Pizzagate." Based on the hacked emails of Hilary Clinton's campaign manager, conspiracy theorists determined that the Comet Ping Pong pizza parlor in Washington D.C. was the source of a human trafficking/child sex ring. Alt-right radio personality Alex Jones perpetuated it, and finally a gunman attacked the restaurant itself.

Other conspiracy theories involve a military training exercise, the murder of Democratic National Convention employee Seth Rich, and an attempt to smear and discredit special counsel Robert Mueller with a fake sex scandal. Ultimately the documentary concludes that fake news is the equivalent of weaponry, that its use is dangerous, and that there's no clear end in sight.

Directed by Andrew Rossi (of the terrific Page One: Inside the New York Times), After Truth: Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News feels like a complex disentangling of things, and at the end, it can offer no answers. But it includes many unforgettable moments, mainly the emotional results of these disinformation attacks, such as anger, and sorrow. Comet Ping Pong owner James Alefantis is heartbreakingly uncomfortable talking about his unbelievable story, and finally breaks down while telling it.

In another sequence, a press conference is held by alt-right lobbyist Jack Burkman and conspiracy troll Jacob Wohl to try to convince mainstream journalists that special counsel Mueller has been accused of sexual assault. The journalists see right through the ruse, but the trolls keep doubling down, apparently without shame. One reporter angrily explains that he didn't even run the story because mentioning it at all would give more power to the lies.

Another scene has the aggressive, acerbic Alex Jones raging at and berating a CNN reporter for being "fake" (ironically), and even having it filmed. It's enormously upsetting — as are many other moments in After Truth: Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News — but it's also eye-opening, and essential.

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