Documentary: Merchants of Doubt by Bob Kenner

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Anyone who saw Kenner's Food, Inc. could at least be have seen he does not tend to produce dour, paranoid, investigative pieces. I found the same watchable style to be true of his rendition of Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway's Merchants of Doubt.

The documentary version came out in theaters early March, and out on DVD earlier this July. I don't live anywhere near a theater that showed it so I finally got to see it on DVD.

If you look around you'll find that the people it addresses as con artists and tricksters trying to misuse science to sow doubt are the same ones who attempted to prevent the documentary's release. The formula they use to sow massive public doubt allows us to predict their behavior in other ways as well. Thus they can be expected employ the same PR formula to sow doubt about the doubt.

Quote Breitbart: Anti-climate sceptic film 'Merchants of Doubt' bombs at the box office:

“Merchants of Doubt premieres in U.S. theaters today, and it will invite thousands of energized viewers to sign this petition and join our campaign. Let’s lead the charge! Join me to tell TV network and cable news directors: Stop booking “merchants of doubt” on your programs immediately.”

Unfortunately for Kenner, it seems not many people are interested in leading the charge – not to the box office at least. The film made just $23,300 in its opening weekend, ranking it the 314th best opening weekend ever for a documentary film in the United States, according to the Heartland Institute.

Of course, the Heartland Institute happens to be one of the think tank targets of the documentary, as well as of the book. And then there's the source of the above quote, Breitbart, and his new Government Accountability Institute as a news source... Ahh, but here we are (according to them) spinning, using the same tactics to attack the tactics of the spinmeisters... But wait a minute... Is investigation an attack. And what if they are corrupt (and they aren't denying it), does using any tactic of exposure they may (mis)use by extension commit corruption?... thereby making Kenner, and by extension Naomi Oreskes and Conway, practicioners of deception and corruption (like them)? Or is to suggest something through sleight of hand logical fallacy, thereby hoping to confuse, like the magician with card tricks who starts the documentary with trickery as a metaphor, and hopefully shut down further investigation? I leave the answer to that open.

I want to start this discussion with something I transcribed from the documentary elsewhere, because I found it a kind of metaphor for getting to the problem of communicating about the issue of climate change, and then finding ways to act on what the science is showing us in the political climate that swarms around our social environment, kind of like the climate of the earth swarms around the living environment, only not necessarily mirrors of each other.

Quote Merchants of Doubt:

Viewer/watcher/listener/questioner (VWLQ): Should I think of you as a liberal, a conservative, or....?

Bob Inglis 6 Term Congressman: Pretty Conservative is how you should think of me. Ninety Three American Conservative Rating, 100 percent Christian Coalition, National Right to Life.

I represented the 4th District of South Carolina, which is probably the reddest district in the reddest state in the nation.

When I was first in Congress I was a complete denier. I said, “That's hooey, absolute nonsense. Al Gore's imagination.” I hadn't really thought about it, I just knew that if it was coming from the other team, it had to be wrong. I got on the science committee and had the opportunity to go to Antarctica twice, actually. I saw the evidence in the ice core. You can pull it up and examine the CO2 levels. They were really stable. And then coinciding with the industrial revolution, there's an uptick. The chemistry is real clear, that you'rr changing the chemistry of the air. So I decided, really right there, I'm gonna go back and I'm gonna do something.

(Cut to scene of Bob Inglis speaking in Congress.)

Bob Inglis continues talking to VWLQ: Of course that was to my great peril with the tea party coming on and the great recession happening. (Amidst a background screen of Tim Phillips, President of Amerians for Prosperity, shouting to the protesters Bob continues:) There's a tide of doubt that comes out of the Great Recession where we started to doubt every institution, you know. And along comes some people that see the opportunity. Americans for Prosperity has been amazingly effective. They're able to organize that discontent.

(Cut to a scene with Tim Phillips speaking into a microphone saying: “In the name of Al Gorism... And by the way, can we just talk about Al Gore for a moment? Loud boos, Loud No's, a shot of a protester's back with a T'shirt that says “Global Warming My and a large red arrow below the lettering pointing downwards at his ass. Tim Phillips laughs at the response. He' seems as if he expected that reaction.)

VWLQ questioning that Tim Phillips in a car: If you see Republicans becoming sympathetic to carbon tax, do you view it as your job to knock those guys out?

Tim Phillips: Well, we hold both parties accountable.

(A series of scenes showing the "let's do something about climate change" attitudes of well known republicans (New Gingrich, John McCain, John Boehner, Romney) early in the 2008 election campaign.)

Tim Phillips continues: I remember in the mid 2000s, so many Republicans, they had a lot of the same tenets of faith that Democrats still many have today. Those days are over. Few Republicans play that game anymore and a lot of Democrats have bailed out too.

Bob Inglis: You have Newt Gingrich at the beginning of '08 on the couch with Nancy Pelosi (repeat th scene with them saying climate change is real and we need to do something about it) And by the End of 2008 (Gingrich in an inteview with Bill O'Reilly saying “I don't think we know.” Similar scenes with McCain, Boehner and Romney. Then a shot of a room full of people, apparently at a campaign rally, shouting at Bob Inglis to shut up and sit down.)

VWLQ to Bob Inglis: What happened in your election?”

Bob Inglis: Well, it wasn't even close.

(Television news room scene: One reporter: "Bob Inglis ran into a buzz saw of voter frustration with incumbents. Inglis lost every county in the district. He is a seasoned congressman going down to a huge defeat tonight." Reporters are replaced with a screen showing election results: Trey Gowdy with 71% and Bob Inglis with 29%.)

(2 years after defeat Bob is still carrying out the pledge he made while on the science committee visiting Antarctica, that is, to come back and do something. He's shown driving on his way to a talk show interview, apparently in Mississippi.)

Bob Inglis' assistant in the back seat: Did Price brief you on the climate views of this radio show?

Bob Inglis: No.

Assistant: All right, well, we better find that out, huh?

Bob Inglis: We can turn on the radio, see what he's saying.

(Bob reaches over and tunes in radio, we hear a male country singer singing “everyone knows this country is being flushed right down the drain, the ___?__ and liberals is where I place most the blame...” As the song fades to the background, Bob continues...)

We're after --- The target audience is red-state Republicans. And so I think we found some in Mississippi.

(radio announcer in the background: “From SuperTalk Mississippi”)

Eight-o-two. We go on at 8:06.

(Shot, we are outside the car now, of Inglis's car pulling into the studio's parking lot with a radio announcer introducing the next talk show host: “Paul Gallo, a shining example of the Fairness Doctrine as it should be.” Now Inglis running to the studio while Gallo can be heard, sounding a lot like Rush Limbaugh, saying: “You think polar bears are in trouble? No, they're not in trouble. In some cases we've got more polar bears than we've ever had. We got polar-bear problems out there in some cases.)

Now the studio Interview begins, Bob's got his headphones on and he's seated across from Paul Gallo:

Paul Gallo: Former South Carolina GOP Representative Bob Inglis is urging conservatives to stop denying humans are contributing to global warming. (Talking to Bob now) I don't understand. How do you come up with this? Because to me, every fiber in my body is saying you're a conservative. You can't believe this, that conservatives---? You're asking me, as a dyed-in-the-wool native-born Mississippian, will die here and blessed to do so, to believe that humans are responsible for global warming, and we must admit that? Mic's yours sir.

Bob Inglis: The challenge here is it's a conversation started by liberals, right? And what we're used to, as conservatives, is they gin up the hysteria, and then they drive through regulations and tax increases and grow government. Right? And so it's natural that we respond with, “No, we don't wanna do that.” But what if we had a different conversation? It's all about economics. You're taxing something you want more of, which is income, and you're not taxing something yo maybe want less of, which is CO2.

Paul Gallo: Why do we need to be talking about the global-warming tax again?

Bob Inglis: Because if you believe in taking care of this part of Eden that's left, and if you believe in creation care...

Paul Gallo: Now you're confusing me. Because now you're saying you do believe that we, as humans, are creating global warming. We are part-and-parcel responsible.

Bob Inglis: Yes.

Paul Gallo (speaking emphatically): I don't believe that humans are creating this, because – and neither do, apparently, the vast majority of climatologists out there.

Bob Inglis: I was tracking with you until that last part. You are wrong on that last part.

Paul Gallo: Listen, uh... Good luck to you. It was good meeting you.

Bob Inglis (as he's taking his head phones off): Good to talk with you.

Paul Gallo (moving on): Ok, Lots to do...Final two segments coming up next.

(As Bob and his assistant are getting in their car after leaving the studio)

Assistant: It's a battleship, Bob. Takes awhile to turn it around.

Bob Inglis. That's right.

(Now we're driving down a freeway; we're in the back seat looking between Bob and his Assistant at the road and all the traffic coming at us through windshield...)

Bob Inglis speaking thoughtfully: I mean, it's not just a head thing. This is very much a heart issue. It's not the science that's affecting us. I mean, the science is pretty clear. It's something else that's causing this rejection.

(Now we are seeing various scenes, an overview of crowded freeways panning to a distant city, football stadium, cheerleaders doing acrobats for the crowd, a suburban home lit up with Christmas lights, all as Bob is speaking...)

Many conservatives, I think, see action on climate change as really an attack on a way of life. The reason that we need the science to be wrong is otherwise we realize that we need to change. That's really a hard pill to swallow... that the whole way I've created my life is wrong, you're saying? That I shouldn't have this house in the suburb? I shouldn't be driving this car that I take my kids to soccer? And you're not gonna tell me to live the way that you want me to live. And along comes some people sowing some doubt, and uh it's pretty effective because I'm looking for that answer. I want it to be that the science is not real.

Kenner also gives Bob Inglis the last spoken words of the documentary:

Bob Inglis: You don't have to accept things the way they are. There are things we can do to change. The lie is that we can't do it, that we can't innovate. We gotta keep relying on petroleum, coal, we gotta have just those things.


To be in this situation where fossil fuels are imperiling our future and future generations and we're not accountable for that... That really becomes a moral problem.

We're leaving our children and grandchildren a legacy of people who failed to lead. People who, when it came their time to be awakened, they slept. We didn't have enough faith in the future that could be brought about so we just gave up. We couldn't rise to higher things.

I don't wanna be a part of that. I wanna be part of saying: "No, we did rise to it. You bet we did."

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