©2010, HD, COLOUR, 90 MINS
In summer 2009, something stirred in America. After Barack Obama and a Democratic congress swept to power promising a new era of hope and change, out of nowhere a citizens protest movement emerged that threatened to derail their agenda. Was this uprising the epitome of grassroots democracy? Or was it, as some said, an example of ‘astroturfing’? That is, the creation of fake grassroots (ie. Astroturf: get it?) groups, designed to put corporate messages in the mouths of seemingly independent citizens.
Fascinated by this concept of astroturfing and curious to find out if these accusations were true, Australian filmmaker Taki Oldham hopped on a plane to investigate. Going undercover as a curious onlooker, his month-long journey took him over 5000 miles, 6 states and right to the heart of the ‘American Dream’.
His three areas of investigation were:
Healthcare: After filming a passionate healthcare town hall meeting in rural Virginia, Taki sought out former health insurance PR man turned high profile whistle-blower Wendell Potter. Potter uses his own experiences of astroturfing to reveal its extensive use in the current campaign.
Climate Change: From a senate briefing by renowned sceptic Dr Fred Singer to infiltrating a series of oil funded astroturf groups, Taki investigates (with insight from PR man and author of ‘Climate Cover Up’ Jim Hoggan) how the energy industry too is using front groups and ‘independent’ experts to defeat the cap and trade bill and deny the science of global warming.
The Tea Party Movement: From the ‘Tea Party Express’ in Louisville to the first ever national tea party in Washington D.C., Taki examines this phenomenon and finds that it’s roots are not so natural after all. A visit to NYU professor and corporate propaganda expert Mark Crispin Miller provides an enlightening view on some of the fervent patriotic and anti-socialism themes of the movement.
As the journey unfolds it becomes apparent that behind much of the uprising is the so-called Free Market Movement and in particular two groups called Americans For Prosperity and Freedomworks. As the investigation turns to whether it is mere ideology or corporate investment driving these groups, Taki uncovers the most startling and unnerving evidence yet of the scale on which this practice of astroturfing is taking place.
(Astro)Turf Wars is both a journey through a unique moment in American history and thoroughly researched piece of investigative journalism. Through an examination of astroturfing and disinformation, we see how citizen democracy has been captured by powerful corporate interests. Moreover, it sets out to expose and thereby render ineffectual this deceptive practice that threatens not only the health of American democracy, but that of its citizens and the planet as a whole.
Key Credits: Filmed, Directed, Edited & Produced by Taki Oldham.