THE FOURTH ESTATE
A SHOWTIME® DOCUMENTARY SERIES FROM OSCAR® NOMINEE LIZ GARBUS
An introduction from Liz Garbus:
Two weeks after the 2016 election, the President-elect Donald Trump, making the press rounds, scheduled a meeting with The New York Times. Later that morning, the Times learned, via Twitter, that Trump was canceling, saying the "failing" New York Times had changed the conditions – “not nice." The Times held their ground, saying it was the Trump team who had tried to change the rules when he asked that the meeting be off the record. Hours later, Trump changed course, tweeting the meeting was back on: "Look forward to it!"
That day, November 22, I was a filmmaker sitting at her desk, trying to figure out how to make sense of the seismic political shift that had occurred on November 8. Everybody was. Ideas had been flying in since Trump's win – folks trying to get a handle on a future that they had not prepared for, that they desperately wanted to engage with. Nothing felt quite right to me, until November 22. That morning, I thought, what if I could be a fly on the wall for such a meeting? I had found my lane. Now all I had to do was convince The New York Times!
I have respect for the first amendment in my DNA. My father, a civil liberties lawyer, fought for Lenny Bruce's right to offend and for the Skokie Nazis’ right to assemble. And here was a new American President, openly attacking the free press. The New York Times seemed a particularly irresistible target. He seemed to desperately crave its positive coverage at the same time that he derided it from the bully pulpit. From the Times’ point of view, just as it was seeking to aggressively cover this new President, it was also facing big business challenges. A family-controlled paper, The Times was in the midst of a rapid transition to digital and it needed to continue to evolve, and fast, or else see its business severely impacted by Facebook and Google. How would they take stock of this new era, one that they hadn't fully understood during the 2016 election, and rethink their coverage, amidst a chaotic administration with little transparency?
These are the weighty and juicy questions I set out to explore in The Fourth Estate. It is an inquiry into understanding how the most important newspaper in the world would fight for the people’s right to know the truth in the era of "fake news" and "alternative facts." In the aftermath of World War II, Hannah Arendt wrote: “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.” These words still haunt us in 2018. My goal with The Fourth Estate is to pull back the curtain on the fact finders and show the world what they really do, warts and all, in service of uncovering the truth – and making the truth matter.
Granted unprecedented access to the editors and reporters on the front lines, Emmy® winning and Oscar® nominated filmmaker Liz Garbus’ The Fourth Estate follows the inner workings of The New York Times, revealing the challenges, triumphs and pitfalls of covering a president who has declared the majority of the nation’s major news outlets “the enemy of the people.”
“THE FIRST 100 DAYS”
DIRECTED BY LIZ GARBUS
As Donald J. Trump takes the oath of office, The New York Times’ New York and Washington bureaus prepare to cover an administration unlike any other. The role that Russia played in the 2016 election quickly emerges as a storyline that will continue to unfold, consuming a troop of investigative journalists for the year to come. In this fiercely competitive environment, The Times and The Washington Post vie for scoops while overtaxed journalists work to develop sources inside a volatile administration. Tension boils over when the President calls the media “the enemy of the people.” Remarkably, F.B.I. director James Comey announces an active federal investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election. Meanwhile, the paper faces economic challenges as it continues to adapt to a digital world. In a time when the news never stops, The Times’ reporters scramble to break the stories vital to the future of our democracy before the pace and the scrutiny breaks them.
“THE TRUMP BUMP”
DIRECTED BY LIZ GARBUS AND JENNY CARCHMAN
Shortly after FBI director James Comey is fired by President Trump, The New York Times journalist Michael Schmidt is on to a huge scoop with ongoing reverberations, regarding Comey’s memos about his meetings with Trump. The appointment of a special counsel marks an important new turn in what has already been an historic year. Things are made more dire when The Times reveals details of a secret meeting between members of the Trump campaign team and a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin. And there is heavy turnover at the White House, covered by White House correspondent Maggie Haberman. But even as The Times drives this shocking flow of new information, it continues to squarely address its own inner challenges. Advertising dollars are shrinking. Digital is replacing print, podcasts are now synonymous with the paper, and Twitter is how news breaks first. The executive editor must make difficult changes that break with tradition. Can The New York Times adapt to a digital future without losing something vital in the process?
As violence stoked by white supremacists erupts in Charlottesville, The New York Times reporters scramble to make sense of the news. Now accustomed to the relentless pace of Donald Trump’s first term in office, the President’s unwillingness to denounce the racist hate groups presents a new test for the country and the journalists. After a firestorm of criticism from the left and right, Trump blames the “failing New York Times” and “crooked media” at a rally in Phoenix for distorting his speech and further deepening the country’s divisions. Meanwhile, Steve Bannon exits the White House and a Times reporter questions where his populist revolution is headed now without the President’s ear. While the country’s tensions play out on social media, the paper deals with reining in its own reporters on Twitter. The Russia investigative team are at the ready when Mueller makes his first big move - but it’s not at all what they expected.
"MATTERS OF FACT"
The New York Times reporters learn that the President’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, has pled guilty to lying to the FBI, bringing the Russia investigation closer to Trump’s inner circle. As the paper leads the reporting on workplace sexual harassment, allegations of past misconduct by one reporter in the bureau bring the story home. And for all the attacks on the free press over the course of Trump’s first year in office, the paper is rewarded for what it does best: good reporting.
THE FOURTH ESTATE is produced for SHOWTIME by Radical Media and Moxie Firecracker Films, in association with Impact Partners, with Liz Garbus, Jenny Carchman and Justin Wilkes serving as producers. Jon Kamen, Dave Sirulnick and Dan Cogan serve as executive producers.