Alex Gibney He’s a propagandist and he learned at the feet of a master
Alex Gibney is a documentary filmmaker who carries a dirty little secret—well, actually several.
The first is that he has never allowed the truth to get in the way of a good hatchet job.
The second is that he believes facts are pesky things best used sparingly while crafting a prefabricated agenda. According to a fascinating tip from an insider who didn’t appreciate the hatchet-job Gibney was doing, declassified government documents on the Internet reveal that Gibney’s dad, Frank, was a journalist who worked with the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1960s on a clandestine project known as Operation Mockingbird*—so-named because it mocked the very idea of press ethics.
The campaign was designed to influence media through a relentless propaganda crusade. It recruited American journalists to help present the CIA’s views, funding student and cultural organizations and magazines as fronts while infiltrating major media organizations.
Operation Mockingbird claimed Frank Gibney as one of its undercover operatives. The experience would come in handy when schooling his son Alex in how to be—or perhaps how not to be—a journalist.
It turns out that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Alex Gibney has inherited his father’s penchant for mystery and evasion, working in secret for two years while producing a documentary on the Church of Scientology. It was in the can and scheduled to screen at a film festival before he even bothered to mention it to the Church.
Since learning of it, the Church repeatedly has reached out to Gibney to inquire about his interest in anything the Church has to say, or if he was satisfied getting his information from discredited former members with axes to grind.
Gibney’s response was to join hands with his executive producer at HBO, Sheila Nevins, in refusing to meet or to share information about any of his sources or indeed even the purported allegations.
The latest indignity was Gibney’s and Nevins’ calculated, defiant rejection of 25 legitimate Church sources who had traveled to New York specifically to meet with them and to present firsthand accounts and unimpeachable documents. They ignored innumerable requests, evidently too busy puttering around their ivory tower.
Gibney later told the media that he wasn’t interested in hearing from anyone who would “smear” his sources, serving to further discredit the people he was in bed with. His lame excuse was he already “got the story that we wanted.”
What’s more, the guy conceded that he knew that at least one of his principal sources had lied in the past, but chose to ignore it. Gibney’s clear motive was to elude any factoid that might potentially derail a rigidly preconceived agenda.
What is Alex Gibney so afraid of? Perhaps he’s worried that the truth will get in the way of a carefully crafted piece of fiction. It seems that like his father, he prefers telling secrets and spreading lies to trading in transparency and facts.
Why wouldn’t Mr. Gibney be inspired to tell the whole story of Scientology? Perhaps it’s because he isn’t in any way dedicated to sincerity and candor, or principles of actual journalism.
Then again, maybe he simply prefers to subscribe to the Swiss cheese values system demonstrated by his co-producer, author Lawrence Wright, who has admitted in a televised interview, “Truth is one of those subjective terms that are pointless to get too tied up about.”
We believe in calling them as we see them, and what we see in Alex Gibney is a propagandist who treasures concealment. It is no way for a man who thinks of himself as a real storyteller to behave—unless he flat-out admits that the stories he prefers telling are tall tales.
It’s time for Alex Gibney and HBO to cop to their deck-stacking bias. Because a documentary is a terrible thing to waste.