CNN looks into complaints from people appearing in the new Bill Maher film, Religulous, that filmmakers misrepresented their aims in interviews. Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR) claims to have been taken out of context, but others claim that Maher and director Larry Charles flat-out lied. Both of them admit to it:
Pryor’s complaint seems minor compared to the other allegations in this piece. I would imagine that PBS might have some issues with Maher and Charles posing as members of their news teams to gain the trust of these subjects, as it will make it more difficult for them to get interviews in the future. I imagine CNN would have provided a lot more criticism of this practice had Maher posed as one of their news units, although CNN does a pretty good job of reporting on Maher and Charles in this piece.
Documentaries only have value when they report truth and don’t distort for propaganda purposes. Religulous obviously falls into that latter, Michael-Moore category, and that was obvious from the first time I saw the trailer a month ago. It speaks ill of any documentary filmmaker and the value of their project when they lie about their intentions and misrepresent their project as baldly as Maher and Charles do here. Deception may be needed in investigative journalism when uncovering government abuses or similar practices in the private sector, but how much deception would be necessary to find extremists in the various religions of the world? Most of them constantly clamor for attention.
In the end, a documentary exploiting the extremists in any endeavor for laughs does nothing but feed the smug superiority of the filmmakers. It’s the worst kind of self-indulgence, and in this case exposes the bigotry of Maher and Charles. We already knew that much about Maher, and now we know he’s also intellectually dishonest as well, without the courage to stand in front of his project and have a valid debate rather than lie and then poke fun of billions of people by equating them with the freak show he himself stages.
Update: Yes, CNN still can’t figure out how to create embeddable code for its videos. Yes, they’re incredibly lame. Click the link at the top to take you to the video on CNN’s site.