Interview: Documentary Producer Ford Fischer

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Ford Fischer is the producer of the upcoming feature-length documentary Those Who Fight, as well as the cofounder of His camera footage has been featured in mainstream media outlets including CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and ABC. Considering this impressive resume, it’s pretty hard to believe that Ford Fischer is still a year shy of legal drinking age. Here’s what he told Ladybud about the making of Those Who Fight, media bias, and the future of news in the new media landscape.

Vanessa Waltz: How did you get involved with the Robert Taylor story?

Ford Fischer: I was initially contacted by a producer at Liberty Movement Radio who reached out to me and said they’d just had a guy named Sean Turzanski who was on the radio show describing horrific conditions at this jail in New Jersey where an inmate had recently died. They explained that not many people were listening to Turzanski and he was not getting lots of mainstream media attention, which the story deserves. They asked that I get involved.

VW: Why did they pick you?

FF: I had spoken on Liberty Movement Radio previously about Adam Kokesh, who had been arrested last July for loading a shotgun in public in Washington DC protesting gun regulations. A few days before his sentencing I managed to do an interview with him and we got it on the front page of CNN. At that point really only Fox had really reported on Kokesh or given him a chance to speak for himself, but on the day of his sentencing our interview footage was viewed by 40,000 people on the homepage of CNN. What I was able to show is that I could take a story that people seemed to kind of be ignoring and get it to the mainstream media.

VW: What were your initial thoughts about Sean Turzanski’s story?

FF: I enter any kind of story with skepticism. In this case, here’s a former inmate who’s currently awaiting sentencing for something and he was near a person dying under horrible conditions. So immediately your instinct is to ask “could he be lying, could he be exaggerating, is there something he could get out of this from being dishonest?” But a lot of the stuff Sean said was fairly hard to dispute.

Additionally, there was an anonymous corrections officer who was talking to the press through a middleman – he was very concerned about his identity being given away. This anonymous CO was verifying everything that Sean was saying as well. So this wasn’t just Sean Turzanski telling a story, it was being backed up by somebody who also didn’t have something to gain by talking about it.

VW: Was there a moment that you decided you wanted to dive in and share this story?

FF: The public response has been alarming and is actually very much the reason why I wanted to get involved in this. There’s a public video of Sean speaking at a Burlington Country Freeholders Meeting and they’re incredibly dismissive of his comments. They don’t fight back with any sort of facts. They make vast generalizations like “you’re lying sir, your testimony is rife with inconsistencies” – but then they don’t state what those inconsistencies are.

Going into the interview with Public Information Officer Eric Arpert, we were half-expecting him to somehow convince us that Sean was lying. But if anything, we came out of that interview more convinced that Sean was telling the truth. The justification that Arpert made was that Mr. Taylor’s lifestyle was to be on the ground – he preferred not to have a bed, he preferred to be in a puddle of his own feces. As Sean claims, he was on the ground for about 5 days and in that time his bodily fluids and matter were accumulating around him. And the public information officer was claiming that this is just how he preferred to be.

And the problem here as we see it is the stereotype of homeless people. But if this person is under your care and that is how they’re living, you have an obligation to somehow fix that. You can’t just look in and say “well, that’s just how he likes to live.”

VW: Exactly. To me, it’s like watching an epileptic person have a seizure and saying it’s a lifestyle choice. Mental illness or physical weakness or whatever factors caused Robert Taylor to be lying on the floor in his own excrement is not a lifestyle choice. Everything Eric Arpert says in the documentary trailer just exudes dishonesty.

FF: That was very much how we felt, actually talking to him. Even if the jail wasn’t at fault, to claim that that was how a person enjoys living dishonors them. So as grim as it was, we felt an obligation to share that footage.

VW: How did you get involved with media initially? At college?

FF: I actually got my first broadcast-news media job when I was 15. I’m 20 and I’ve got 5 years of experience. This must be in my blood, right?

When I was in high school, I began working for my local cable station, Boxford TV in Massachusetts. I was filming town politics, primarily selectmen’s meetings. There was one story I followed – they were attempting to build a library, and there were an enormous amount of political issues surrounding that. I covered that story for my whole 4 years there as well as many other features – I really did get a run-though of local politics, and there’s so much to be criticized on that kind of thing, even on a tiny scale. The TV show “Parks and Recreation” portrays the bright side of local politics – I don’t know how they manage to romanticize it so much, because it’s actually kind of ugly.

I reported and filmed for them until I went to college at American University. I’m pursuing a film major, and computer science and business minors. So basically, I’m involved in the business and technology of film. Additionally, I teach classes about video and multimedia technology at AU in our New Media Center .

VW: Tell us about your website, News2Share.

Trey Yingst

Trey Yingst

FF: I and (Those Who Fight co-producer) Trey Yingst were dissatisfied with our local cable station on-campus because they primarily wanted to cover local topics for news and meanwhile, we’re in Washington DC where there’s all kinds of real news happening. So we basically adopted this model where we film and report first and ask questions later.

For instance, when the Navy Yard shooting occurred, Trey ran down there and got an interview with one of the witnesses, which I then edited. At the time we used CNN iReport, so we just sent all of our footage to CNN. Following that, we realized that just sending everything to CNN wouldn’t get our work out as much as it could, so we wanted to have a website to back it as well.

Now our formula is to film whatever events we can get credentialed for or just things that are happening in public, and then send it to all the news organizations that we can.

For instance, I filmed a panel at the International Students for Liberty Conference, which had Oliver Stone speaking. We sent footage of the entire conference to every major news organization we could think of. Bill O’Reilly actually used a segment of Oliver Stone making a negative comment about Obama’s foreign policy, so we were featured on O’Reilly Factor.

Another time, Dick Cheney was actually on-campus at American University and some students walked out on him, calling him a war criminal. We filmed that walk-out and sent it to many news organizations, and ultimately MSNBC used it.

For the documentary, we have nowhere in particular sponsoring us, we have nobody that we know is going to use it. But we’re trying to get it to whatever news organizations we can to get the story out there. So that’s “news 2 share” – we make the news and then we share it. Primarily, our work isn’t actually viewed on our own website – it’s viewed when it’s embedded or talked about on other people’s websites or broadcasts.

VW: What do you think of the politicization of the media? It’s awfully hard to find a media source these days that isn’t “left” or “right” leaning.

FF: We’ve had difficulty with that. The content we’ve had on really mainstream media has been politicized in a way that was in no way intended by us.

For instance, when I filmed Oliver Stone, it was at a libertarian conference, specifically about foreign policy and war, and the speakers were criticizing both the Bush and the Obama administrations. Oliver Stone is a radical liberal, but he was describing how much he dislikes Obama’s foreign policy – he sees him as the “drone president.” The conference was about war and violence as it relates to America, but what Bill O’Reilly or Fox took out of it is that “even liberal people don’t like Obama.” So that was incredibly politicized.

Similarly MSNBC, who used our video of the walkout on Dick Cheney – politicized our footage of a fairly non-political event.

I find that Fox and MSNBC, depending on what side one sits on politically, are equally and oppositely politically biased. Both tend to politicize anything they post; if it can’t be politicized, they don’t talk about it.

VW: Do you believe there’s any hope in the future for un-biased mainstream media covering “straight news”?

FF: Sure. I respect the Associated Press. Nobody says “I’m going to login and watch the Associated Press News,” but their purpose is literally to have no commentary, just straight telling of facts. Then they send it to all the affiliated organizations which can then use it, dissect it, and turn it into what they want it to be. But when the AP reports on something originally, it’s very objective in terms of what actually happened.

I would love to see more news organizations that simply allow voices to be heard and let those voices speak for themselves. I think there is a need for viewers to draw their own conclusions and you don’t see news like that much these days – but the Associated Press proves that it’s possible.

VW: So since you and Trey are in charge of it from start to finish, is Those Who Fight totally non-politicized?

FF: I really don’t want people to think it’s political. Right now the short video is on the homepage of the Libertarian Party League of New Jersey, which I very much appreciate, but I don’t want it to seem like a “Libertarian cause.”

We made a very conscious decision not to have myself or Trey in the footage – it’s the people who were involved in the case that are talking. We gave both sides a chance to speak. If one side is more persuasive or sympathetic than the other, then that’s their story, but we didn’t edit it to make that the case. We edited it to tell the story as well as possible.