Merchants of Doubt is a really great documentary. It begins by looking specifically at the cigarette industry and the way the industry fought the medical claims about cigarettes for decades even as they knew the truth. They lived by a simple principle: it isn’t necessary to disprove the claims of your enemies; it is sufficient to simply cast doubt on them. Phrases like, “We’re just not sure yet” and “Doctors aren’t in agreement” and, best of all, “We need to wait until all the evidence is in” become stock in trade. This part of the film, which also looks at some other industries, and the way they were similarly corrupt is infuriating. The film then takes a turn about half-way in and becomes about climate change and the way the same thing is happening today. Most shocking of all is the discovery that climate change opponents aren’t just using the same tactics as the cigarette companies, they’re literally using the same people. Pundits for hire that went on television to cast doubt on the harmful qualities of cigarettes are now going on television to cast doubt on climate change. Many of these people don’t simply do this from time to time; many of them make a living from it – their career is to lie on television. The film isn’t hysterical or over the top; it just lays out the facts, makes the case and leaves it to the audience to become outraged at the fundamental dishonesty and the shameless lies being foisted on the American people. You’ll walk out of this movie more than a little angry, probably, at just how little the multi-nationals care about your life. If it helps their bottom line, they’ll lie to keep you smoking, knowing all the time that you’re giving yourself lung cancer. Do they care if you have lung cancer? Not one bit. It’s a gripping documentary and it’s also pretty entertaining at times, due to famed magician Ricky Jay showing off card tricks at various points in the film, illustrating principles of deception by letting us in on his tricks, tricks just like the ones the corporations are using. It’s a wonderful documentary that everyone should see, if only to learn the tricks. The point of the film, the filmmakers say at one point, is to teach the viewer the principles so we can see the lies ourselves. Once you see the trick, Jay says, you can’t unsee it; you’ll see it every time. Would that everyone in the world could see the trick. 4 stars.
tl;dr – fascinating documentary sheds light on the people paid to lie on our TV screens and the dishonest corporations behind them. 4 stars.