Expelled! Producers Gloat: Claim that the “From Darwin to Hitler” evolved organically!

Gloating about the coverage they’ve been receiving, the producers of Expelled! have finally updated their blog with a rambling defense of their production tactics. If you had any doubts at all whether this film would be honest or evenhanded, I think the cackling, sneering tone makes things pretty clear. It’s also written in the same tone as the bizarre post that vanished from the site weeks ago: i.e. distinctively like your standard internet troll. It’s hard to tell whether or not they are outright happily admitting to lying to their interviewees about the film they were making or not, but either way, their behavior and claims just don’t add up.

Let’s review the basic facts here. Scientists like Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, Eugine Scott were approached last April, told that a company named Rampant Films was making a documentary called “Crossroads,” which was billed as a legitimate and searching exploration of the topic of science and religion in our culture.

Instead, the production turned out to be a film that its star (Ben Stein) has said he wanted to call “From Darwin to Hitler” whose theme is 100% pushing the party line of the Intelligent Design crowd. It turns out to have been produced by a different company: Premise Media, which is headed up by two prominent evangelicals. Rampant Films now appears to have been a front: it’s “address” turned out to be phony, and none of it’s films other than the recently revealed Expelled! seem to be real projects. The producers now claim that it’s a subsidiary of Premise Media. Why, exactly, would a tiny production company that’s never put out even a single film to date need a subsidiary?

The major complaint most of the interviewees have is simply the deception involved. A documentary exploring issues of science and religion is very different from one promoting the pointed allegations of the Intelligent Design movement, and by lying to the interviewees, the producers effectively prevented people from ever responding directly the Intelligent Design claims made in the film. Worse, by telling the scientists that the film would be about their personal opinions on religion and science, they no doubt amassed a horde of anti-religious quotes that they can portray as being professionally directed at the careers of religious scientists in general. Sure: I haven’t seen the film, but if they don’t mislead the audience in exactly this way, I’ll be stunned.

It gets even sillier though: in the New York Times article producer Walt Ruloff claims that the film was just later retitled, which he says is “routine in film making.” On the blog, they claim that the “Expelled” idea was something they developed “only after [they] began to see the disturbing pattern and shocking information that the footage reveals!” But as Reason commenter “Roger” points out, these claims are pretty implausible considering that the domain “expelledthemovie.com” was registered on March 2nd, a whole month before any of the interviews with the scientists were even scheduled. That means they were already working, or at least thinking about, the full-on “Intelligent Design is persecuted” theme even while still pretending that they were producing the far tamer and more generalized film described as “Crossroads.” In fact, despite the producers’ claims that crossroads was the working title of their film and may still be a real project, “crossroadsthemovie.com” isn’t registered at all: domain squatter Internet REIT has been selling it since 2002 with no takers so far.

Furthermore, Ben Stein (who again, and I can’t repeat this enough, thought an appropriate title for the film they were making was “From Darwin to Hitler”) is quoted in the NYTimes article lamely claiming that no one he interviewed ever asked what the film was about. This quote also appears highly deceptive, since he apparently wasn’t involved in most of the interviews with the scientists that feel duped (Dawkins, apparently, being a notable exception). I suspect his involvement would have been too much of a dead-giveaway what the production was really up to.

Now, there’s nothing technically illegal about this sort of conduct, and it is unfortunately an increasingly popular tactic amongst “gotcha” filmmakers on both the left and right, but there’s no denying that it’s scuzzy and belies a complete disregard for honest film making.

Anyone can produce a slick advertisement for a point of view: simply leaving out all context and information to the contrary. As films, documentaries live and die on their credibility and realism: the fact that the producers of this film went to such great lengths to dupe their interviewees, almost certainly for the purposes of misleading their audience, seriously undermines theirs, and perhaps fatally. I’ve compared them to Michael Moore previously, but frankly, at least when Moore does his hostile “gotcha” interviews, his targets generally know his reputation and what ideas he’s pushing.

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15 Responses to Expelled! Producers Gloat: Claim that the “From Darwin to Hitler” evolved organically!

  1. becky says:

    How interesting that you post about this tonight! I just watched the fatuous preview for the film. I’m looking forward to the critiques that’ll result from it.

    Have you watched the YouTube critiques on Lee Strobel’s film The Case for a Creator? [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uH3i4a6HSGs] I really enjoyed these videos — I’m still gathering up arguments to refute the inevitable ID arguments I’m bound to face in the near future.

  2. Bad says:

    It should definitely be interesting: we’ll see if this film is successful enough to really spark anything. It’s going to be heavily promoted as a “teaching moment” in churches by the same company that did so well with Last Temptation of Christ. Right now, lots of people vaguely have all sorts of ID ideas like “didn’t evolution get disproved by Irreducible Complexity” but no idea what they are actually talking about. This film probably won’t so much to inform people much (even about ID arguments), but it sure will have the potential to rile people up.

  3. […] Stein from speaking his mind to anyone that is inclined to listen, or making and promoting his dishonest movie, I’m still having a hard time understanding what the freedom of speech has to do with […]

  4. […] for decades, and his producers are evangelical creationists on a mission. I’ve already laid out the case for why their claims of initial naivety are nonsense (complete with their phony “Crossroads” film, which appeared after the Expelled project […]

  5. […] the host of Expelled talking like a creationist, Stein apparently even went into the project with the idea that it might ultimately be titled […]

  6. David says:

    Notice that they don’t ever actually say that “I don’t really believe what I said” or “what I said was taken out of context” or “I did not mean to make it sound that ID was stupid”. They actually meant all the things they said they just did not want to be portrayed as the biased narrowminded people they are who do not want anyone to expose the fact that what they are teaching has huge holes in it. Not even that they might actually be wrong or right but that nobody should be allowed to question them.

  7. Bad says:

    They don’t say it because, aside from the context issue, that’s not their point about being deceived at all, David.

    They were tricked into letting a bunch of creationists use their names, faces, and status as a means to promote creationist ideas in a production that’s fundamentally dishonest: something they never would have knowingly agreed to. Since these guys are all ardent anti-creationists, they obviously are against the promotion of creationism, including helping it out.

    All of these guys have debated and addressed the claims of creationists many times over: but they do it in a way that actually addresses substantive arguments, rather than just giving creationists a nice big billboard advertisement for their beliefs, which is all creationists ever really seem to want when demanding that scientists pay attention to them.

    And it’s pretty clear that some of the comments from the anti-ID scientists ARE taken out of context: they are presented as a) the principles of science rather than these people’s particular opinions and positions, and b) the film apparently treats hypothetical musings, as with Dawkins on aliens, as if they were being presented as scientific conclusions.

    portrayed as the biased narrowminded people they are who do not want anyone to expose the fact that what they are teaching has huge holes in it.

    Why is it that we get nearly nothing but hot air from you guys on this issue. Whether or not these scientists really are biased or narrow-minded or not depends crucially on the issues of whether ID has scientific merit or not, and whether the claimed “huge holes” actually pan out. Creationists are fond of making such accusations, but as with this film, apparently loathe to stick around and actually try to defend those accusations on neutral ground, with all the evidence there to be compared to their claims.

    Not even that they might actually be wrong or right but that nobody should be allowed to question them.

    It never gets more pathetic than this, I guess. Here are folks who sit around, committed to the scientific method, committed to the evidence. And then come along a bunch of PR people, with no concept of what science is and no commitment at all to its method, claiming that because scientists actually (gasp!) want to apply scientific standards to zany creationist claims, that they are thought Nazis.

    It’s all basically just an elaborate way to avoid having to engage in a scientific debate they know they are bound to lose (because they’ve always lost before). Instead of debating the truth of the matter, they just fill all the air time whining about suppression and lack of questioning.

  8. […] The Bad Idea blog covered the domain name registration discrepancy and a number of other clues that the […]

  9. RM says:

    I’d be interested to see if this site would review Michael Moore’s scuzzy and deceptive BS films in similar fashion. Is it enough to note that both the left and right are doing this, but give good reviews (I don’t know if this site did, but I suspect so) to one side and not the other, as long as you make a claim that this behavior is common on both sides?

    I’d say not.

    I don’t support intelligent design, I do support the ability of people to have a voice regardless of how fatuous or scuzzy their tactics. I have no love of journalistic tactics of this nature, but it’s a fact that it’s FAR more common from the left than the right, simply because the left virtually owns Hollywood.

    I have massive amounts of respect for Ben Stein. Unlike a Michael Moore, he’s intelligent, well spoken, and funny. His articles on finance have helped me improve my life, and his views are, generally, very mainstream even if he is right of center. I highly doubt there was any “duping” if he was involved in the interview process. Ben is very much upfront about how he handles things.

  10. RM says:

    I’d also disagree about Moore and people knowing what they’re getting into. Moore no longer actually DOES his interviews. He sends proxies and then pastes his face in during the editing simply because people DO know who he is.

    Plus, Moore is a master of editing who takes things terribly out of context, and splices them in with other clips, creating a pastiche concept of “interview”.

  11. Bad says:

    I’d be interested to see if this site would review Michael Moore’s scuzzy and deceptive BS films in similar fashion.

    In fact, as noted, when this film was first announced, one of my first comments was that it seemed like they were going the “Michael Moore” route. It was not meant as a compliment.

    I have massive amounts of respect for Ben Stein.

    I would say that any evenhanded look at what he’s done with this film should cost him quite a bit of respect.

    His articles on finance have helped me improve my life, and his views are, generally, very mainstream even if he is right of center.

    We’ll have to disagree on that one. His views seem to run on the WorldNetDaily side of all things conservative, which is generally not a good thing in my book when it comes to reasoned discourse.

    I highly doubt there was any “duping” if he was involved in the interview process. Ben is very much upfront about how he handles things.

    Doubt all you want, I think the case for that is very strong, as I’ve explained here and in all the subsequent evidence thats come out later. And not just the interview process. His debate of the issues both in the film and in interviews is flatly infantile.

  12. […] this means they’re going to bring their powers of deception, noxious propaganda, and disregard for “complicating” facts to bear on the pro-life […]

  13. foenotInoff says:

    I highly enjoyed reading this post, keep on posting such exciting stuff!

  14. Bad idea… I think so! Why? See the quote from the article:

    “The major complaint most of the interviewees have is simply the deception involved.”

    Yes, deception.

  15. rapidleech says:

    hi,
    I am very glad to thank yousharing this post.I also appreciate your work here.nice blog

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