Arrogant, resentful people believe deception works.
–Jordan Peterson, minute 94, Hoaxed (2019).
“There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.”
The documentary Hoaxed is not worth your time or your money. It is more a 128-minute work to whitewash Mike Cernovich’s reputation as an Alt-Right member[i], troll and bad faith actor than it is to document fake news as a media phenomenon. What I found was that it was in part disingenuous, incomplete, and seriously flawed as a documentary since it provided no insight nor new understanding as its rehashed events to gaslight an unsuspecting or credulous audience about Mr Cernovich and the alt-right.
These are my initial thoughts to be followed by a more detailed commentary in a few days.
First, it fails as a documentary from a technical point as well as from intent because it does not tell us anything new. It rehashes things from two or three years ago without offering insight, analysis or an alternative view, which for a controversial topic like “fake news”, is a bare minimum for a decent or honest documentary. Without some attempt to provide a context or insight into the topic beyond the preferred view of the speakers, it becomes a self-indulgent exercise akin to a video diary where the speakers just provide their own views unopposed or without any context which would suggest that there is a different understanding to the reality it describes. What we get is perhaps a film that offers higher production values than the usual Mike Cernovich podcast or YouTube offering with the added benefit of a few academics as guests who seem out of place. The academics, unsurprisingly, are the most coherent, cogent, and thoughtful of the many speakers throughout the documentary in large part because they speak from expertise grounded in research and training, which gives them a sense of self-awareness.
Second, Mr Cernovich and most of the other speakers lack the self-awareness born of having to test their thoughts against a research literature and an informed community. To a surprising degree, most of the speakers lack self-knowledge for what they are saying within the context of the documentary. Moreover, those with self-knowledge, the academics and the leader of Black Lives Matters movement, do so because they act in good faith with the film and how they understand the world. The other speakers don’t.
Third, there were many assertions that relied on bald unsubstantiated claims that are never tested even when there is clear evidence to the contrary. For example, Mr Cernovich makes the following egregious claim around the film’s 95 to 96-minute mark.
The context is coverage of the 2017 Congressional baseball shooting, which occurred on 14 June 2017
Mr Cernovich says the following:
“There was a shooting by a Bernie Sanders supporter and pro antifa person at a congressional baseball practice. Called the Scalise shooting now.[ii] And the mainstream media acted like they really care. Oh, they really cared. No, the people know. The people watch them laugh when they were asked about violence. They know the media wants more shootings.
They want people to get shot because they act as a propaganda arm for antifa, which is a domestic terrorist group, under investigation by the FBI, and they laugh at violence against people they don’t agree with politically.”
It is a bald, unsubstantiated claim to say the media want people to get shot, that they laugh at violence, and they are a propaganda arm for antifa. Mr Cernovich offered no evidence for this claim.
It seems horrific for Mr Cernovich to claim that American media wants American politicians to get shot and does not care about shootings. More to the point, he claims “they laugh at violence against people they don’t agree with politically.” Such a claim is clearly one from a bad faith actor because it is a view so out of touch with reality as to appear to be from someone with a warped sense of the world, politics, media, and America.
The reason it is a bad faith claim is that Mr Cernovich has not considered that his claim must include himself since, as a self- professed journalist he too is part of the media just as Fox News is. Once Mr Cernovich begins to qualify his remarks, which he will once he has to explain them or defend them, his equivocations will show he was not acting in good faith.
In the film, the directors and Mr Cernovich attempt to contextualise his outrageous claims with an earlier scene that covers Mr Cernovich’s video from his visit to the White House Press Briefing Room on 1 May 2017. This is before the Congressional Baseball Shooting. In minutes 91 and 92 of the film, he presents this visit[iii] and claims that the media present laughed at his demands that they cover antifa violence as much as they cover violence by Trump supporters and that they demand that Democrat politicians, like Bernie Sanders, be required to disavow antifa violence in the way that President Trump had been asked to disavow violence by his supporters. In minute 92, he then claims in the film that they laughed at him which is what he wanted them to do.
Mr Cernovich’s claims when investigated are not substantiated.
On the surface, it appears that what he claims has merit because there is laughter at the beginning of his video. However, if you look at footage of the event from other sources, such as CSPAN or other outlets[iv], it does not appear to be as he claims. First, it is not clear that the laughter at the start is aimed at him or another person who shouted a question. Second, it is not clear whether they are laughing at him and the sound of his voice, which some commentators have described as whiny and lispy[v], or simply his appearance at the White House Press briefing. It does not appear that they were laughing at his questions since the laughter was before his questions could be heard clearly as most people tended to ignore him. One person did engage him which seemed to be something garbled but sounded like they were saying they were there to question the Republican President and not the Democrats so until one of them is President it would not make sense.[vi]
Basic research reveals that what Mr Cernovich described is not accurate.
Leaving these points aside, which are enough to call into question his claim that they were laughing at his demands that they condemn violence and condemn the antifa, his substantive point which is an attempt to equivalate President Trump supporters and antifa with the Democratic Party is not sustainable. First, antifa is an anticapitalistic, socialist, anti-fascist group, that does not organise public events nor are they affiliated with any political party nor do they have the patronage of the Democratic Party or a Democrat in an elected office. Second, the White House Press Corp focuses on the President and the White House so a fringe group like antifa, even though important to Mr Cernovich, are not going to attract their attention unless President Trump or the White House focus on it. To expect them to do otherwise is specious if not dishonest in that their job is the White House and President Trump not the Democrats or a fringe political group.[vii] Third, the White House Press Corp are not the media, they are a subset of a subset within the media at best since there is a small number of reporters across world who are part of the White House Press Corps. Fourth, the people present are under no obligation to explain themselves or their organisation’s editorial policies to Mr Cernovich especially in that location and under those circumstances. To believe they should be borders on juvenile or sophomoric behaviour. Fifth, after Charlottesville in August 2017, the media has condemned antifa violence as much as they have condemned Neo-Nazi violence.[viii] Sixth, the Democrats including Bernie Sanders have condemned antifa violence.[ix] Senator Sanders condemned violence[x] on 24 April 2017 a week before Mr Cernovich’s question at the White House Press briefing, thus, disproving his claim that Senator Sanders had not disavowed violence. However, Mr Cernovich at the time nor in the film prepared a year later, considers these points or the alternative meaning of the event which suggests he lacks self-knowledge or the willingness and perhaps the ability to reflect on events. It appears he believes there can be only way to understand an event, his way, and no other. In this, he is acting in bad faith as a person and as a documentarian.
Was this a documentary or was it something else?
As you can see, this is one of the many unsubstantiated or disputable claims in the documentary which rob it of having any chance of providing an insight into fake news since it only present a partial or biased view. There is no balance in the film. You get the queasy feeling that you are watching an indoctrination film designed to groom the audience. A documentary would have had a narrator to provide context or balance failing that regular comments by media academics or media professionals who could explain how the media works would have indicated it was a documentary. A basic understanding of the media starts with the challenge that any news organisation must prioritize coverage, based on available resources, within severe time constraints against a hyper competitive media market. Most importantly, it has deal with the public attention which is limited as well as changing hourly. Without these limited interventions, it fails as a documentary.
What we find, instead, is that Hoaxed is a resentful screed which covers the same tired topics of any fringe group resentful, disgruntled, and disappointed with the status quo. The targets are the same: the left, the media, the lack of coverage for topics they believe the media should cover or don’t cover enough, the unfairness of what they do and so forth.
Mr Molyneux does not understand Plato.
In a strange twist, the film ends with a bizarre attempt to suggest that the film was some sort of educational project or attempt to enlighten the audience as if they have been brought the truth. Stefan Molyneux an avowed white nationalist talks about Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Mr Molyneux has a clumsy, crude, and confused understanding of Plato and the allegory. He wants us to believe this film leads us on a path to enlightenment and thinking. It doesn’t. Mr Molyneux does not understand Plato and his account provides an incorrect analysis that the Cave represents the City since it misses out essential issues or basic points for anyone who has read the passage in Plato. For example, it leaves out the puppet masters[xi] who create the shadows and who have access to the sun or knowledge of the Good yet remain in the cave. He leaves out the difference between the fire and the sun, as well as ignoring the central point that there are no politics in the cave as it is not a political community nor it a simulacrum of one. Finally, the philosopher does not return for political reasons. To put it bluntly, Mr Molyneux is not supported by any serious Plato scholar or any honest reading of Plato’s Republic so he is misleading his audience.
Plato’s cave is about the philosopher and not the city.
The Allegory of the Cave is about the philosopher’s soul, it does not have a political message since the philosopher rejects politics and the people chained in the cave are not in a political environment, but you would not get that as Mr Molyneux, speaking in a theatrical voice, attempts to present himself as letting the audience in on some deep truth that will liberate them. In near hushed tones, he ends the film by invoking the claim that the truth has been revealed to them so they can begin thinking. Mr Molyneux says in minutes 121 to 122 regarding the philosopher who has seen the sun and understands the Good.
“He says, I must share this with the people below, with my friends, my companions, my compatriots chained in the cave. So, he takes a last look to drink the glory of everything that he sees and then with excitement, with joy, with anticipation, he turns back down into the cave.”
This is simply wrong. Plato does not write this. No one is a friend in the cave as they are chained facing forward unable to turn their heads and unaware of anyone else.[xii] There is no dialogue in the cave and therefore no community and without a community there is no politics. The philosopher must be compelled to return to the cave just as he was compelled to leave it[xiii] so we find compulsion central to the Allegory of the Cave. The philosopher does not return to the cave with excitement, joy or anticipation. Instead, he would do anything to avoid returning to the cave.
“I think that he would choose to endure anything rather than such a life.”[xiv] Plato’s Republic 516e
Mr Molyneux is misinforming his audience and distorting Plato’s work to serve his purposes. He also leaves out that when the returning philosopher tries to tell the chained inhabitants of their predicament that they would, if they were not chained, kill him.
He also leaves out that when the philosopher does return to the cave, he is blinded by the darkness[xvi] just as he was blinded by the light on the exit and it takes the philosopher a long time to adjust his eyes to the cave which leaves him appearing ridiculous to the inhabitants. Instead, he suggest that the cave is the reality manufactured by the media to tell you what to think and he suggests that the main speakers within the documentary, Alex Jones, Anthony Scaramucci, Cassie Jaye, James O’Keefe, Mike Cernovich, Scott Adams, an anonymous internet troll named “Myron Gaines” to name a few, are the philosophers who have come back to the cave to wrestle the lies from the minds of those stuck in the cave. This is a nonsensical reading of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.
A philosopher as described by Plato’s Socrates is as rare as hen’s teeth.
The path by which one becomes a philosopher is not started by watching this video or buying some self-help book from Mr Cernovich or Mr Molyneux. A philosopher will have a lifetime of study dedicated to the Good and the pursuit of wisdom done through dialogue and conversation, not political goals such as those promoted by Mr Cernovich or Mr Molyneux, for them to make the journey in their soul. A philosopher lives for discussion and dialogues within individuals they do not participate in harangues or speeches to an unresponsive audience. To put it bluntly, the philosopher begins or lives in a state of wonder or bewilderment always asking questions search for the truth.
None of the people in this film are philosophers or are even close to being philosophers. At best, one of them, Professor Peterson might speak philosophically and have a sense of what the Good means but that does not make him a philosopher returning to the cave to liberate us. Instead, they are people like Mr Molyneux or Mr Cernovich who believe they know what the truth is and they will force you to listen to it.
To a credulous or uninformed audience Molyneux’s analysis might appear revolutionary, insightful, or empowering like “Wow, man, I have learned so much that it all makes sense that I have freed my mind and now I can think and fight to free others.” However, Professor Peterson disabuses anyone of that belief when he says in minute 98.
“You live out the falsifications and, uh, the world hits you.”
If you follow Mr Molyneux or Mr Cernovich, you will be living out a falsification and reality will bite you the ass.
Save your time and money and avoid this movie.
Save your money, by a decent copy of Plato’s Gorgias, Phaedrus, and Sophist as well as Cicero’s Orator and Aristotle’s Rhetoric to understand what rhetoric is, how it works, and what it relates to the truth in a political setting. You will be better served by that education than anything you would learn from this film. You will not find any education or enlightenment in this film and you will have wasted two hours watching as you become less informed. In the end, you are in the dark wondering why you or anyone else listens to the bad faith clowns on the screen.
[i] This article explores how Mr Cernovich has been trying to distance himself from the alt-Right even as he continues to parrot their views. https://www.mediamatters.org/maga-trolls/new-right-brought-you-former-allies-alt-right However, he has worked with alt-Right figures such as Charles C Johnson and in this film with Stefan Molyneux. https://www.thedailybeast.com/mike-cernovich-chuck-johnson-alt-right-hyped-anti-schumer-forgery-that-plagiarized-conyers-complaint
[ii] It is referred to as the 2017 Congressional baseball shooting because Rep Scalise was not the target as the shooter targeted Republicans not him specifically on the baseball field. By contrast Gabby Giffords the representative from Arizona was shot in an attempted assassination to which Mr Cernovich is silent and which demonstrates the hollowness of his claims about the media or Democrats. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Tucson_shooting
[iv] See for example this footage of the incident from Media Matters. https://www.mediamatters.org/maga-trolls/heres-what-happened-when-trump-white-house-gave-alt-right-troll-access-press-room here is one that shows the laughter comes before his questions are understood. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2QySs3CNu8
[vi] Here is the incident as captured by CSPAN. https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4868564/user-clip-cernovich-clip
[vii] If we track the term antifa it does not rank very high on the Google search which also suggests that it is not high in the public’s consciousness except for specific events when it does enter the public domain. https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?cat=16&date=2016-04-11%202017-12-12&geo=US&q=antifa
[ix] In August 2017 Nancy Pelosi condemned antifa violence. https://www.denverpost.com/2017/08/30/nancy-pelosi-denver-violent-antifa-activists-should-be-prosecuted-dont-represent-democrats/ See also https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2017/08/30/pelosi-condemns-violent-actions-of-antifa-protesters/ In 2016 Bernie Sanders condemned political violence aimed at Donald Trump. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/bernie-sanders-condemns-violent-protests-san-jose/story?id=39602627
[xi] See Plato’s Republic 514e http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0168%3Abook%3D7%3Asection%3D514b
[xiii] See 515c “When one was freed from his fetters and compelled to stand up suddenly and turn his head around and walk and to lift up his eyes to the light…” http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0168%3Abook%3D7%3Asection%3D515c See also 515e “And if,” said I, “someone should drag him thence by force up the ascent1 which is rough and steep, and not let him go before he had drawn him out into the light of the sun,…” http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0168%3Abook%3D7%3Asection%3D515e
[xvi] See 516e “ “And consider this also,” said I, “if such a one should go down again and take his old place would he not get his eyes full1 of darkness, thus suddenly coming out of the sunlight?” “He would indeed……” http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0168%3Abook%3D7%3Asection%3D516e