Kobi Libii and The Opposition took brief clips from different parts of our conference and edited them together out of order to make it seem like our business is teaching students how to lie and manipulate using subliminal messages.
We taught our students the exact opposite of this: to tell the truth and to try to be fair to the stories and the people you’re dealing.
Below are the two complete clips containing the quotes they edited deceptively, as well as several minutes of surrounding material to give readers a sense of what we were talking about at the time. We’ve bolded the clips The Opposition excerpted.
In this first clip, after talking about an experience he had with Steve Bannon after Lee decided to go on a trip to Lebanon to cover the Syrian refugee crisis, Lee mentions one of Bannon’s favorite films, and then goes on to describe how aspiring creatives, including journalists, have to begin by imitating the greats.
Kobi Libii then says how much he loves the idea that journalism is an avant-garde film. Lee responds by saying that this is what it’s become: that people have to imitate the great professionals within their creative discipline.
Lee Stranahan: And after I quit, Bannon, to his credit, helped me. He said, “No, no, no. I get it. I’ve quit jobs before. Sometimes you gotta follow your art. Do your art. Do your art. I get it.” That’s the way he views it.
Lee Stranahan: Bannon’s interesting. I’ll tell you, here’s another thing about Bannon. One of Bannon’s favorite … I’ve mentioned this to people who know indie documentaries. One of Bannon’s favorite films is a fairly obscure film, a documentary called “Koyaanisqatsi: A Life Out of Balance.” Philip Glass did the soundtrack. It was like an ’80s film. It’s like, lots of like… footage. There’s no dialogue. It’s an environmentalist film. It’s got slow-motion footage or time-lapse footage. And it’s one of his favorite movies.
Lee Stranahan: You just look at it, and you go, “Well, Bannon doesn’t seem avant-garde.” It’s kind of an avant-garde film. It’s one of his favorite movies. And once you know it’s one of his favorite movies, he rips it off constantly. He’s always doing these little visual sequences, and it’s like, “Oh, he’s ripping off ‘Koyaanisqatsi.'” He’ll cop to it. It’s the same thing.
Lee Stranahan: You know, I mean, someone said this: “Don’t even try to be original at first because you can’t.” Ira Glass from “This American Life” did a good piece on it. You can find it. Ira Glass on creativity. Ira Glass says that the problem when you start doing creative work is you’re doing creative work — and journalism is creative work — you’re doing work because you’re, like a musician, because you love music, right? And you love guitar playing, right? But at first, you suck because you just started playing guitar. But your heroes don’t suck. So the gap between you and them is massive. And it’s the same thing for writing or journalism or filmmaking or anything.
Kobi Libii: Yeah.
Lee Stranahan: So his point is you’ve just gotta push through that. You’ve just gotta keep going.
Kobi Libii: It’s so helpful to me.
Lee Stranahan: Yeah.
Kobi Libii: It’s so helpful to me to think about journalism as an avant-garde film.
Lee Stranahan: Yes.
Kobi Libii: That image is really resonant for me.
Lee Stranahan: Well, and… because it is. That’s what it’s become. You can’t help… You can’t help… If you’re a Hendrix fan, you’re gonna try to sound like Jimi Hendrix at first.
Kobi Libii: Right, right.
Lee Stranahan: So don’t even … just give in.
Kobi Libii: Uh huh.
Lee Stranahan: Just go for it. Just be like, okay. And then eventually, you push through that, and you start to find your own thing.
‘It’s not there’ and Sergei Eisenstein
In this second clip, Lee describes an idea relating to interviewing people: that an honest portrayal of somebody’s beliefs will be read by readers differently depending on the reader’s beliefs, and finishes by saying that the job of the journalist is to portray their speech honestly, and that this requires a commitment to fair and honest reporting.
Lee Stranahan: Sergei Eisenstein was one of the … Is a Russian film director, Battleship Potemkin. He was one of the early … Yeah, bring it, bring him over here. Eisenstein was one of the early filmmakers. And, he did — this is at the very beginning of filmmaking, it was brand new to everybody — he did these tests where you get an actor and you shoot, you have the camera up here, and this is the shot. Now, then if you cut that, me looking like that, if you cut that with a woman, and people watch the film, and you say, “What’s the actor thinking?” they’ll go, “He’s thinking about how much he’s in love with her.” If you cut that with a baby, they’ll go, “He’s thinking about what the baby will be like.” If you cut that with a fire, a house on fire, he’s thinking about what he’s lost. Now, really, it’s this. I’m not thinking about anything. I’m just standing there. Does that make sense? But what he found is, is that the audience fills in, you see what I’m saying? It’s not there, it’s this. It’s just standing there, but if you cut it with stuff, people fill it in.
Lee Stranahan: This is what people are like, and people do that if you interview them. So if I interview somebody at Occupy Wall Street, and I go, “What’s the most important issue to you, why are you out here?” Or if I interview somebody at a Tea Party rally, same question, they will fill in the answer. Depending upon who you are and what your political beliefs are, you might go, “That guy’s a jerk.” You might go, “That person’s awesome.” It’s the same interview. What’s my job? My job is to let that person say why they’re out there and what this … Does that make sense? That’s really my job, is just to get them to, “Hey, why are you out here and what’s the most important issue to you?” It’s not to trick them. It’s not when they say, “I’m out here in favor of income inequality … you know, I’m out here fighting incoming equality.” I don’t have to bicker with them to go, “Well, incoming equality, what about this or that?” I can do that, I can, but often if I don’t do that, if I just let them say what they think, that’s it.
Lee Stranahan: Now then, there can be a point, we do this all the time, where my primary thing is, just let people talk, right. Just let them say what they want to say, and then fill it in. Now, let me get to, because I just don’t want to lose one thing. Let me get back to some specific techniques for being the best interviewer people have ever had.
Lee Stranahan: A) try
Lee Stranahan: In fact, let me talk about this broadly. We talked a lot, I’ve talked a lot about intention. We talked a lot about motive in the first section this morning, the way I think about stuff, what I’m trying to do as a journalist. I cannot stress this enough: You hit what you aim for. Right, if you’re not trying to be a good, fair journalist, you’re not going to lock into it. You’ve got to have some intent to be good. You’ve got to have some intent to be honest. Does that make sense? I cannot stress it enough. No amount of technique. I can show you how to research stuff, and I will, I can show you how to do stuff, but if your goal is not to be good, you’re just not going to be good. If your goal is not to like … I really want to illuminate this, I really want to bring this out. I really want to …