AFTER TRUTH: DISINFORMATION AND THE COST OF FAKE NEWS, debuting THURSDAY, MARCH 19 (9:00-10:35 p.m. ET/PT), investigates the ongoing threat caused by the phenomenon of “fake news” in the U.S., focusing on the real-life consequences that disinformation, conspiracy theories and false news stories have on the average citizen. This documentary humanizes a phenomena that Americans will confront in the coming election cycle and for years to come.
The film will also be available on HBO On Demand, HBO NOW, HBO GO and partners’ streaming platforms.
Directed by Andrew Rossi (“Page One: Inside the New York Times,” HBO’s “Le Cirque: A Table in Heaven”) and executive produced by CNN’s Brian Stelter, AFTER TRUTH features exclusive access to the victims and perpetrators of false news stories as well as a variety of experts and journalists who contextualize its impact and reinforce the importance of quality journalism.
The concern over disinformation and false news in our global information environment became ubiquitous after President Trump’s victory in 2016, but the film shows that signs of the crisis were emerging well before the election.
AFTER TRUTH draws on a wealth of interview subjects to illuminate the issue from several angles while emphasizing the human toll in case studies. Subjects include: James Alefantis, owner of the D.C pizzeria embroiled in the “Pizzagate” conspiracy; Keith Alexander, Pulitzer Prize-winning crime reporter for The Washington Post; Harvard professor Yochai Benkler who deconstructs the concept of the “propaganda pipeline;” conservative political operative and self-professed user of “fake news” Jack Burkman; author and conspiracy theorist, Jerome Corsi; Oliver Darcy, senior media reporter for CNN; Adam Goldman, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter at The New York Times; University of Pennsylvania professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson; disinformation expert Molly McKew; Aaron Rich, brother of DNC staffer Seth Rich; Scott Shane, reporter for the New York Times; Will Sommer, tech reporter for The Daily Beast; Silicon Valley journalist Kara Swisher; Elizabeth Williamson, feature writer for The New York Times; and others.
AFTER TRUTH examines several incidents that have been impacted by “fake news:”
- In the summer of 2015, Jade Helm 15 – an eight-week military exercise in Bastrop, Texas – sparked a heated conspiracy among locals who believed President Obama was using the operation as a ruse to detain political dissidents. Promoted by Alex Jones, spread on sites like Reddit and 4chan and exacerbated by actions taken by the governor’s office, which eventually assigned the state guard to monitor the exercise, the conspiracy was of great concern to intelligence and security experts who say it was stoked, in part, by covert Russian information activities targeting the U.S.
- In 2016, online speculation led to what would become known as “Pizzagate.” A family pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C. became the target of vicious online conjecture that a child pornography ring with links to presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was being run on its premises. Known as a safe space for the queer community, Comet and its staff were increasingly terrorized online until the violence crossed into the physical world and an armed gunman burst into the restaurant looking for proof of the crimes. The Reddit-fueled furor, together with vocal attacks from Alex Jones, had in the gunman’s eyes justified his response to the entirely falsified story.
- In 2016, Seth Rich, a Democratic National Committee employee, was killed in an attempted robbery. His murder was linked online to the leak of Hillary Clinton’s emails to WikiLeaks, despite overwhelming evidence that the Russians were behind the hacked server and leak. These claims were fueled by operatives like Jack Burkman and Jerome Corsi and broadcast on Fox News and Sean Hannity’s prime time show.
- Attempting to undermine former FBI director Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Trump Administration, conservative operative Jack Burkman and conspiracy theorist Jacob Wohl teamed up to falsely accuse Mueller of sexual assault, staging a press conference in which journalists fight to get to the truth.
- In December 2017, certain activists on the left take on the tactics of their conservative counterparts, when during a senate race between Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones, an online campaign was put in place to imitate Russian tactics to influence voters.
- In the Facebook congressional hearings in 2018, founder Mark Zuckerberg defended the website’s privacy practices and data breaches, while news specialists debated the responsibility of media companies to police their own content in an age of huge advertising revenue and corporate profit, delving into the thorny issues of freedom of speech in our social media age.
In 2019, the FBI designated conspiracy theories like “Pizzagate” as a new domestic terrorism threat. The Bureau also warned about disinformation campaigns targeting the 2020 presidential election. Despite the warnings, the U.S. Senate has failed to pass legislation to increase election security. Educators, journalists and researchers continue to work to protect the facts in our information space.
AFTER TRUTH: DISINFORMATION AND THE COST OF FAKE NEWS is an HBO Documentary Films presentation of an Abstract Production; directed and produced by Andrew Rossi; executive producer Brian Stelter; co-producer, Adam McGill; editor, Cindy Lee; music Ian Hultquist; a film by Andrew Rossi. For HBO: executive producers, Lisa Heller and Nancy Abraham; senior producer, Sara Rodriguez.