Art of the Propagandist Revisited
This week being the 74th anniversary of the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor, it cannot help but remind us that Alex Gibney’s father, Frank Gibney, served as a combat interrogation specialist for the Office of Naval Intelligence and spent much of that war interrogating Japanese prisoners of war.
Thereafter, the senior Gibney’s career never took him far from the intelligence community. Whether it was popularizing the U.S. government’s position concerning Soviet aggression in Eastern Europe, or cobbling together a fake diary of a Soviet officer who had been passing secrets to the British and American intelligence, much of Mr. Gibney’s career as a journalist never drifted far from Uncle Sam’s shadow. Indeed, an April 1976, a Senate Intelligence Committee report described him as one of a group of “witting Agency assets” in journalism.
But what does this have to do with his son Alex?
Alex Gibney’s father was a major influence on Alex’s career and unquestionably passed on the techniques he used to popularize U.S. foreign policy for the CIA to his son. A case in point is the project that launched Gibney’s career: a documentary for the Public Broadcasting Service entitled, The Pacific Century. While Alex Gibney is credited as the film’s writer, the bulk of the material comes from The Pacific Century, a written book by Gibney’s father to accompany the television broadcast. Further, the project was sponsored by the Pacific Basin Institute, a think tank founded by the elder Gibney. Was this project an effort to shore up U.S. economic relations with Pacific Rim nations during a major U.S. recession and at a time many Americans considered Japanese products to be inferior? We will probably never know. But in it we see the elder Gibney again coming to the aid of the government at just the right time. Only this time, Alex was at his feet, learning from the master.
Alex Gibney’s use of the techniques of the propagandist are clear from his work. No one, including Gibney himself, considers his films to be objective. The question is whether such films deserve the label of documentary or whether they should be considered as simply bigoted press agentry for whatever interests are footing the bill.