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The Battle Between Two Left-Leaning Filmmakers

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP

Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore is not averse to generating impassioned reactions with his films. For 30 years now, since his seminal release Roger & Me, he has made films meant to be provocative. He has usually counted on those contretemps coming from the right side of the political spectrum, yet now his latest effort has led to him receiving scorn from an unfamiliar source -- those who reside on the left.


Making this all the more novel is that Moore is receiving scorn from another filmmaker, a director who is taking an unusual step in trying to silence another film. The title in question is Planet Of The Humans, where Moore serves as a producer, as it takes critical methods while looking into the alternative energy industry. Just that quickly, the man who has enjoyed consistent accolades from leftists and Democrats not only is under criticism but also the threat of censorship.

Josh Fox is an Oscar-nominated documentarian and he has taken exception to Planet scrutinizing green energy, alleging that the film contains misinformation. This is not an unfamiliar accusation with Moore’s documentaries. Through the years he has been charged, rather consistently, with using falsehoods in his documentaries. Where previously he was applauded by many in the industry, now that Fox has led a charge of activism it actually helped force the distributor of Moore’s film to suspend its release, although only briefly.

The company Films For Action put out an announcement initially that it was taking down Planet Of The Humans.

Then the distributor had a change of mind. On Sunday, the company decided that it was going to make the film available for viewing once again

"Ultimately, we decided to put it back up because we believe media literacy, critique and debate is the best solution to misinformation. Taking the film down turns the issue into a rather confused debate about censorship and only half a day proved our gut feelings on this was correct.’’


There are a number of hypocritical factors about this aggressive stance taken by Fox, starting with the fact that he is a filmmaker looking to silence another in the exact same field as he works in. The practice of silencing or censoring over the issue of a film’s content is one that can be used against nearly any, as long as a debate over the details can be made. It is a self-defeating act for a content creator.

Secondly, an issue is found with a name Fox chose to align himself with in the charges made against Michael Moore. In a tweet about the issue, Fox provided a letter he wrote outlining the problems with Planet as he saw them. Co-signing his letter is Michael Mann, the Penn State climatologist who has been wildly disputed over his data and claims involving climate change. Mann is the creative force behind the discredited hockey stick projection that was a basis of global warming predictions for years.

It is a curious move to allege misinformation and inaccurate data from a filmmaker and then bolster your message by using as a source someone made infamous for promoting misinformed studies and providing inaccurate data.

The final item that makes the charges from Josh Fox curious is that in alleging a film should be dismissed due to questionable factual content, he needs us to overlook the fact that his own documentary suffered from these exact same charges. In Gasland, the HBO-produced treatise that was deeply critical of the natural gas industry, The New York Times listed numerous details Fox presented which ranged from questionable to completely inaccurate. Thus, the one calling out inaccuracies in a documentary is actually quite guilty of the same.


In Gasland, Fox detailed a number of items about the natural gas drilling industry that are problematic. He attributed a massive fish kill taking place in a Pennsylvania river to fracking in the area, when the EPA and state regulators had reported it was due to runoff from a coal mine leak. There were other examples of environmental damage misinformation. 

He alleged that drilling taking place in Wyoming was affecting species of wildlife like depleting the numbers of endangered pronghorn antelope and mule deer, while disrupting the migration of sage grouse. The problems? For starters, that species of grouse does not migrate. Then, neither of the animal species were endangered, plus studies showed that after fracking took place the numbers of both cited species actually increased.

As for the drilling problems itself, in the film Josh Fox stated that fracking fluid was a mixture of nearly 600 chemicals. What he failed to disclose is that the number cited is from the list of approved chemicals that could be used in the process. Fracking fluid generally consists of 10 or so elements, the two most prominent being water and sand, which comprise 98 percent of the mixture. But the biggest error from Fox may be with his signature visual in his film.

The most dramatic takeaway in Gasland was a scene where Fox was in the kitchen of a resident and ran the faucet at the sink and took out a cigarette lighter. He was able to ignite the running water due to the presence of natural gas. But as Fox blames this on fracking later, after the film’s release, he was actually outed on camera by rival documentarian Phelim McAleer. He captures Fox on tape declaring people were able to light their home water in this fashion in the 1970s, an era predating fracking. He then was admitting stories of this occurrence ranging back to the 1930s. Natural gas has been studied to commonly seep up into the water table, without the provocation of fracking.


This is the man who now is disputing the veracity of content in a Michael Moore film. If anything, Josh Fox may be worth listening to on the subject, if only because he has been shown as experienced on false presentations in a documentary. Watching as two left-leaning filmmakers battle each other like this carries all the drama of a Hollywood release.

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