March 2, 2015 Last Updated 1:28 pm

Participant Media, Omidyar Network, Poynter Institute team up on new program inspired by film ‘Merchants of Doubt’

New documentary attempts to expose the pundits-for-hire who present themselves in the media as scientific authorities

Press Release:

NEW YORK & BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. & ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – March 2, 2015 — Inspired by the new documentary “Merchants of Doubt”, Participant Media, Omidyar Network, and The Poynter Institute are collaborating on a national program to help journalists, educators and students learn how to identify misinformation aimed at distorting scientific truth and influencing public policy in the United States. Representatives from Poynter will introduce the program, including a curriculum aimed at journalism students, at a screening of “Merchants of Doubt” tonight at New York’s Columbia Journalism School, hosted with Columbia Journalism Review (CJR).

In the new film “Merchants of Doubt”, inspired by the acclaimed book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, filmmaker Robert Kenner (“Food, Inc.”) lifts the curtain on a secretive group of charismatic pundits-for-hire who present themselves in the media as scientific authorities – yet have the contrary aim of spreading confusion about public threats ranging from toxic chemicals to pharmaceuticals to climate change.

Poynter’s curriculum is designed to help journalists report accurately and authoritatively on science and hold companies and individuals responsible for their actions. Poynter has also developed classroom guides to assist teachers and students as they explore the skills of news literacy and develop an appreciation of critical journalism in democratic societies. The training will be offered in a variety of forms, including in-person workshops and on the Institute’s e-learning platform News University. More information is available at

“Merchants of Doubt” director Robert Kenner, Poynter’s Kelly McBride, Huffington Post columnist Wendell Potter, New York Times reporter Justin Gillis, and Emily Southard from Forecast the Facts, will join CJR’s editor-in-chief Liz Spayd at Columbia Journalism School on Monday evening to explore how journalists and other citizens can identify and avoid corporate misinformation aimed at influencing the American public and impacting government policy.

Chad Boettcher, Participant’s Executive Vice President, Social Action & Advocacy added, “For decades, industries like tobacco, chemicals, and fossil fuels have employed spin doctors to cast doubt on inconvenient science that showed how damaging their products were to human health or the environment. Their success delayed public action on some of the most dangerous and pressing issues of our time. At Participant, we see the release of ‘Merchants of Doubt’ as an opportunity to inspire consumers to demand more information and more transparency about these issues in the media. We are proud to work with Poynter to help journalism students avoid the trap of spreading misinformation.”

“Journalists and citizens must both get smarter at vetting scientific information because a small number of powerful corporations have become quite sophisticated in their efforts to distort the truth,” said Kelly McBride, Poynter’s vice president of academic programs. “We at Poynter jumped at the chance to join this project because we believe that well-informed citizens are capable of holding private corporations accountable and encouraging their government to serve the greater good.”

Commenting on the campaign, Director Robert Kenner said, “The media looks at climate change like it’s a debate – but there’s no debate at all here. The theory of climate change is as solid as the theory of gravity. The only question now is what can we do to solve this, but as long as these merchants of doubt are being treated like experts, we’re never going to see things change.”

“Merchants of Doubt” is presented by Sony Pictures Classics, in association with Participant Media and Omidyar Network, a film by Kenner, produced by Kenner and Melissa Robledo, executive produced by Jeff Skoll and Diane Weyermann of Participant Media, and Pierre Omidyar of Omidyar Network, and co-produced by Brian Pearle, Taki Oldham, Dylan Nelson and Youtchi von Lintel. Directors of Photography on the film include Don Lenzer, Barry Berona and Jay Redmond with music by Mark Adler. The film will release theatrically in the U.S. on March 6, 2015. Trailer and more information at

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