“There’s a wealth of valuable and urgent info in Robert Kenner’s study of how business and ideological interests… create the illusions of debate and doubt over such issues as climate change in the media arena when none ought to exist,” writes Jason Anderson for Cinema Scope. “At the heart of Merchants of Doubt is the argument that disinformation tactics developed during the tobacco industry’s decades of mendacity have proven equally effective for the fake grassroots groups, dubious think tanks and corporate-backed experts whose true objective is to create gridlock and confusion over matters that imperil the planet shared by members of Greenpeace and the Tea Party alike.”
“Kenner (Food, Inc.) clarifies just how organized these forces of opposition are,” writes Howard Feinstein at Filmmaker, “and how the same naysayers drift from panel to panel, hearing to hearing, Fox News program to Fox News program, challenging the scientific consensus on global warming, tobacco, and fire retardants, just for starters. ‘Inspired by’ the book of the same title by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, the film dwells on some truisms but, in the context of issues discussed here, they aid in unraveling the methodology of these tricksters and their well-financed backers…. Watching this thorough doc about how the system works, apparently to our disadvantage, is a must.”
David Ansen at Thompson on Hollywood: “While a lot of this will be familiar to the documentary audience, Kenner’s polished and deftly argued film finds compelling subjects on both sides of the fence, from the proudly sleazy Marc Morano, who boasts of his underhanded tactics to discredit the science, to the touching figure of South Carolina Republican Congressman Bob Inglis, who, faced with the evidence, reversed his position on global warming and fought for change—with devastating political repurcussions to his career.”
“Part of the problem with Merchants of Doubt is also part of its own argument,” suggests Michael Nordine at Indiewire. “You can’t reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into, and a dispiriting number of people are less interested in facts than they are in confirming their own biases.”
“An intelligent, solidly argued and almost too-polished takedown of America’s spin factory,” writes Variety‘s Justin Chang, “this is a movie so intrigued by its designated villains that it almost conveys a perverse form of admiration, and the fascination proves contagious…. As we are continually reminded, the goal is never to win the debate (impossible), but rather to create and sustain the very illusion of a debate, so as to frustrate and delay public action as long as possible.”
“To be honest,” writes Stephen Farber in the Hollywood Reporter, “there isn’t a tremendous amount of new information in this generally well-crafted documentary. But it makes a potent, urgent case against the merchants of doubt who play games with the planet’s future.”
Filmmaker‘s Scott Macaulay has five questions for Kenner.