18 thoughts on “Earhart’s: “The Illusion of Truth” Spoiler Space”

  1. I have one question about this episode: why was it made?

    Given the need to run S4 at a breakneck pace due to uncertainties over whether S5 would be greenlit, it does not make much sense to waste an episode on what is, essentially, filler. I don’t think there’s anything in this episode that hasn’t been established in earlier episodes and/or covered in future episodes.

    That said, for a man who’s supposed to be the messiah, Sheridan is a blithering idiot.

    1. Since the next big arc is Earth’s freefall into totalitarianism (followed by the retaking of Earth), and JMS wants to play with cold war themes (just as he was playing with WWII themes in other episodes), we need to see how bad things are getting on the homeworld. Blacklists. McCarthyism. Forced confessions. Propaganda calling itself unbiased news. Misuse of psychology to “diagnose” those who disagree with the establishment (don’t even get me started). It may seem like filler, but I think we need to see it, just as we needed some episodes reinforcing for us that the Shadows are scary and powerful, even though we already knew that they were.

      But yes, Sheridan is a prize fool for thinking that the outcome of the interviews would be anything other than what it was. Spinning my own scenario, what I would have recommended is that Sheridan have a camera of his own going, and then release the unedited video.

      1. Very much so. This episode re-opens B5 Versus Earth with a two-sides mise en scene. We get here a broad view of the landscape. In our division between the two tales a crucible is formed, heating a number of elements to come and dividing some parts from others. The Sheridan/Delenn smear finds its way through to the compartmentalising of protagonists on the upcoming Minbari and Earth conflicts. The presence of the cameras accelerates the Sheridan/Garibaldi division. It creates the reaction that propels Ivanova’s arc to come. (Though there are problems there) B5AG commentator Dan Carlson (not Dan Randall) made the astute note about Bester’s โ€œyour war is my warโ€ being a hollow promise/plot. ISN’s vid-capture of Carolyn Sanderson in cyro no doubt put Bester at risk back home, and it’s easy to take that further and see how he might have favoured ‘going quiet’. If news of his alliance reached Clark then all his plans would be over.

        So not filler at all, but there are serious structural fill problems with ISN being able to do what they do. The storyteller lets ISN have their way, through Sheridan’s naivete regarding propaganda and it’s place in war. We saw him challenge Earther preconceptions and the false flag mission of the Black Omega Squadron last episode. I think this ep stretches suspension of disbelief waaay too much. We get exposition on what he was thinking,

        “everything we said we kept down to short declarative sentences making it harder for them to quote us out of context”

        Yet there’s evidence in Part 1 and ISN’s broadcast that this policy is without foundation as command-level action or circulated planning. There’s no tracking of Dan Randall with regards sensitive communications, indeed they make it too easy for him.

        1. Well, we shall even when we don’t take the 90s in count, when not everyone had a video camera in his pocket (the smartphone), not forget, that when Sheridan would have been so genre-savvy and have filmed the guy (and who says, that they don’t have footage, you forget the security cameras all around the station, that also records the sounds? They have used them beforehand, for example when it came to Who shot Garibaldi), what would it have mattered. Their own “alternative media channel” is not yet established and there don’t seem to be an interstellar liveleak webpage, ISN seems to be the only channel possible to get news from and to Earth (even their alternative channel will get scrambled by Earth Gov, so that it don’t past the atmosphere of Earth and Mars), and I don’t think they will let Sinclairs version of the story air ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. A few other stray observations:

    This is too on-the-nose, esp. compared with the ISN-wraparound AndNowForAWord. The ISN credits are consistent in both and they remind me of The Day Today and BrassEye in both cases. I’m tempted to think production was giving a nod there and the time frame fits.

    Dr. Indiri makes a few light-hearted jabs at the Centauri. Doesn’t his own hair look a bit Centauri?

  3. I worked in broadcasting from 1989 through 2011 (honestly, the one reason I was out of the business then is because the business left my area – there’s virtually no remaining news media in my area, it’s all moved to a more profitable city). My work was often heavily tied in with local news; as a promo writer/producer, I had to accurately encapsulate entire stories, but when I was in college, I was actually training to be a reporter, not studying production. (I was enough of a tech-head that the production side of things came to me naturally.) As such, I was keenly aware of changing context or, as I often thought of it, “de-nuancing” stories. The station I worked for the longest was part of a national chain who would send consultants in from the east coast to try to convince us to write “watercooler” copy for our promos – what we now call clickbait. “You won’t believe what happens!” I was more worried about forming unintended associations in the minds of people who, perhaps, weren’t paying attention – my stuff would be seen/heard while someone’s cooking dinner, or as they’re on their way to or from the bathroom during a commercial break. On a few occasions I flagged down what they *wanted* me to write because, not to be too dramatic, it would’ve ruined lives; one of those incidents became a real argument that just about got me fired because I argued it wasn’t my job to convict someone in a 15-second news promo. (So…what, they wanted to replace me with someone who *would* do that? Great.)

    It’s from that perspective, *as well as* the current events perspective, that this episode is profoundly discomfiting. The social media element doesn’t need to exist in the B5 universe, because in our simplified-to-the-point-that-it-looks-like-there’s-one-major-broadcaster setting here, ISN is doing all of the insinuation that, in our present, is done by the various entities spewing memes all over the internet: disinformation, confusion, othering, and delegitimization. The show doesn’t really have time to work in a whole story about how media are consumed on Earth, so it’s all broad strokes. I’m okay with that.

    I really liked it better when Babylon 5 was “awesome science fiction” and not “jarringly predictive of current events”.

    By the way, a clarification of a comment I left re: the previous episode. When I mentioned how impressed I am that B5AG hasn’t gone full-on political, it wasn’t a “thank you for not being political”, it was more of a rueful chuckle from someone who’s pretty bad (and getting worse by the hour) about keeping their politics off their sleeve. Don’t feel the need to cringe your way through your own podcast. Having seen a recent Twitter dust-up where someone sort of passive-aggressively suggested the Verity! podcasters to “stay in their lane” and not get political, I, for one, will never demand that anyone do that – particularly not on a podcast celebrating and analyzing a show that is, at its heart, about speaking truth to power.

    1. There’s a difference between “political” and “partisan,” and most of the complaints are about the second of the two. Talking about the employment of propaganda in a totalitarian regime in a B5 (or Doctor Who) podcast is one thing, calling everyone who isn’t on my team a bunch of totalitarian propagandists and propaganda-swallowers is another.

      Take your use of the phrase “speaking truth to power.” When you say that, I’m sure you are thinking of your idea of truth, and the people whom you see as powerful and in need of some truth. Do you give serious thought to the notion that your opponents do exactly the same thing? Take the riots when Milo Y arrived at Berkeley. Milo supporters see themselves as speaking truth to power, because they see university campuses as strongholds of left-wing thought police. The rioters see themselves as speaking truth to power, because they see Milo as a figurehead for the forces of right-wing oppression. (And anyone who reads this and wants to argue “it’s different because my team really is good and the other team really is evil” is doing nothing but revealing their team allegiance)

      JMS once said that one of his rules of writing is “the monster never sees a monster in the mirror.” The US political scene has degenerated into collections of partisan shriekers yelling “monster” at each other, and it would be nice to get together with some fellow sci fi fans and talk about our favourite shows without contributing to that degeneration.

  4. Our hosts wondered about whether the in-universe audience would buy the confession that we saw, commenting at how obviously abused the poor guy was. I think that was the whole point… even today, we can see how people believe what they want to believe. Some people look at Trump and see a charismatic anti-corruption champion (because they listen to his words in a literal sense) while others see a charismatic neo-fascist demagogue (because they understand the context and consequences of his words).

    I think that Clark’s people wouldn’t worry about possible doubts for this low level celebrity’s confession. For those who already believe in Clark’s regime, it’s more validation. For those who don’t believe, at best it’s a clear warning of what will happen if they dissent openly, discouraging more dissent. And if people openly question the legitimacy of the confession, then they become the next victims. It’s a win-win-win scenario for Clark.

    But for Sheridan, who’s a much more central figure and who was directly opposed to Clark, they had to be more careful and ensure that any possible doubts could be covered with increased scrutiny into the confession that they were trying to get from Sheridan in “Intersections in Real Time.” Wanting the confession to be more “honest” makes sense. If he’d actually confessed, I imagine Sheridan’s would have appeared much less broken on the surface, though still contrite, when the confession was shown to the public, compared to the poor guy in “The Illusion of Truth.”

    Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if Clark’s people were explicitly laying the groundwork (in broad strokes), planning ahead for when they caught Sheridan (not knowing exactly how or when they’d do that), by showing these kinds of small scale confessions early on.

    1. I was initially going to flag up the confession, shot as it was to be a darkened cell with a suffering man, as poor production. Then I got to thinking about the Guantanamo Bay abuse by ‘patriots’ coming out alongside White House denials of the same.

      I’m not sure what I can add on media, the comments here have been brilliant. The points Earl raises on news media are still common: victimise by headline, selective cut and paste interviews. We’ve an election in N.Ireland next week and so I’m attuned more than usual to selective bias and smear campaigns. I’d love to hear your opinions on my first novel, Axel America and the US Election Race, published last August. It’s a satire focusing on news media, fake news and conspiracy. Linked to at the top of this comment.

      Slight tangent: Lennier’s exit in S5 always bothered me and triggered by #DelennWatch I’ve begun to view him as a bit of an appendage, a substitute. Which of course is Lennier’s motivation. Viewing the exit through the mental illness lens to come it still seems so sudden. Can we has #LennierWatch?

    2. Just one critique: “while others see a charismatic neo-fascist demagogue (because they understand the context and consequences of his words).”

      I hope you understand, that in the bracket you have your own personal bias. Because as we never can say, if the things somebody says are completely true (and we know, even Minbari can lie), we can also never be sure if our interpretation is true. So when you say, they “understand the context and consequences”, you more likely mean: they have their interpretation about what the context and possible consequences will be. Unfornatunally you can never say for sure, if an interpretation is true or wrong, until the prognosed things happened or not.

  5. Finally forced myself to watch this episode yesterday, since it’s the one episode I’ve always hated, ever since it first broadcast. When I say hated, I’m not saying I think it’s bad (there are definitely worse episodes in terms of quality, but I don’t hate them), but for some reason I’ve always really disliked watching it. It’s just always made me feel uncomfortable.

    I could understand why that might be true this year, but not sure why it was true in the 1990s.

  6. I actually count this as one of the worst Babylon 5 episodes and I respectfully disagree with labeling a single new outlet in our world as an example as many media outlets are capable of the same thing.

    The main reason I find this to be one of the worst is it just goes too far to prove its point. The second half, seen only as a newscast, was dreadfully dull and it was obvious within a few minutes of it what happened and what the story wanted to prove. I think perhaps 5 minutes tops before Sheridan turned off the screen would have been plenty.

    To dog one news network only in the podcast is really taking faith in all other news outlets are 100% factual and that they are not editing in such as way to cut out context. In this day and age, we need to not take any news, especially ones that may be about culture, religion or politics at face value. We should do our research.

  7. I just heard the podcast for this episode yesterday while walking the dog. (Doing my fourth time through B5). One point I believe I head from one of the hosts was something connecting what happened in the episode with McCarthyism of the 1950s, as well as fake news and all that.

    My own background being journalism, and having worked for the print media for 15 years from leaving grad school in the mid-80s through the end of the 90s.

    I remember how the industry was struggling with these issues in the 90s. We were already giving FoxTV News colleagues a good ribbing for the obvious bias coming from the top. They always argued they wouldn’t let that change them. Alas, it has so most of the good ones left. By good I do not mean liberal. Period.

    As for McCarthyism, it was enabled by the meek press so concerned with being “objective” that they were afraid to critique what anybody said. They simply regurgitated what people expressed (especially officials and politicians) because yellow journalism from the mid-19th Century through the 1920s were so salacious and biased that the knee jerk reaction was to become completely objective. (Not possible of course.)
    Because of their fear of being thought of as biased and taking sides, which Mccarthy understood, he was able to say anything he wanted to and it would unthinkingly be repeated un commented. They would never say whether it was true or not i their reporting. He would take papers out of his trash can, wave them in the air during a HUAC meeting and claim he had proof of communists in the administration and reporters would never ask about his sources. Until Murrow of course, and that was the sea change that has lead to the next generation of reporters who questioned authority, and who refused to “toe the party line” no matter which way it was.

    In my day, that was how most of us aspired to operate. And we believed if we made both sides mad, were were doing our jobs. TV news has been the first to fall away and go back to yellow journalism, and yes, Fox News lead the way. But there are still good people in the industry, even at Fox.

    Anyway, just some rambling thoughts spurred by the discussion on the podcast. Don’t fear to point out the current political climate and how JMS foresaw how things could go. Emperor Cartagia could fall if people wake up to what’s happening in the shadows. (That’s my bias, not being in the business any more.)

  8. so here I am listening to this in 2021 and you asked what our 2021 selfs might think…

    still painful when we had a pandemic and the conservative fake new touted false cures. no masks even anti vacinnince. also the denial of a armed insurrection. sadly this is still to close to home

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