Some laughed at the Pizzagate conspiracy first spread in October 2016 when reports on Reddit and 4chan alleged that presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, billionaire philanthropist George Soros, and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta were running a pedophile ring at Comet Ping Pong, a Washington, D.C., pizzeria. You’d think this nonsense would be done with after an outraged man went to Comet Ping Pong to rescue the children and shot up the door to a closet with an assault rifle.
But recently the right-wing conspiracy group QAnon has revived Pizzagate, and earlier this month QAnon advocate Marjorie Taylor Greene won the Republican primary for US representative in Georgia’s deep-red 14th Congressional District. President Trump tweeted, “a future Republican star . . . a real WINNER!”
How did we get to this nightmare culmination of the trend analyzed in Richard Hofstadter’s 1964 essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics”? Andrew Rossi’s “After Truth: Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News” traces the history this phenomenon from the time when “fake news” actually referred to misinformation designed to delude and manipulate the masses to the present day, when it has become a mantra demonizing real news reported by real journalists.
Who remembers “Jade Helm 15,” the 2015 US military exercise in Texas? Like a latter-day, insidious version of Orson Welles’s 1938 “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast, Alex Jones of InfoWars reported that the operation was a plot to take away everyone’s guns and imprison dissidents in Walmart stores via underground tunnels. Many Texans fell for it.
Then there was the canard seized on by Sean Hannity and Fox News that Seth Rich, a Clinton staffer who was killed in 2016 in a botched robbery, was murdered to prevent him from spilling dirt on Hillary to Julian Assange and Wikileaks. And then the claim that the 2018 Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting in Florida never happened, and that outspoken survivor David Hogg was in fact a “crisis actor.” No wonder a BuzzFeed reporter tells Rossi that covering these stories is like “bathing in Internet garbage.”
Even the exposure of blatant frauds won’t stop it. Charlatans Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl are seen being humiliated in 2018 when the press conference they hold to prove that Robert Mueller committed sexual assault goes disastrously awry. But as a New York Times reporter points out, fiasco or not, their mission has been accomplished. They have gotten the exposure and credibility they need by getting journalists to show up and turning the media into accomplices.
“After Truth: Disinformation and The Cost of Fake News” can be seen on CNN on Aug. 29 at 10 p.m. It will stream live for subscribers via CNNgo and via CNNgo apps for Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire, Chromecast, Samsung Smart TV, and Android TV and on the CNN mobile apps for iOS and Android. Following the premiere on CNN, the film will stream exclusively via HBO Max.
Befriending man’s best friend
Ceyda Torun’s “Kedi” (2016) delighted viewers with its endearing stray-cat’s-eye view of feline life in Istanbul. Jesse Alk’s impressionistic, visually stunning documentary, “Pariah Dog” (2019), presents a darker, canine version of a similar story, set in Kolkata, India.
It focuses on four marginalized people in that city dedicated to helping the countless stray dogs starving and suffering in the streets. They buy them food and medicine, even though they can hardly afford their own needs. Though they know their cause is endless and futile, they persevere nonetheless.
One of the caregivers, a sexagenarian with dreams of becoming a musician, tends to a sick dog huddled under a car. Later a burly man roughly pulls the now-dead dog out from under the car and stuffs it in a bag. He rides off with it on a bicycle and complains about not getting paid. In another scene a woman digs a grave and gently lays to rest the dog she has unsuccessfully tried to restore to health. In tears she covers the body with a garland of flowers, buries it, and returns to the dozens of other dogs and cats awaiting her care. Heartbreaking and luminous.
“Pariah Dog” can be streamed on Amazon Prime.
Go to www.pariahdogmovie.com.
Those were the days — during the counterculture — when young people thought it might be a cool idea to drop everything and hitchhike across the Sahara Desert. In Scott Peterson’s documentary “Hitchhiking to the Edge of Sanity” (2016), Steve Ewert and Dick Russell, who back then were long-haired students thirsting for experience and seeking the meaning of life, recall engaging on such an expedition in 1971.
Their adventures included flying across the Atlantic in a twin-engine Cessna whose only navigational equipment was a compass; a failed and disillusioning attempt to meet the exiled Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver in Algeria; hitching a long ride in a mechanically challenged VW microbus with an increasingly obnoxious wannabe revolutionary; hours of waiting for rides in scorching heat with a diminishing water supply; and being welcomed by the chief of an Ashanti tribal village and then getting abruptly kicked out after snapping an ill-timed photograph.
It almost ended in a hotel room in Accra, Ghana, when Ewert woke up hallucinating that insects were crawling out of his mouth. He was having a nervous breakdown. Russell tended to him for several days, until Ewert got his grip on reality and they could finish their itinerary and return home.
Not quite as drastic a journey as that in, say, Paul Bowles’s 1949 novel “The Sheltering Sky,” but enough to shake their sensibilities, open their minds, and establish a friendship that has endured to this day.
“Hitchhiking to the Edge of Sanity” can be streamed on Amazon Prime.
Peter Keough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.