When Donald Trump began his tirade against the media, documentary filmmaker Liz Garbus knew she wanted to be on the other side, documenting the media’s struggle to fairly and accurately report his unconventional presidency. And as the president began to single out the New York Times as “failing” and “fake news,” it became clear to Garbus that the Times newsroom was where she had to be.
After pushing for unprecedented access, she was eventually given the green light to film everything that went on behind the scenes of the New York Times as their journalists worked to cover Trump’s first year in office. In this episode of Broadly Talks, we sit down with Liz Garbus ahead of the release of her four-part docuseries on the topic, The Fourth Estate.
Not everyone was enthused about Garbus's idea to film from within the Times' offices—including some journalists. “There were people who thought this was insane,” she says. Eventually, however, Garbus found a way to earn the trust of reporters at the office so that they could do their jobs in front of her cameras with ease. "If a reporter would use a pronoun exposing the gender of a particular source, we would just go back and delete it onsite."
Garbus is an Academy Award-nominated director with titles like Ghosts of Abu Ghraib and What Happened, Miss Simone? under her belt. Still, she says, The Fourth Estate “was unlike any documentary I’ve ever made, for sure.”
Garbus is expecting criticism from both the Left and the Right once the documentary comes out, but she also thinks that both sides stand to learn something from it. “I think it’s very easy to deride the media and think, ‘These people are the media elite,' or also to say that places like the New York Times are part of the resistance—none of that is true,” she says. No matter her viewers’ opinions of the Times, however, she says there’s a universal takeaway: “Journalists are essential to democracy, so if you undermine truth telling, if you have power, you can get away with anything.”