Anatomy of Propaganda – Part Two
In his classic novel 1984, author George Orwell described the technique of propaganda: “To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies.”
Going Clear is yet another Gibney rehash of false, stale and unproven claims. Virtually every allegation in the film was promoted for years by the same handful of embittered malcontents in the pages of the struggling St. Petersburg Times (now Tampa Bay Times) as part of its inflammatory anti-Scientology agenda. It was later regurgitated by Gibney’s co-producer Lawrence Wright for a New Yorker article and book before ending up as the substance of Gibney’s film.
Gibney’s epic recycling of old claims was transparent. The website Slant labeled the Wright-Gibney film a “lazy, sensationalistic piece of cinematic journalism” wrapped in “two hours of talking-head interviews, reenactments, and pointless scaremongering.” Spliced Personality stated succinctly, “What we don’t get is anything new.” Or, as the Times of London put it, Going Clear is “a hugely overlong and dull piece…”
Gibney, while still daring to call himself a documentary maker, said, “It’s not about the facts, it’s about the texture.” What follows is a series of snapshots revealing how Gibney manipulated the facts to create the texture he wanted for his film on Scientology—the vilification of a religion and the people who practice it.
Alex Gibney went to extraordinary lengths to avoid the truth. At an International Documentary Association event in Los Angeles on September 28, 2015, a man in the audience named Norman Taylor asked Alex Gibney a pointed question. The director predictably ducked.
Taylor is the former husband of Spanky Taylor, who in Gibney’sGoing Clear tells a melodramatic tale of “escaping” the Church with their daughter 37 years ago while failing to explain why she stayed in the Church for six more years. Calmly and forcefully, Norman Taylor asked Gibney why, in making his one-sided hatchet job, he never bothered to corroborate his ex-wife’s version of events, which Norman categorically disputes as revisionist fiction. As her husband at the time, no one was in a better position to know the true story.
Gibney replied: “We didn’t reach out to Norman Taylor and didn’t reach out to a lot of ex-husbands or ex-wives because it seemed like they might have an ax to grind.” No, they might have had facts pertinent to the claims being made.
A lack of research, and reliance on what’s been done before.
For Going Clear, Alex Gibney recreated Lawrence Wright’s book of the same name “to get the story we wanted.” Gibney uncritically accepted co-producer Wright’s pronouncements (“I trusted Larry—I wasn’t looking for holes in his story” and “I relied on Larry a lot,” he said) despite the gaping holes in Wright’s works. Instead of doing his own research, Gibney accepted at face value every allegation made by Wright’s discredited sources. While some wound up on the cutting room floor, what made it onto the screen amounted to one error every two minutes on average.
Gibney never checked a single “fact” related to the Church. In the fallout from these violations of rules of documentary making, the film’s UK distributor was compelled to add this disclaimer at the beginning of the film:
“The following documentary contains allegations by former members of the Church of Scientology against the Church and some of its current members. The Church contends that it was not given an adequate opportunity to comment on these allegations. It denies the allegations and says they are made by discredited former Scientologists.”