The spin just keeps getting better and better… Where to start?
The big news on the production side of the house this week was a “canceled” screening in Tempe that was actually rescheduled. As documented in detail by John Lynch, a screening was originally scheduled for 7 PM; Lynch and at least a handful of other registered attendees received an email notification that the screening had been canceled. Being naturally suspicious, they checked with the theater and found out that a screening was indeed scheduled for 6 PM. A couple of the folks in question made their way there and managed to get in despite “not being on the list.”
So what’s up with that? In Lynch’s assessment, “There you go. Lying. Plain and simple and there is no way they can spin that.” It turns out that no one’s even trying to spin it. Complete silence from the Expelled camp.
But is it lying? Possibly. But here are some questions that would need to be answered before legitimately drawing that conclusion. Had the 6 PM screening already been scheduled before the 7 PM had been canceled? Were Lynch, et al singled out, or did friendlies get bounced, too? Did the 7 PM merely have to get rescheduled, and the invite list trimmed to accommodate a smaller auditorium? Did some staffer merely misunderstand that the screening had been canceled rather than rescheduled?
Any way you cut it, the incident was badly managed; but as yet no one’s come across any hard evidence of intent to deceive; and as I pointed out over at Arts & Faith, if mere appearance of intent were sufficient evidence, then the I.D. camp has a pretty strong case for their theory.
But wait… There are some new developments on the “misrepresentation” front, too.
Felix Salmon, over at Conde Nast’s Portfolio.com, saw the film and was startled by its portrayal of Pamela Winnick: “Winnick is presented in the film for all the world as a diligent journalist - a Jewish journalist, no less - who just happened to mention Intelligent Design, en passant, in one of her columns, and ended up getting fired.” But he points out:
Winnick is the author of “A Jealous God: Science’s Crusade Against Religion,” published in 2005 by Thomas Nelson. … In her journalism for the newspaper from which she was fired she talked of Darwin’s influence on eugenics and Hitler, and “the serious people –scientists included — who continue to challenge his theories”.
Salmon’s point, which seems pretty fair, is that Winnick is hardly an objective voice in the whole thing, and might be more rightly styled a partisan. The remainder of Salmon’s review of the film is pretty balanced and accurate.
Along those same lines, Allen MacNeill recently left these comments on a thread at Panda’s Thumb:
As an interesting addition to this debate, Will Provine and I were interviewed by Mark Mathis and his crew last year. … However, unlike PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins, the interviews with Will and I were not included in the film. Why not? Because (as many posters at this site are well aware), we regularly invite ID proponents (such as Michael Behe, John Sanford, Hannah Maxson, and Phillip Johnson, among many others) to make presentations in our evolution courses at Cornell. But this fact would clash in an unfortunate way with the premise of the film, which is that “Darwinists” unfairly discriminate against ID supporters and creationists.
So there’s definitely a charge of selective bias that audiences should be aware of; as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, don’t expect Expelled (or any movie) to tell you the whole truth.
But there’s more.
When I went to MacNeill’s blog to research his story, I came across a post in which he demurred elaborating on the above comments: “that’s not what I want to talk about in this blog,” he wrote.
Instead, this is what he wanted to talk about:
Ben Stein has been quoted repeatedly as saying that the underlying message in “Expelled” is “No Darwin, no Hitler”.
Problem: Stein hasn’t said that.
What has been quoted repeatedly is the statement that “Stein has been quoted repeatedly” as saying that. But Stein has not, in fact, said that, nor has the film.
So who did say that? D. James Kennedy in anti-evolution documentary of his own.
So caveat emptor. Discredit is a two-way street; and who can you trust?
To wrap up, a couple of quotes from documentary filmmaker Errol Morris, whose Thin Blue Line arguably ushered in a new age of documentary filmmaking.
There is no mode of expression, no technique of production that will instantly produce truth or falsehood. There is no veritas lens – no lens that provides a “truthful” picture of events. There is cinéma vérité and kino pravda but no cinematic truth. The engine of uncovering truth is not some special lens or even the unadorned human eye; it is unadorned human reason.
Is the problem that we have an unfettered capacity for credulity, for false belief, and hence, we feel the need to protect ourselves from ourselves? If seeing is believing, then we better be damn careful about what we show people, including ourselves – because, regardless of what it is – we are likely to uncritically believe it.
So there it is, folks on all sides: engage your brains; don’t jump to conclusions; don’t swallow entertainment like medicine, swallow it like twinkies.
And I really recommend a good read through all of Morris’ column and the attached comments. You might learn a thing or two about the state of documentary filmmaking; and you might realize that Expelled is not nearly as manipulative as it might be.