‘Merchants of Doubt’ shines light on bogus debunkers

By Bob Bloom

“Merchants of Doubt” is a documentary that reveals how major corporations hire “experts” to rail against issues detrimental to a specific industry’s well being.
Whether it be tobacco arguing that cigarettes do not cause lung cancer or merchants of doubt inglisthe big oil companies claiming that climate change is a myth and not man-made, the movie details how these giants spend millions to obscure, deflect and delay government action and legislation that will prove harmful to their interests.
Despite the serious subject matter, the movie succeeds because it takes a satirical and comic tone, utilizing a magician who shows how the tricks are done as an analogy to the tactics used by the corporations.
What director Robert Kenner points out is that these corporations trot out the same small clique of for-hire pundits out over and over again as “experts” debunking issues that impact us all.
These debunkers, rather than debating the issues on their merits, instead create confusion and doubt in the minds of public officials and the general public, so the businesses that employ them continually cause delays in legislative proposals that could cut into their enormous profits.
The strategies uncovered by the movie should anger and frustrate viewers because these deceptions have — and will — cost lives.
The one drawback of “Merchants of Doubt” is its overemphasis of the global-warming debate.
True, it covers other topics, such as pharmaceuticals, smoking and fire retardants, but it becomes repetitious as it hammers home the various methods big oil has used to battle the climate-change issue.
What the movie clearly conveys is that those battling regulatory issues that could impact their industries rely on fear and emotion instead of facts in order to sway people’s opinions or cast doubt on the topic.
They use scare tactics, character assassination and doctored data to keep the public from rising up and demanding change.
And that is the saddest point this movie makes — that people are too willing to heed these charlatans and too apathetic to seek and learn the truth on their own and consider whether to initiate change.
The underlying tragedy of “Merchants of Doubt” is not that these flim-flam artists get away with their deceit, but that you and I continue to sit back and allow them their bully pulpits.
Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at Reel Bob (reelbob.com) and The Film Yap (filmyap.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at bobbloomjc@gmail.com or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Other reviews by Bloom can be found at Rottentomatoes: www.rottentomatoes.com.

 

MERCHANTS OF DOUBT
3 stars out of 4
(PG-13), language

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