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Out from liberty's shadow
The documentary Shadows of Liberty evokes the spirit of patriot and journalist Thomas Paine, who used the freedom of the press to help stoke the American Revolution.

Go see what you're missing: Shadows of Liberty, 6 p.m., Friday Feb. 20 at Armstrong State University, University Hall room 156. Info:

IF YOU'RE with me on the notion that the truth matters, then these are the times that try our souls.

Sure, it’s been a minute since journalist and U.S. founding father Thomas Paine riled up a revolution with his handwritten pamphlet Common Sense, and he’s probably slapping his forehead in his grave at how our hard-won freedom of the press has morphed into an indulgent free-for-all:

Nonsense masquerades as news as Kanye’s infantile poo-flinging trumps Congressional approval of the Keystone XL pipeline for airtime. “Fair and balanced” has become an ironic catchphrase that means exactly the opposite.

And then there are the exaggerations and outright lies from media figures we’ve come to trust. (Et tu, Brian Williams?! It’s like I just found out Mister Rogers is a pervy old drunk and his neighborhood is full of happy ending massage parlors and sinister raccoons.)

Now that Jon Stewart is leaving The Daily Show, who and what are we supposed to believe anymore? Hint: The truth is not going to be found in your Comcast package.

You may already know that since 2012, only six corporations—including your crap cable provider—have doled out a breath-stealing 90 percent of everything we hear, watch and read. You’ve gotta admit that when information is controlled by megladonopolies whose sole mission is to sell us their subpar goods and services while distracting us from their terrible ethics, we just might be missing something.

That’s the premise of Shadows of Liberty, a documentary by Canadian filmmaker Jean-Phillipe Tremblay that’s for anyone who still doubts that there are ominous forces afoot that aim to steer the way we think—or whether we think at all.

The feature-length film is the civil liberty equivalent of a gory zombie apocalypse flick: What could be scarier than real life stories of journalistic censorship, like Peabody Award winner Roberta Baskin’s 1990s investigation of Nike sweatshops in Vietnam that was submarined when CBS brokered an advertising deal with the global sneaker company?

Or how forensic evidence and eyewitness accounts verifying that a missile-like strike downed TWA Flight 800 and killed 230 off the coast of New York in 1996 have been relegated to the conspiracy theory dustbin despite rigorous reporting of their validity?

More nail-biting comes from the terrible tale of Gary Webb, the San Jose Mercury News reporter who pieced together the connection between the crack epidemic of the 1980s and the CIA’s marionette manipulations in Nicaragua.

Instead of being lauded for his courage and professionalism, Webb was ostracized by his colleagues and his findings mocked by other press outlets, all chronicled in a new Hollywood-produced film starring Jeremy Renner titled Kill the Messenger. Spoiler alert: Things do not end well for Gary.

Yes, it’s a real horror show how the American citizenry is denied information in favor of corporate interests. Shadows of Liberty banishes the darkness with a host of influential media stalwarts, including famous Pentagon whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg and Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman.

The film also features one of the last interviews with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange before he went all Greta Garbo in London’s Ecuadorian Embassy.

It might be too scary to watch alone, so you ought to go to the free screening this Friday, Feb. 20 at 6 p.m. at Armstrong State University. The film’s outreach coordinator, Debra Brown, will be in attendance, and sociology professor Ned Rinalducci will moderate a panel of local freethinkers.

Brown calls the doc “a bridge” that’s been uniting people all over the political spectrum and points out that “unless you’re the owner of a big media conglomerate, you have a vested interest in the protection of a free press that’s not influenced by corporate enterprise.”

She reminds that the suppression of information doesn’t always look like a ball-gag stuffed in a reporter’s mouth. There’s no need to block or blacklist anymore; most newspapers and TV outlets simply choose not to pay anyone to dig into topics that might annoy or embarrass their advertising interests. Propaganda easily finds its way to news desks as harried editors are tasked with doing more with less.

“Hold tight to the independent media outlets you have,” warns Brown. “You have no idea how valuable they are.”

Maybe you’re rolling your eyes about now. What’s this independent press nonsense? Have you not heard of the amazing and unregulated invention called the internet where anyone can publish anything, whether it’s true or not?

Yes, I’ve read your deeply compelling Grumpy Cat fanfic. But our last frontier of unfettered and uncorporatized free speech is in danger of disappearing, too:

The term “net neutrality” may sound as sexy as your grandma’s underpants, but it’s the hottest topic going, and the Federal Communications Commission is voting whether to preserve it on Feb. 26.

FCC chair Tom Wheeler has offered up a set of net neutrality regulations that would reclassify broadband as a public utility in order to protect it under Title II of the Communications Act and prevent Comcast and its ilk from strangling our access speeds.

Unilaterally vetted and approved by tech bloggers and media watchdogs, the FCC plan has been hysterically lambasted by those who represent corporate interests, which should tell you that it’s a pretty good plan.

But the vote’s not over until Rupert Murdoch screams. The corporate media monsters are very powerful, and anyone familiar with Citizens United knows how our government loooves to cozy up with corporate succubi, probably while wearing your grandma’s underpants.

We must remain ever-vigilant of where our truth comes from and whether it is the truth at all. Our man Paine wrote that when we “yield up the privilege of thinking, the last shadow of liberty quits the horizon.”

Our democracy cannot, will not, thrive in corporate-generated shade.

If we don’t pay attention, handwritten pamphlets may be the only independent option we’ve got.