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View full transcript including film fragments here
Hereunder the transcript in text.
CN: So, today it is the ninth of December, 2009, we are in London with Gavin MacFadyen, investigative journalist. Can I ask you, as an investigative journalist; witness is very important for you, what is a good witness?
GM: That is a tough legal question, because a good witness is someone who bears a truthful account of something they witnessed, something they saw. And can describe it with the same accuracy, hopefully, as they saw it. I think that is what the definition- something like that- is what the definition of a good witness. And a good witness is critical to investigative reporting.
CN: And how do you know whether the witness is bearing truth, is witness to truth?
GM: If you can cooperate what they say.
CN: Cooperate, means?
GM: To find an independent, additional source of the same information, who can confirm the basic details. It is hard to do sometimes, uh, but that is your obligation, to meet the conventional standards of evidence. Unless, you are someone of such an impeccable reputation that people will believe you without that second source.
CN: So there is a sort of condition in time, that people have consistent behavior, for which reason they are to be believed, or you need different sources.
GM: Both. Both, one without the other is difficult. I can think of only one investigative reporter, who has a sufficiently strong reputation that he can get away with saying an anonymous source told me A, and you'll believe him, without saying, this story was confirmed by an independent discussion with B, or C. But that is the only person I know who can do that, there are probably others, but that man is Seymore Hirsch. Who did My Lai and who did Abu Graib, and people therefore respect what he did, and has done, and continues to do. But he doesn't require often a secondary source, although it obviously helps him, to have it. You trust his judgment that what somebody tells him, he recounts accurately, and he believes what the person said.
CN: Did you have to deal with anonymous witnesses?
GM: Sure, many times.
CN: And how does it work?
GM: Somebody comes to you with a story, and you have to decide if that story is true. And if it is true, how do we support that story with additional evidence? It is all evidential questions really, it is not almost the veracity, it is the evidence, there is a slight difference I think. But the, you've got then to seek additional evidence, to proof that case of conventional terms. The newspaper proprietress tells and they insist on cooperative sources, so we try to provide those. Even when it is very difficult, and even when the evidence you produce is a secondary source and maybe rather of less pressure than the first, but it meets the official criteria, of evidence gathering.
CN: But for you, I mean, a judge only has to gather the evidence, you also have to convey the evidence, for your writing and for your films, your mostly make films.
CN: So what happens in that step between gathering evidence, finding out this is the story, and then you have to present it. So then you have to, sort of, convey evidence to the public.
GM: Well, you have to convey the gravity of the question, and you have to convey the power of the observation. That is putting it in context and then the power of the subsidiary information, the secondary information that supports the first information.
CN: And how, what is the gravity of a question, what defines this?
GM: If a person makes a bad breakfast, that is not a great question, if however he was to bomb Cambodia, and kill five-hundred-thousand people, that is a grave question. And then the question is how do you prove that he did that? When you know he did that, and people have told you he did it. And so Nixon came on stuck because people did come out of the woodwork to support the allegation, with first hand evidence in some cases. So it is, you convey the gravity of the case and what it means, it is historical consequences in context, so that people understand that what your saying has some significance, or what you hope is some significance. Sometimes we can be misled, and think something is more powerful than it is. But on the whole, you know that something is powerful, and what it is consequences can be, you try to do anyway.
CN: And how do you, how does the power of the information you present, what are the elements of that?
GM: That a lot of people will be affected, that it is a matter of public interest, that it has a place in history.
CN: And how do people get affected?
GM: negatively or positively, depending on what the event is. Somebody discovers, for example, I discovered, I found out yesterday there's a new kind of battery, and the battery is painting a piece of paper with some weird chemical, and then you can then use that as a flexible, lightweight battery. And that will affect people, or I would assume, in a rather positive way, it is possible. A medicine, a medicinal discovery is a positive thing, or could be. Until we discover that the pharmaceutical company has fraud you and has misrepresented, and is cheating the public by charging to much for it and the government and all their allies are supporting them in that wonderful quest for more money.
CN: My question is also, I once saw the film Hunger is News, where a journalist who wanted to convey hunger in Sahel countries decided that, you know, the normal way of reporting didn't work, so he took the complete Hollywood formula, drama. And then he immediately hit the international news. So from what I understand you have to dramatize your evidence for it to be able to convey it is truth.
GM: Not in what we do, we do not do it. Other people do it, with some effect. It would be considered compromising the integrity of the evidence to put it through a fictional filter. So on the whole, on the whole we do not do it. There a some cases, for example court cases, where every word spoken is from a transcript that have a veracity that should be used, and you can get actors to read those things. And that can be effective. But to reconstruct events, is often extremely difficult, and to illustrate them is often very difficult.
We were accused by the tabloids of doing work, which is a 'succession of documents and guilty buildings', meaning "in this building behind me, terrible things happened on October-". And, that is boring. However, it is the truth, you cannot say you made up the building, you cannot say that those documents are a fraud, because these are the real documents. There are problems with reconstruction, and often once you have started the process of reconstruction the temptation is to drop the logo at the bottom of the screen, that says 'reconstruction', because that gets in the way, you want to convince people, pull them into the story. If you do that, you cannot have a constant ad-junctions to them that what there seeing is a misrepresentation, or representation, or a reconstruction. You have to be very careful. What we do can be boring, it is the weight of what it means that is consequential.
CN: let's just cough, all of us... (coughing)
CN: we all coughed.
GM: It is the weight of what, that the documents present, or the evidence presents that is going to carry the argument. What's not going to carry the argument, are actors telling you, what you've told them to say. Because people will say, well that is not the reality, that is not what actually happened. You have to be very careful.
CN: This, I find very interesting. Because you also have been involved in fictionfilms.
CN: And you of course made a film about Nicaragua to better convey what was happening in Nicaragua, then you made a fiction film.
GM: But it wasn't my film, it was someone else and they asked me to help with it.
CN: So when do you choose fiction, and when do you choose investigative journalism?
GM: I separate the two, and I love the both of them. I like the idea of finding facts, and presenting them that could change things for the better. And I like the idea of fiction films, that can change things for the better by rising consciousness by making people alive to what's happening around them and what it means. Those are powerful ideas, but I do not confuse an in the description one with the other. You know, you say, this is a fictional film; it may be truthful. We hope it is truthful. We hope that nobody is going to be misled by this film, but it is still fiction. We never confuse that. This, the documentary, in the investigative piece, we would say "this is the closest to the truth that we can find, watch these documents and this story unfold and hopefully you will know something further about the awful events that prompted it."
CN: Can we go back to when you are in an investigative journalism process and you meet a witness. Is it possible to describe what happens when you meet a witness? How do you relate? What are the terms you set for the testimony to be able...
GM: It depends on what the witness is, or witness to. If it is to the destruction of their own family, or the murder of all their closest friends, you approach the witness very differently then when you do if it is a chemical engineer talking about, a fraudulent misrepresentation of a product he or she may have worked on. The one is a clinical informational attempt to secure the information and the other might me a more emotionally sympathetic attempt to find the information. But fundamentally, the goal is to secure the most accurate description possible, of what they witnessed.
CN: But how do you make the common ground that they will talk to you?
GM: You have to convince them that it is in their interest. That it is in the public interest; that the public interest is served by disclosure. However painful it may be and however dangerous to them it might be, to come forward and tell people what the truth is. Something that other people may not want them to say; something which may cause them considerable difficulty and in the case of whistle blowers almost always does. Whistle blowers are subjected to the worst persecution by their employers. By those who think they've betrayed them and so you have to support that person in a very different way. Sometimes you're saying to them, why are you telling me this? You know what the consequences will be to you? And that is often very powerful testimony because they've considered it and they have come to the conclusion that if they do not say it then that is a worst crime then saying it. So you want them to understand that the very difficulty that they will confront.
CN: And how do you, how do you take responsibility for them?
CN: Do you?
GM: Of course! I mean, you you're alert to, you have to be alert to the difficulties that they're going to face and the consequences to them personally of them talking. I , I've been, made films in countries where if they were identified in talking to me, I've hidden their identity, but if they were identified they'd be killed. And I am not going to have that responsibility if I can in any way avoid it. I cannot imagine a situation were I'd want to extract information from somebody which will result in them being killed. The object is to stop the killers.
GM: It is, it is the point of not to, humiliate, to make difficult the life of someone who has the courage to come forward.
CN: So this may be a strange question for you but why do we need the truth?
GM: Because society largely operates on lies. On a succession and interconnected web of lies. To justify the way society works and it is often necessary to protect the vulnerable, to tell the truth about their circumstances because the wealthy and powerful often are unhappy about telling the truth.
There is a famous story and the story is that if you give a poor man on the street a dollar, you're considered a good Christian but if you ask, why is that man poor? You'll go to prison. And I think there is a truth in there and therefore you want to tell the truth about why that man is poor, for example. Why somebody else is sick when they ought not to be? Why enormous amounts of money are made while other people are going hungry? Why huge food companies declare gigantic profits for their investors and shareholders, sometimes some do not even have those, but if they do saying that and then realizing that there a almost a billion people on earth, one in six people on the earth, who are starving or are mal nourished, and I think that is a matter of public interest, because without our saying people wouldn't hear in London or in New York, or Amsterdam or anywhere else wouldn't have any idea that that was necessarily true. In fact, they might not even believe in this truth. How can you? The purpose is to change things. You cannot change things by the way we want to change them, by lying. We want to change them by telling the truth as best as we can. Or, the truth is the best agency of consciousness anyway.
CN: How do people find out about this?
GM: About the truth? Well, through discovering themselves, through journals, through academics, through novelist, painters, anybody who tells the truth about the life they see around them, helps other people see what that truth is. There are a lot of different truths. But the truth that we're concerned with is the factual one, affecting the public interest. What we a least perceive as the public interest. And I think most people would agree with the public interest. Anything that affects people, affects the larger society, is a matter of public interest.
CN: When I was interviewing a judge and asking her how she looked at the witness she said, I can only find facts if I make first a common ground in the emotional realm. Like, if this person is very angry, I first have to agree that he is angry and I understand this and only then we can go to the facts. Do you feel that to?
CN: Is there-
GM: (shaking head)
CN: Not at all
GM: I mean I feel that you understand why somebody is angry or sad or they've had a bad cup of coffee that morning or life has been miserable and they have been getting a divorce, or I mean, any number of reasons why people have the emotions they have and you have to be sympathetic to that because we are all human. We all have those problems but the, what matters is what they are saying, and, the emotions with which they say it are an important reflection of how they perceive that evidence but not the evidence itself. Did you see that factory manager ignore the warning? Now he can be upset in a very angry way, he can say it in a friendly way but did you see the factory manager walk past the red light on the control panel and not recognize it? That is the question, at least in the simple world that I am in. That makes it easier to establish whether the manager was culpable at Bhopal for killing a hundred thousand people, say. That is the way of it. So I do not care in that place particularly, though on a human level I care that he's had a bad morning, I really do want to know, whether he saw the red light or not.
CN: I want to ask, even get deeper in this. How do you feel the weight of hundred thousand people killed. Why is that real for you? You were not there.
GM: Because I could have been there. Why not? Why couldn't anybody be there. And you have the view that if somebody is suffering then you're suffering. That if people are subjected to bad things, they might as well be happening to you. There is a saying of Eugene Victor Debs. It states, at the turn of the last century, and he said that "if there is a person in prison, I am in prison, if somebody is hungry, I am hungry" and I believe that. Because without that identity we do not act in anybody's interest except our own, but that could be quit narrow.
CN: And do you feel it on your body?
CN: How do you feel it?
GM: I get upset by it. I am concerned about it. There is a...a...it is hard to describe what reaction is. Sometimes you, when you see terrible things you want to vomit. You see bodies, dead people and they've been killed by fascists or maniacs of any kind, you want to get sick. That is been my reaction on occasion or you get angry, when you realize that people are treated in a appalling way.
CN: So is there a distinction between, I assume it is, between uh, being host to witness or being witness yourself
GM: Good question, I do not know. I've thought about that but I think that if you're the host to a witness you, if you profane the witness, you are complicit with the witness and I could imagine, it would be difficult if you were telling the truth and it wasn't something that you wanted to hear. So that the evidence was actually against your principles. Then I imagine I'd have very mixed feelings, but I'd feel the obligation to tell it like I heard it. To prevent, not to prevent but to profane a witness, what the witness said, even if I didn't agree with it, if I thought that was actually the truth of it. Have I answered that right? I am not sure
CN: No, but it is also a very interesting, but that is still about you being host and so host to a good witness can also be someone who tells you stories you do not like but they are truth, true anyway.
CN: I refer to when you go into killing fields there is not someone telling you that there has been murder, you are seeing the murder. How can you describe how it is, to be witness in those cases?
GM: Usually, in my case, it affects me later. That a kind of grey, glass vizier comes down over my head when I see bad things like that. I, I try not to have any emotions when I am looking at them at all, if I can help it. Sometimes that is not possible, but I do try to do that, because I want to memorize what I am seeing. I am trying to recall, to be able to recall that scene with some accuracy. So I am looking for details, what time of the day is it, what's happening in the sky, who might have seen this? What position are they in? I will be asking myself those questions, you force yourself then, to become a witness yourself is what your trying to do. So you want to be the most accurate witness you can. You are, in a sense, the ears and eyes of some kind of public, there are people depending on you to recount accurately what you have seen. So you have an obligation, you're a trained observer. And in some courts of the world, the journalist is held to that account. And I thought accurately you are being paid to recount things accurately, and so you devise a kind of steel plate behind, so you're not letting your outrage, if that is the emotion you feel, get in the way of being accurate about it. It is very difficult in cases to do that. But you try to do that.
There's a famous case in the Charles Adams cartoon in the New Yorker where a man in is approached a gorilla cage, and somehow the gorilla has grabbed this man, and is strangling him through the cage. And somebody else, a photographer is there with his camera, photographing this, and somebody else is running up to the photographer and says "What light do you give it?" and I think that is the sense that you have when you watch a terrible event, you are both in both minds. And it is awful, but truthful. And so sometimes people emotionally get very angry at objective observers, because there asking all the questions you think are irrelevant, but you need to have, to make an accurate historical record of what you have seen.
CN: And what kind of questions do you need to address to make it accurate?
GM: Whatever the questions, whatever the legal questions are that come to mind about how the circumstance started, who did it, who was responsible? Uhm, if you can find these things, what did these people do, why are they there? Why where they killed in this particular way, and well, by who? And does this fit a consistent pattern of abuse? Or murder, or is this a random -excuse me- a random event? So you're trying to describe, by imprinting on your mind all the key details that you can see in that event, what's before you? Because people could ask you, well what actually happened? And I do not want to say "well a bunch of bad guys came and kil-" you want to say "three thirty in the afternoon I visited a site and I saw sixteen bodies, scattered on a hill side, and they were like this and like that and like this, and they where killed in this sort of way. It would appear that they were killed by this method." I would try to be as accurate as I could, about what I saw. It is really important I think for people to feel that they can trust you. But they are not going to trust you if they having to see everything through a filter of your immediate emotions which could be entirely different and not sympathetic even to what you see. They want to know the facts, the facts madam, just the facts.
CN: So this is about, sort of, there's a distinction between being witness and bearing witness.
GM: Sure. One affects you emotionally probably and the other is somebody else telling you something, which can also affect you emotionally, I suppose. But you, but the object is the truth. The harsh object is the truth. And whether you see I or somebody else sees it, the object is to convey that truth in the most accurate possible way, and to support the claim that is being made. I saw this building come on fire, I saw somebody leave the building with a petrol can. Who was that person? I do not care whether it makes you angry or not: Who is the person? You are asking a question, where did they come from, what time of the day was it? Did you smell the gasoline? Etcetera.
CN: So if you have done being in a scene like that, being witness, using your professional skills to be witness, how does the process to bearing witness happen?
GM: Do you mean what do people think about bearing witness?
CN: well, bearing witness is like giving testimony, so you have to sort of decide this is more important than this, this is more important. And I assume also there emotions about truth and weight of truth play a role. You said when I am at the scene I do not have these emotions and I am only doing my professional observing.
GM: Well you try to do that.
CN: Yes, so what happens after you leave the scene, what is the process you go through?
GM: To, to- In my case, several occasions where that is happened, I've tried to write down immediately what I saw, so I do not forget the key detail. And your mind is fresh, and I would hope that the record is accurate, minute to what actually happened that I could see happening. And that Is my first and central obligation. Then, I want to convey that information to other people so I may put that in another form that can reach other people. Because usually when you are a witness to those events, particularly controversial events, it is important to, to know that you are going to have to get other people to confirm what you saw. So I may well go out, and try to find other people who saw the same thing. Normally in fact I might do it at the same instant that I saw it. I would turn to somebody and say, "Did you see that? What did you see there? ". Get them to describe it as well. Sometimes their description may be better then yours. Often that could be the case. But it is, at the same time it has the value of conveying to people the emotions that that person is feeling about having seen something awful. I am not sure I am answering the question now.
CN: Yes, yes you are. So emotions help to convey the gravity of the situation.
GM: Sure, right. The perceived gravity of the situation.
CN: The perceived gravtity of the situation, that is actually the only role they play.
GM: Well, it is another set of eyes. It is another impression, and therefore valuable. Any human being who sees something and can try to recount it for you, is a valuable witness.
CN: I am going to make the bridge to technology, how technology has changed your profession. Because the way we've been talking now is when you are physically present at a scene, and witnessing it. But today technology has deeply influenced your profession. Can you describe how it changed your work?
GM: The speed with which what we see, or what others see can be communicated to others has quadrupled, or faster. What used to take two weeks of editing time or transmission time, can now be done in an hour. So the time to consider the events you described is much less and therefore often less substantial. But it is faster. So people get a less substantial, but faster account of events around them. Often without the benefits somebody deciding to go that evening to a library and read a bit about this event they have seen. Or talk to somebody on the phone about it. You do not have time. So you rush to take- make it airborne. And that is the most central, I think, probably the most central change that is occurring. This speed with which you are being asked to do things. And also, complementary to any technical events, is the attempt to increase your productivity at the same time. So not only is the camera faster, but they want you do to twice as many stories in the same time to out pay for the camera and to make more money for them. So, you are not only taking pictures efficiently, and then transmitting them to the world, you are going to hit three other buildings and do two other storied that day, to try and make the boss happy.
CN: So there, but there is no more time for consideration. As you said before, there is a process between being a witness and bearing witness.
CN: in which you decide gravity, the power of the information, you get a second opinion, or a second perception, or a third perception. You do not have that time any more?
GM: No, it is uninteresting because, I mean, part of the problem, with advanced technology, which has been so helpful to so many people, is that it makes everything so fast, so un-considerate. I am afraid that you, that the quality of what your transmitting has effectively changed, and often without you being aware of it.
CN: But you could argue that it is only about observing, which is what your skill is when you are in the killing fields. You do not need consideration because the truth will travel faster, so it would only be better.
GM: If that is true. Because if, for example, you quoted that you see something on the killing field, and the government says " aha, that is the trade unionists who did that, the intellectuals killed all those people". And your transmitting that very quickly, that will leave almost always a almost completely erroneous perception of those events. It may take you a while to know the history, to know that the government is in fact doing this, these killings, for twenty years. And you have to be able to say, "well on October fifteenth sixteen years ago, they did this themselves. They admitted it in court on the such-and-such date. And then there where other testimonies that prove that they have done all these other- ". You have to be able to build a historical case to show the context of this event. When for example there is a tsunami, you can report the tsunami, but unless you do a lot of research you do not realize that the Americans, or a naval force, somewhere nearby knew all about this tsunami, five hours before. Then the question is, well why didn't they tell anybody, about this tsunami? That is a very different piece of film your making, than about the terrible destruction of this tsunami in the Indian Ocean.
CN: So what happens to the truth, because of technology?
GM: It is- I do not think the truth affected or not affected by the technology. By it is use, by it's scrupulous suppliers, I think it is affected. But it is not just the technology; that is just the means; that is just the tool. What's the tool being used for? And I think that is the question you want to ask. I do not think technology affects the truth, particularly. I suppose in some way, I haven't thought through that question, in detail. But I would assume that, that it is how you are being directed to use that technology and for what financial purpose. And in the news gathering business, there are financial purposes. You have to do things as cheaply as possible, often you're just on yourself, to save money for the employer, so they can buy a bigger yacht. But also more importantly, that your not wasting money in the great scheme of things.
CN: But apart from that, I would ague that because of the speed, because of the way you are connected to other places, immediately, or life on Skype, I mean everybody can do a life broadcast now, from anywhere on the planet. Because many, non-investigative journalists are also reporting on the net. That the nature of truth may be changing. Because we experience, I mean, what is truth outside of experience?
GM: But there are many experiences, the problem is, how to define between those experiences what the truth is. Simple experience probably isn't necessarily the truth itself, because there can be 10 experiences.
CN: So there's actually more chance for truth, today?
GM: Yeah, maybe. I think there's logic to the argument. The difficulty is that there is now so much evidence that nobody pays any attention to it. I read on the internet everyday so much material, I cannot process it any more. So what's the truth? That I am not reading it any more? Or that I am misrepresenting it, because I cannot remember it all? I mean it is a superficial grasp of an immediate event is certainly possible faster now then ever before. And in a huge public event, a natural disaster, a terrorist attack, a bomb goes off and a lot of people are killed, you'll get an account of that, quickly. That is probably true. So that is simple, but why it happened, to whom, by who, and what it is consequences will be and in what environment the decision was taken to do it, are the most important questions. But they are not going to be addressed by the speed, because that takes time. So speed for immediate, superficial sensation of an event, where even an obvious- a building has blown up, great we need to know that, very important. Who did it? Why did it blow up? What are the consequences? Who was killed? Who benefits from this? Those are the questions I want to ask.
CN: Why do I need to know those?
GM: Because that determines a way in which we can stop it from happening again. The more we know, the more we can control an event. Or stop those events. To understand the events - not to cry, not to laugh - but to understand this. A famous revolutionary once said, which I think is true, " you really want to know why these things happen so that you can deal with them, intelligently (? 34.28)". And to understand what the world is about. Simply telling us what happens in the world is important, but it doesn't explain to us why it happens. Somebody could say, it is an active god. And lots of, for centuries, everybody believed that. Now we know a little better, perhaps. Maybe we do not, but some people would hope they did.
CN: So I understand that, in this whole consideration, your needs to go from being witness to bearing witness, trying, unveiling the truth. In this time spent, memories are a very important feature.
CN: Can you elaborate on that?
GM: Memory erodes, and therefore the faster you can get to the recounting of the events, the facts from a journalist point of view, the better. A contemporaneous minute of an event taken down, is better than somebodies memory, in general, twenty years later. You are going to remember a lot more two minutes after an event than you do twenty years later. So speed becomes important in memory. Generally, I mean there are some people that have a fantastic ability to recount things. But most people do not. I do not, I do not think I- a lot of people do not. So you- I want to take a minute to remind my self, of what I've seen. The idiosyncratic observations that I might want to make, that I'll have forgotten, and, memory then is just a tool, for us, a very important tool. It is a transmission built between the event and the reader, or the viewer. And you want that transmission built to be operating not only, at good speed, but also not bumping so badly that all the material falls off of it 'en route' and at my age I get worried about what happened yesterday, let alone what happened a couple of years back.
CN: But you also just said, like, with the Internet, with all the, you know, information you have access too now, also when you want to find out about databases or documents, there are so many ways you can access information now, but you just said it is actually too much to process.
GM: That can be. So the indiscriminate recall of fast amounts of data becomes counterproductive. It takes so much energy to sift through it, to try to provide yourself with the analytic tools to judge that material that you are looking at. Is it relevant? Is it important? Does it have some connection to what I am doing? Can I use it? Or do I, or is it difficult to use because it may not be true, or it is historically incorrect, or- You've got to ask yourself a lot of questions with everything you read, you cannot do that when you are reading fifty-thousand pieces every hour, of stuff that is pouring out of the computer right at you. So I mean, you have to be selective. You, you need to, you become an editor of that material, because there is so much of it.
CN: How do you do that?
GM: By using your experience. You've seen a lot of this stuff before. And so you try to think, Why is that familiar to me? Why do I understand that, that is usually told by liars? Why is it that whenever there is trouble in a country, it is a foreign agitator? We've heard that before. So when somebody tells me, "Foreign agitators have invaded your country and are trying to turn everything up-side-down", we know that we have heard that before. We've heard that from every sort of right-wing creature. Or left wing if you want to imagine Cambodia dictatorship, their all about outside agitators that they put to death. But fundamentally, I think that is, your experience is the tool through which you can filter a lot of that stuff. I do not- and what you know, I mean it is the same thing, what you've read, what you understood, what you've seen before. That becomes the means through which you can judge that material.
CN: So can you imagine there is actually a sort of new truth emerging, new ways of finding truth. Because we have vast amounts of database's and data mining programs and... In your century, I'd say in the last century you work was very, had a lot of impact on the public domain and public awareness. It was still the century where there was no Internet, where, you know, someone being at a place made a difference. Where today, if you look at media, it means like, it doesn't feel like it makes a difference. So maybe, we get to know something happened, and that is all we can say.
GM: That is possible, that is possible. But also the state now controls much more than it did before. In the last century the state didn't, in a large measure, control your ability to go places to the degree to which it does now. You forget that one of the problems now, is that the states have the ability to stop you doing anything. Or report it for example. In the Vietnam war, in World War two, in the Korean war journalists saw the whole- had free access to cover the war. Because of the effect that the journalists had in the Vietnam war, that right has been abrogated, and eroded consistently now, so that for example as we speak, the war in Iraq is not being covered. Simply not being covered. There are tens of thousands of troops fighting, bombs going off, but there are very few journalists there covering because the American military, and the terrorists, or whatever they are on the other side, are unhappy about journalists being there, so they simply prescribe you can't be there. Unless you go with them, accept their instructions. You get embedded with their generals, then it is all right. Similar in Afghanistan, there is almost no reporting from Afghanistan. That is why we found that as investigative journalists, the real story isn't being told about what a soldier in a village did, that could be awful, that should be seen. But, but what has happened with the money and the power in the seats of governments where these decision really are being taken? So the real story of Iraq and Afghanistan is going to be told in Washington and London, more than anywhere else, much more so than the war itself.
CN: But there are also bloggers.
GM: Some, yes.
CN: People who send emails to friends, so how can you use that evidence?
GM: If you find it reliable, in your experience, use it. Of course. And the greater the dictatorships, and the dictatorships of knowledge, the more we're impressed by those people. I wouldn't have any hesitation using blogger, whose previous work I'd seen and known, or I had reason to believe was conveying accurately what they say they are saying, I mean, why do not use it?
CN: Do you have to know such a person?
GM: It would help. But it is not critical, but it would help. After all, we need to know whether the person has a history of telling the truth or not. If they have a history of fudging the truth, if they have a history of meeting the right-wing agenda or the left-wing agenda, some kind of agenda, you do not know that it was a clever broadcast. You do not know. You only discover that by knowing the history. You can say, which I would say, a blogger, an unknown blogger, an anonymous blogger, unknown to this reporter, has said the following, had presented the following description of these events, which may well be accurate. You can say it that way.
CN: Would you email such a blogger?
GM: Sure. Absolutely.
CN: And you feel that through emailing you can find out whether someone is truthful?
GM: Not necessarily, but you can make a stab at it. You can know something about what they feel and think about the world, and that is something. But a skillful government propagandist would be very hard to find in a couple of emails. And they're very good at it. The security services are very good at - anywhere in the world, at planting false stories, black stories - stories that deliberately mislead for agenda's that are unclear. So you have to be very clear, --- this care, this duty of care to present material that you think is truthful. And a lot of the best stories, that come, are presented by anonymous people in strange cities who are government employees.
CN: So this may be, we are going into the last ten minutes of the interview. Let's focus on trust. How do you know when to trust someone?
GM: Hmm. If I find their values sympathetic, and truthful.
CN: Do you need to have feelings of solidarity, of compassion, or of recognition?
GM: But if I find them trustworthy, there are several levels of that. I've had a friend for example who wildly exaggerates what he sees in the world. So do I trust him in the real world to make a truthful observation, probably not. But do I like him as a person, very much. Do I trust him on a person level, yes. But do I recount, do I trust his ability to observe correctly, probably not. Because he's got his own private agendas, God knows what they are, but they seem to twist the truth about what he sees pretty pronouncedly. I would think to find somebody who tells the truth all the time about everything, is, it would be a wonderful thing to discover. I think very few people do. That doesn't mean you do not trust them as human beings, but somebody who's demonstrated their humanity to you in some way that is meaningful to you, and that is different for every person, then you have every reason to trust them. I am not sure that answers your question, yours is a very profound question, so I am not sure I've answered that very well.
GM: But I think that there are different kinds of trust.
CN: And is there a relation between, because I am not sure ... is there a relation between your being touched and your humanity for someone, and the professional judgment of this person. Like your friend, you know the history.
GM: I know the history, therefore I know something about something about what he is saying. But if it is somebody I do not know I withhold the judgment, professionally you know, until you know a bit more about that person. It is when somebody comes in to your office with a story that, a powerful story and you-the first obligation is to test that person. Is that person really telling you the truth or not? And, So you want to treat that person not as a hostile witness, you want to treat that person as an unapproved witness, for one of a better phrase. You cannot advance that case that this witness is giving you, which may be a matter of public concern. "I witnessed this man murdering three people". That is what he's come in and told you. You got to know whether he's ever said that before, whether he's ever been cut out lying to anybody. Whether he had every reason to be there or not. What's the evidence that he can produce? That other people may have seen the event, etcetera etcetera. You're asking him a lot of questions to make sure that what he's telling you is true.
CN: And if he brings a photograph with him?
GM: If he does what?
CN: Brings photograph or recording do you believe him faster?
GM: A bit, a bit more but still I want to ask questions because you could fake those things. If he's a government, member of the government. The average citizen is not going to make phony photographs phony recordings, on the whole, but governments can do it.
CN: So if it made the distinction to being the observer and being the witness.
GM: Well, there are lots of people witnesses, or observers, and very few who are witnesses, because a witness is someone who comes forth with, I would assume, with what they have observed, rather than keeping it to themselves. Uh, maybe I am misunderstanding that?
CN: No no I am agree,
GM: And therefore the person who withholds the information may have more interestingly, a more profound reason not to tell you then the person who's come forward to tell you, on a personal level. So to protect some human being on a human level, the observer doesn't become a witness. But then it becomes interesting, because against the historical panoplies of what that person has observed that person is then effectively lying. So becomes not trustworthy because he or she has not told you what actually happened and we need to know what actually happened.
So it is complicated, I do not think people are complicated, I think observers are complicated; witnesses are particularly complicated. Because they are by definition almost always conflicted. Because unless you are a human tape recorder, which most people are not, there is a battery of emotions that spring into life when you see something. In particularly when you're being asked to recount it; and more importantly to who. Who are these people who are asking you what this event was, what it means.
A scientist, I know in New York, who won the Nobel prize and, in chemistry, and he discovered some facts about genetics that if they were used or put into the market place they would have a terrible effect on some people. Some people would be grossly disadvantaged in their lives and hurt, actually hurt, as a result of his disclosure. As a result of that fear he won't tell anybody what he has discovered. So science is being compromised by him, for the best reasons you can possibly imagine but he doesn't want to be participating in hurting people badly which he knows his discovering will cause. In that case I suppose on a personal level I am completely sympathetic with that refusal to disclose. In the interest of science, the history of human discovery it is a disaster, potential disaster. But his, but he doesn't want his work to be used for the purposes that the people who will pay him for it, will almost certainly use it for.
CN: So how to solve it?
GM: Change the employers. Prevent employers from using information like that against the vulnerable, the weak and without encounter. So, if you can avoid that, if you have a notion of the future that determines how you regard the past and certainly how you act in the present. But it requires a sense of the future. Cause if you do not believe in the future, why would you ever be a witness?
CN: Thank you very much
GM: That was a very short interview. I was all set for three hours. Like my god how can I get through this? (Laughing)
CN: Can I ask you, I mean, you make this very good documentary with all the facts and all the truth that is in it. Can I sense it that you are truthful? When I see your work on one of the many screens around me.
GM: Only if... you can sense the truth of it, but only through the filter of you own experience. So that, if it concords with your experience, then you're bound to find that it probably does or doesn't. Depending of course of your experience. I remember, in Central America, when I met a man from a culture and a society I didn't know, who told me a lot of things, and I didn't believe him. Because I didn't know anything about his culture, how he talked, what he said, how he described things. I had no idea. In this case cause he was semi literate, very tough, broken nose, cauliflower ear. He had been through a meat grinder this guy and I didn't necessarily believed what he said. Turns out later, I believed anything he said. I knew enough of him then. I saw from where he had come. the world that he came from, then I realized that he did, that he was telling the truth. But it didn't, because he wasn't part of my world and he came from a very tough background that I knew nothing about which meant that he was very forceful about how he talked. Very forceful. And you, and I do not necessarily trust that and uh, so my suspicions were aroused, by his manner, But that is only the way he grew up. The only way he could grow attention to what he said was by being tough, very aggressive and once I understood I could believe or not believe what he said. I understood then where he came from.
CN: But if you look at the television and you see a report of someone, can you sense whether it is truthful or not? That it is trustworthy or not?
GM: You can have an implication of the truth. You can get a sense that that is probably true. But anything in that, it depends on the area that is being examined. If somebody says to you on the television screen, I saw this terrible thing and I was told by somebody that it meant this and it meant that. Do you believe it? Well, maybe you do, maybe you do not. If somebody bursts into teas because their kid has been killed, you' re probably going believe them. If somebody is shrieking in anger because something happened, if there is a huge emotional ingredient what they say, you'll probably be much more inclined to believe them. Almost certain you're going believe them.
CN: So emotions help to believe.
GM: Yes, if a poor person, standing outside a factory says something about the way he or she was treated in the factory, then I am inclined to probably believe them. I do not think I've ever met any set-up's like that. But if a smooth anxious employer and his PR officer told me that there is no truth in what I've just heard, I probably won't believe him.
CN: So contextual information is very important.
GM: Very important. And your history, you have to know, you've heard this before or not. That is important.
CN: Is there anything you would like to add?
GM No, I think it is a very interesting question.
CN: Thank you.