Passion: Truth, with Errol Morris

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truth[Errol Morris filming “Mr. Death” Photo: Nubar Alexanian]

In our continuting series, Passion Thursday, Errol Morris on “Truth.”

Errol Morris has pursued the truth in such films as The Thin Blue Line, Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr., and The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara. In directing television commercials, Morris follows a slightly different trajectory. Rather than finding the truth, as he does with his documentaries, he begins with the “Truth.” He seduces the viewer into sharing his “belief” that Levis, and Miller High Life, and Volkswagon are the only means by which we can dress, drink and drive.

Early in his career, after making the critically acclaimed films Gates of Heaven, and Vernon, Florida, Morris found himself out of work, and the prospects of raising funds for future films were grim. Instead of cutting celluloid, Morris ended up cutting his teeth as a private detective, cracking huge corporate cases. What he was doing then is not unlike what he’s doing now: “talking to people and learning something about them from it.”

In some ways it seems ridiculous to promote this show as part of our “passion series.” As truth is really nothing more than unprocessed data, how can there be a passion for it? But as Errol Morris sees it, truth is a quest for authenticity; truth is something that arises out of the relationship between language and the world; truth is endlessly interesting to pursue. In an era where reality has been hijacked by reality television, how does Errol Morris define truth and recognize it? Who else is documenting the truth? Who else is covering it up? What will Morris’s next film be? These are some of the questions that we want to ask him. What do you want to know? What are your notions of truth? Who would you like to subject to his Interrotron? Post your thoughts, and questions for Morris, here. And don’t forget to call in to the live broadcast. We want to hear from you.

Errol Morris

Academy award winning filmmaker

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  • nother

    To me, truth begins with sincerity. If I’m looking at a painting, if I’m reading a book, if I’m watching a movie, some sub-conscious part of my brain quickly determines whether the art is derived from sincerity. Now that I think about it, when I have that initial interaction with a stranger, the sincerity radar is up.

    The beautiful aspect of this exclusive sincerity club is that once you’re accepted, you can bullshit all you want.

    I guess sincerity and truth is like pornography, you know it when You see it.

    Truth is: TIME. tic tic tic tic

    The succulent sweetness of caramel on the back of my tongue

    The emptiness in my gut as Joan Didion reports from the dark side, and lets her mighty walls crumble on Fresh Air.

    Every single cough from my mother; is it the inevitable lung cancer from years of smoking, or is it a simple fall cold, or is it – me avoiding the conversations we still have not had.

    The very young black women who I saw spontaneously help a very old white man walk across a secluded street the other day.

    The left over, extended giggles from a shared hearty laugh with a couple of friends, all of us wanting to extend the moment – one moment longer.

    Those precious moments that, as I lay nice and toasty under my down blanket, I fluctuate between a dreamstate and an awake state.

    That last extra squeeze in a hug

    Eye contact

    That tight grip in our orgasm, that paradoxically wants to hold on and let go at the same time.

  • Gardner

    I’m not sure about the accuracy of some of those random musings. See (and hear) Errol on truth in the NPR “This I believe” series, online at

  • edit

    Hi Gardner,

    Those ‘musings” were culled from this interview with Errol Morris at

  • mnye

    Jeremy Campbell’s book, The Liar’s Tale (2001) is an excellent history of truth and falsehood, from the deceits of butterflies to the Greek Sophists to Derrida. Could Campbell be included in this program?

    The subject of truth is so immense. I’d like to hear a discussion focused on the ethical questions about truth and lies as practiced by modern politicians. Seems to me that truth has become something I can’t even hope for, and anything put forward can be disputed, and we need an investigative reporter and a special prosecutor even to begin to find out the facts, and the deeper they dig, the more complex a story becomes….endlessly.

    The hardest part of truthseeking is to avoid lying to ourselves, which requires paying attention to our own mental processes. William Stafford wrote a poem, “A Ritual to Read to Each Other,” in which he warns against “a small betrayal in the mind, a shrug” and ends by saying ” the signals we give…should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.”

  • Below is a quote from Tim O’Reilly’s book “The Things They Carriedâ€?, which is a book that I think pretty much everyone should at least read once. The quote is regarding what makes a “trueâ€? war story. I use this example often when discussing “truth” with people, particularly those who are most convinced of a black and white existance. It eloquently illustrates the “grey” that truth often is.

    Full text at:


    You can tell a true war story by the questions you ask. Somebody tells a story, let’s say, and afterward you ask, “Is it true?� and if the answer matters, you’ve got your answer.

    For example, we’ve all heard this one. Four guys go down a trail. A grenade sails out. One guy jumps on it and takes the blast and saves his three buddies.

    Is it true?

    The answer matters.

    You’d feel cheated if it never happened. Without the grounding reality, it’s just a trite bit of puffery, pure Hollywood, untrue in the way all such stories are untrue. Yet even if it did happen – and maybe it did, anything’s possible even then you know it can’t be true, because a true war story does not depend upon that kind of truth. Absolute occurrence is irrelevant. A thing may happen and be a total lie; another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth. For example: Four guys go down a trail. A grenade sails out. One guy jumps on it and takes the blast, but it’s a killer grenade and everybody dies anyway. Before they die, though, one of the dead guys says, “The fuck you do that for?â€? and the jumper says, “Story of my life, man,â€? and the other guy starts to smile but he’s dead.

    That’s a true story that never happened.

  • Melissa

    John Ruskin, the 19th century critic, stated that a” great civilizations write their history in 3 volumes: the book of their words, the book of their deeds, and the book of their art. Although none is complete without the others, the only one that doesn’t lie is the book of their art.” I believe you would prefer to exchange “music” for “art” in this situation, but I personally believe it just the way Ruskin wrote it.

  • jjl

    “Tell a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.” I think Goebles (sp?) said it. I wonder about that. What do you think?

  • Hi. Truth is a big topic with me, subjective and elusive as it is. It became an even itchier word in November 2000. My good friend Karen Brooks wrote a beautiful song called “Truth” which I recorded on my last CD “Seeking Sanctuary”. I’ve put the song up as an mp3 at

    Select “Song Clips & CDs”, then click on “Seeking Sanctuary CD”, and then on “Song Clips”. Enjoy! And may the ultimate Truth, that of Love, set us free. In Peace, Shar

  • Certainly, lies told over and over again (as is happening today on many of our radio and tv stations) become truth to many listeners. It’s…um…a problem.

  • I think one of the mistakes of the past, all over the world, is to believe that mass media and world leaders were capable of bringing you the truth. That they could be trusted to do so. The avent of blogs, podcasts, videoblogs.. personal publishing.. while bringing an insane amount of new information.. sort of acknowledges the concept that in the end… none of this is truth.. but if you read and listen to enough versions of the truth.. within that you find a good semblance of truth.

    by the way I too am a longtime podcaster and perhaps because great minds think alike, I examined a segment from Fog of War a week before your program did.

  • Hey, it’s Bicyclemark! I listen to your podcast.

    Chris, Mary, Brendan, Chelsea, Robin, all: thanks so much for doing this show. I love Morris and though I wasn’t able to listen live it was such a treat to listen to it later.

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  • evan

    Fun show. And — you’ve one written “come onnn!” to go be interviewed by Morris, Chris.

  • nother

    I want to reiterate my feeling on truth; it begins with sincerity. It ends with sincerity. As long as the person I am dealing with conveys sincerity, I am at ease. This makes me consider Errol Morris’s idea, his thoughts during the program, about the ease in which we deceive ourselves.

    When we judge sincerity, we Must judge the context. We still may be wrong, but the odds are better 🙂

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