"The following tale of alien encounters is true, and by "true," I mean "false." It's all lies, but they're entertaining lies, and in the end isn't that the real truth? The answer... is no."
, The Simpsons
Normally, a documentary
is supposed to be a movie or TV show about something true: it "documents" something that really happened. Not all documentaries actually succeed in portraying the truth, however. People make mistakes, and some documentary makers are trying to promote their point of view and, understandably, choose to gloss over things they don't consider important. Usually, a documentary filmmaker is expected to adhere to reasonable standards of journalistic integrity and remember to do the research.
Sometimes, though, a documentary filmmaker just doesn't care, and any attempt at accuracy or finding the truth goes out the window, but the result is still presented as non-fiction, oftentimes with quote-mining
and Manipulative Editing
. When this happens, you usually end up with a Documentary of Lies.
A Documentary of Lies is not a Mockumentary
, which makes no secret of the fact that it was made up. In order to be guilty of being a Documentary of Lies, a documentary has to claim that something is actually true when any reasonable investigation
should show otherwise.The filmmakers were either negligent
, outright liars
, or just plain crazy
. Don't Shoot the Message
becomes a common result.
Television networks that produce a Documentary of Lies usually justify it by saying - off camera - that the programs are entertainment only and the filmmakers have no more of a duty to reflect the truth than do the makers of The X-Files
; if viewers mistake it for non-fiction
, that's their problem. That defense might work if the programs themselves were actually presented as fiction...
Frequent topics of this sort of program include psychics, UFOs and alien abductions
, conspiracy theories
, ghosts and other supernatural entities, and objects with alleged religious significance
Not to be confused with the Documentary Episode
, the Faux Documentary
, the Mockumentary
or the Faux To Guide
. See also Twisting the Words
, which is this trope applied to subjects who were telling the truth in the first place
. If the news takes it utterly seriously, You Can Panic Now
Since this page tends to attract a lot of Complaining About Shows You Don't Like
, be careful on adding examples because of Square Peg Round Trope
. Keep in mind that there are some things out there that, while they could never be proven (religious beliefs, etc.), are not necessarily false and should not be dismissed as "lies."
See also Based on a Great Big Lie
. Lurid Tales of Doom
is this trope applied to newspapers and news broadcasts.
open/close all folders
- 28 Days on the Pill is a pro-life documentary that intends to prove that the birth-control pill can be considered abortive because "there's no way of knowing it's not starving embryos to death". Since there's absolutely no scientific data to back it up, and the pro-life doctors who agreed to appear on the film were emphatic on saying there's nothing remotely similar to abortion in the way the pill works, the filmmakers had to resort to things like footage of high school students saying they don't know how the contraceptive works.
- In order to emphasize this "unprecedented" trend, the folks behind this attempt to repackage the past in a stereotypical anti-modern, pro-natalist image; an early comment amounted to a dubious anecdote about how everyone had multitudes of kids a hundred years ago. One look at European birth rates from roughly that time says otherwise (e.g. France during the late 19th century had a net population growth of zero). And that's not counting the attempts at tying contraceptives, the Sexual Revolution and modernity itself as the source of population decline.note
- Another is the debatable and contentious use of statistics such as birth/fertility rates and replacement values. For all the supposed pretense of valuing human life, there is ironically a strong emphasis on number games, racism, and sexism.
- The director of 2016: Obama's America has said he was heavily influenced by Michael Moore. Right down to the factual inaccuracies, apparently.
- America: Freedom to Fascism. The creator, Aaron Russo, instantly fails when he says that there's no law requiring you to pay taxes. Part of his "evidence" for this is interviewing random people on the street to ask if they can name the section of the U.S. Code where it says they have to pay taxes. Guess what? Nobody could. He didn't bother asking a tax lawyer or an IRS agent. He also digs up Conspiracy Theories claiming that the 16th Amendment to the US Constitution (which legalized the income tax) was never properly ratified, despite that any legal expert will happily tell him that he is wrong.
- Russo actually did ask the commissioner of the IRS, who gave him the answer (Section 1 of the Tax Code, for those curious), which he then dismissed. It's also worth pointing out that at the time he made the film, his interest in the topic was less than academic, as he was in arrears on back taxes.
- The Beautiful Truth: A lengthy advertisement for cancer quackery that, if used in place of conventional treatments, will likely result in the cancer killing you.
- The Burning Times: An "academic" documentary on matriarchal prehistory, goddess worship and witch hunts in the early modern period, which uncritically endorses hyperbolic and improbable neo-pagan and feminist claims (which most serious neo-pagans and feminists now admit were either badly exaggerated or out-and-out lies) about early modern witchcraft as surviving pre-Christian European paganism, body counts in the millions, and universal femaleness of victims. Notable for frequently being shown at universities and being financed by the National Film Board of Canada.
- Burzynski the Movie: Cancer is Serious Business: A purported documentary on Stanislaw Burzynski, a biochemist in Texas who treats cancer with scientifically-unproven "antineoplaston therapy." The reason the film feels like an extremely one-sided two hour infomercial is because director Eric Merola's only prior filmmaking experience was in making TV commercials. Film critics and medical experts alike have panned the movie for its credulous endorsement of Burzynski, with The Village Voice writing that Merola "violate[d] every basic rule of ethical filmmaking." The sequel was met with similar criticism.
- Demographic Winter is another anti-abortion documentary that claims that Western civilization is on the verge of collapse because we're not making enough babies; some could call this Children of Men: the Documentary. The creators go for the alarmist route very quickly. When they're not bombarding the viewer with charts and headlines, whose "interpretations" tend to amount to ranting and "SEE, IT'S HAPPENING!", one is shown vanishing images of children every five minutes. It doesn't help that the film is filled with hard-Religious Right propaganda (complete with some excessive emphasis on economics) where the religion aspect was edited out; one of the reasons cited for the "downfall" is the fact that more women are working. The lower-budget follow-up Demographic Bomb gets even "better", with suggestions of a Abortionist Conspiracy. It also doesn't help that Europe and Japan get the full brunt of the Demographic Winter argument (though it's somewhat justified for Japan, Europe's is much more debatable), while America gets off the hook "for now". And there's the undertone of not making the "right babies..."
- To put in shorter words, the documentary utterly simplifies and distorts facts pertaining to populations, birth control, culture, social changes, etc. to promote an absolute (and hypocritical) pro-natalist agenda that seems reliant on alarmist and conspiratorial imagery.
- Der Ewige Jude (The Eternal Jew), backed by Those Wacky Nazis, is one of the ugliest, nastiest examples. When it isn't conflating Jews with rats and staging scenes at gunpoint, it makes a host of utterly false claims about Jewish history and the number of Jews in various occupations. Adolf Hitler loved it.
- Ben Stein's Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed attempts to make the case that evolutionists have attempted to suppress the teaching of Intelligent Design theory in academia. In an effort to discredit evolutionary theory, it also attempts to link it to Social Darwinism, specifically of the kind in which the Nazis believed. The scientists interviewed have since claimed that the interviews were quote mined, and that they were interviewed under false pretenses.
- While quoting from Darwin in support of this claim, they omitted a passage wherein Darwin is thankful that humans are above natural inclinations, and actually care about each other as human beings, regardless of defect. This passage occurs in the middle of the quote given, so clearly the omission was deliberate.
- Fred: The Movie (not to be confused with the other Fred: The Movie), about Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, was made by a filmmaker who originally planned to make an anti-WBC documentary but was somehow brainwashed by the church.
- The Greater Good, directed by Leslie Manookian, is a slickly-produced documentary which claims to give the viewer "both sides" of the debate as to whether vaccines cause autism. The film likes to pretend that the whole vaccine-autism hypothesis was not exposed as a hoax, and presents anti-vaccine cranks as being just as credible and less agenda-driven as actual medical experts. Manookian is a homeopath who, despite claiming to be balancing the debate in her film, took her information from crackpot sources like Joe Mercola and the National Vaccine Information Center.
- Hearts And Minds, an anti-Vietnam and arguably anti-military documentary, had several things wrong with its making: For starters, when interviewing a member of a Vietnam-era draft board, the director asks a series of blatantly loaded questions, to the point where even the editing can't disguise the interviewee's growing confusion and eventual indignation.
- House of Numbers is a documentary by AIDS-deniers who believe that HIV does not cause AIDS. It claims to present a more "unbiased" view by interviewing several AIDS experts... and using Manipulative Editing to skew their statements into agreeing with AIDS-deniers. AIDS-denialist Christine Maggiore is one of the interviewees... and the film conveniently fails to acknowledge the fact that she died of AIDS several months before the film's release.
- I.O.U.S.A. is ostensibly a documentary discussing how the debt the United States owes has been, and is, crippling it economically. In reality, it's a propaganda piece meant to increase support for austerity policies through dubious math and cherry-picking of historical facts.
- Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth dips into this from time to time. Some of its main points are either confused misinterpretations of genuine science or outright exaggerations for political purposes. For instance, while the two graphs on CO2 increase in the atmosphere and on global temperature are part of a larger case of global warming, Gore omits nearly all the necessary details. A judge in Stuart Dimmock vs. the Secretary of State for Education and Skills ruled that the film "is substantially founded upon scientific research and fact," but that nine "errors" [sic] had to be explained to students before it could be shown in classrooms in the U.K.
- Jeremiah Films is an ultraconservative Christian propaganda mill run by Patrick and Caryl Matrisciana, churning out sleazy Direct-to-Video attack pieces on mainly three things: non-evangelical religions (Catholicism, Mormonism, etc.), liberal political figures/social trends (gay rights), and fantasy media franchises like Harry Potter. Where oh where to begin?
- Jeremiah's most notorious film, produced in association with Reverend Jerry Falwell, was The Clinton Chronicles. The video, based on zero evidence, claimed that Bill Clinton was a cocaine-addicted, mass-murdering drug trafficker when he was governor of Arkansas, and suggested that he was still making people "disappear" as president. Patrick Matrisciana appeared in the video as a silhouetted journalist being interviewed by Falwell who was afraid for his life, but later admitted that he was never in any real danger and that the interview was done for "dramatic effect" at Falwell's suggestion.
- Jeremiah's follow-up video, Obstruction of Justice: The Mena Connection, claimed that two Arkansas police officers helped Clinton cover-up his drug murders, resulting in said officers suing Jeremiah for defamation. Despite the officers winning the suit, an appeals court overturned the verdict after finding that they failed to prove that Jeremiah's claims were intentionally malicious.
- The company's videos smearing Harry Potter and Halloween, which often branch out into critiques of pagan beliefs, are often the subject of mockery on the Internet — by actual pagans who take the videos to task for intentionally confusing unrelated belief systems (Wicca and the like) and passing them off as Satanism; and by horror movie fans like The Cinema Snob, who poke fun at the Insane Troll Logic employed by Caryl Matrisciana and Jeremiah's stable of "occult experts."
- And then there's the company's similarly infamous anti-Mormon videos like The Secret World of Mormonismnote , which use loaded language, alleged testimonies and outright lies to basically make Mormons look like crazed Battlestar Galactica cultists. Needless to say, it got quite a grilling from actual Mormons, Catholics and Jews.
- Michael Moore's documentaries are often accused of this even by those who generally agree with his broader points, and he's been found to have falsified or doctored events and shots in order to make his point.
- Roger and Me
- Moore's debut film claimed, or at least strongly implied, that General Motors had completely pulled out of Flint, Michigan, devastating the economic life of the town. That film was released in 1989. In 1998, a strike by GM workers in Flint, Michigan, brought GM operations to a standstill across the continent. Moore was also accused of editing the footage of the GM annual shareholders' meeting shown in the film to make it look, falsely, as though Roger Smith, then the CEO of GM and the "Roger" of the title, was refusing to answer Moore's questions.
- Not to mention the whole premise of the film is that GM closing factories is what caused all the problems in Flint. The city had been in decline since the 1960's and already had a major crime problem.
- When the film first mentions the plant closings, look closely at the clip of Dan Rather purportedly breaking the story. The timecode at the top of the screen shows that the clip was from November 6, 1986. Later in the film, during the "Wouldn't It Be Nice" sequence showing blink-and-you-miss-it flashes of newspaper headlines about the increasingly severe layoffs, one notices that the datelines on the papers go as far back as 1980. So unless Flint exists in a time paradox, plant closings in 1986 shouldn't be putting people out of work in 1980. Not that that helps.
- Bowling for Columbine
- The incident where he walks into a bank, opens an account, and walks out with a rifle. What the documentary doesn't show you is how the bank actually does it: it gives you a certificate that you take to a gun store down the street, which does the standard, mandatory background checks and the waiting period. Moore staged the shot to make it seem as if none of this happened.
- He was similarly ripped by the Canadian authors of The Rebel Sell for failing to mention that all those guys he visited in the Ontario shooting range aren't actually allowed to take those weapons around with them when they leave. As one of his arguments is "gun control is not the answer, because look at Canada and all their guns but less violence!", in order to argue that a wholesale cultural shift is required to solve problems of violence (the falsity of such arguments in counterculture being the central premise of The Rebel Sell), this omission was very self-serving.
- He has also been accused of quote mining interviews and deceptively editing Stock Footage. In Columbine, he strung together snippets from several of Charlton Heston's speeches to make them sound like one speech. Also in the film, he implied that the NRA deliberately scheduled its annual conference that year in Denver to exploit the Columbine shootings, when the truth of the matter is the conference had been scheduled months or years in advance, and the NRA cut back the conference in response to the shooting, so that only those portions of it that they were obligated to perform by federal law took place. Moore also accused Heston of holding an NRA rally right after a shooting in Flint; however, the footage he used was of Heston visiting the city almost a year later for a campaign event.
- Speaking of Charlton Heston, Moore's interview with him at the end of the movie is cut down in order, some say, to make Heston's answers look foolish. In addition, the shot where Heston is walking back to his house after he terminates the interview, and Moore is holding up a picture of little Kayla Rolland as Heston ignores him, was staged. The viewer can see that the shot looks as if it were recorded from two angles — front and back. But there is no camera visible in front of Moore when he is being shot from behind.
- Moore quotes statistics for the number of gun homicides in various countries to show the difference between countries with gun proliferation and gun control. The numbers didn't match any known independent studies. Eventually, it was revealed that he took US Government crime statistics for gun homicides, and added uses of guns for self-defense and the use of guns by police. That technically does encompass almost all gun "homicides", but since a lot of that total were necessary uses of force to prevent more harm, it's certainly not the criminal loss of life that Moore implies. He also simply cited absolute totals rather than accounting for population differences, making the highly populated United States seem inherently violent compared to Canada and Europe, even if its citizens didn't have access to guns.
- The documentary featured a short cartoon called A Brief History of the USA, which depicts a view of American history as rooted in violence and guns. It makes a number of spurious connections throughout (such as linking the founding of the Northern NRA with the resurgence of the Southern KKK) and a number of rapid-fire facts apparently designed to create False Cause in the minds of the viewers (implying that the NRA had something to do with lobbying for laws to ban blacks from owning weapons, when at the time, the NRA was still mostly a sportsman organization with few lobbying activities).
- Bowling also claims Osama bin Laden had "expert CIA training". Bin Laden was never trained by the CIA, and there is no evidence beyond the circumstantial that the CIA ever even dealt with him beyond the general support granted to the ruling Mujahideen of Afghanistan in order to fight Soviet incursion.
- The film seems to imply that the government's "Welfare to Work" program was responsible for the school shooting of six-year-old Kayla Rolland by six-year-old Dedric Owens in Flint, MI. What Mr. Moore fails to mention is that Dedric's mother had moved in with her brother, a drug dealer, who left guns lying around the house. It was arguably that fact that was more responsible for the shooting than how far the boy's mother had to travel to work each day.
- Fahrenheit 9/11:
- He approached several Congresspeople coming out of the Capitol and confronted them about a draft for children of those who voted for the war. Rep. Mark Kennedy of Minnesota gives him a confused look and then the camera cuts away to a Moore voiceover saying that no one wanted to send their own children. However, the cut came just before Rep. Kennedy noted that his nephew was serving in Afghanistan.
- Not to mention that said children are of age, and their parents can't order them to enlist.
- Moore claims that the US gave a quarter billion dollars to the Taliban regime in the two years before 9/11. In actuality, this was money given to the United Nations, who spent it on famine relief and landmine clearance as part of general programs in these areas.
- Moore claims that the Canadian and Cuban single-payer healthcare systems are superior to the profit-driven U.S. healthcare system. World Health Organization rankings, which routinely measure a number of factors including efficiency and outcomes, DO in fact put Canada's system far ahead of America's, but actually ranks Cuba a few slots below the USA (Admittedly due to the US's technological efficiency and training offering quality of care unparalleled... if you can afford it.) Moore depicts the Cuban clinics as highly advanced and treating everyone in Cuba equally, but he is showing one of the best hospitals in Havana, not an average clinic from a regular neighborhood or small town. Although all Cubans have access to health care and the doctors are well-trained, equipment and technology in most clinics is nowhere near as modern or advanced as Moore's footage implies.
- Capitalism: A Love Story
- While its references are generally solid, the "capitalism is evil" statements at the end of the film are awkward when in interviews Moore had to continually qualify that when he said capitalism in the film.
- The Mondo films were this. Content was exaggerated and sensationalized in hopes of fulfilling the films' primary purposes of drawing as large a box office return as possible. Though the films would boast of featuring authentic footage, the greater majority of what was in them was in fact staged.
- The Money Masters contains what is an essentially accurate description of how money is created and destroyed by fractional reserve banking, but the filmmakers also draw some rather strange conclusions about the process, present various conspiracy theories involving bankers, and end by suggesting an extremely unorthodox "solution" to the problems they think are present in the modern monetary system.
- Nanook of the North, which claimed to document the lives of Inuit living in Northern Quebec, was released in 1922 and believed to be one of the first documentary films. Many of the events in the film, however, were staged; the peril which the Inuit faced in the film was believed to be exaggerated, and the Inuit actors were encouraged to use traditional Inuit weapons rather then the guns they normally used when hunting. Though the depiction of this subject matter in film was ground-breaking at the time, and there was little precedent for the director to draw upon while making his film, as few documentaries had been made at this time.
- The Other Side of AIDS, is another AIDS-denial documentary in the same vein. Full of bad biology (Koch's postulates do not work that way!), but also has a tragic story attached to it. In the movie, Christine Maggiore, the director's wife and leader of a large AIDS-denier foundation, proudly talks about how even though she's HIV-positive she breast-fed her children without taking any precautions to prevent them from being infected by HIV and they're both fine. One year later, her three-year-old daughter died of untreated AIDS-related pneumonia. As mentioned above, Maggoire herself eventually died from AIDS.
- The Principle is an upcoming film boasting to have found cosmological evidence that Earth is at the center of the universe. (Yes, apparently we are still having this discussion.) The comment threads on the movie's official Facebook page are filled with fundamentalist Christians (especially Catholics) pre-emptively praising it, which does not bode well for how "scientific" the film will actually be. An added kicker: the narrator will apparently be Kate Mulgrew.
- The trashy Hong Kong film Supernormal (Da Mi Sin), purportedly a documentary about supernatural occurrences in Hong Kong, is almost entirely staged. One may charitably dismiss it as a harmless shenanigan, if not for the fact that, after the film was released, the "haunted asylum" in the film — a building of great historical value — was burned down by irresponsible teenagers seeking adventures.
- Super Size Me was criticized heavily for its blatant Author Tract, leaving out major details that conflict with the facts they presented and not publishing a detailed diet record of the famous "30 Days of Only McDonalds Food" experiment. Simply stated, the claim was that the director was eating 5,000 calories a day (when, even "super-sized", the math doesn't add up according to the parameters of the experiment), while critics point out that 5,000 calories of anything per day would make even an Olympic Runner gain weight.
- There's also the fact that Morgan admitted he would often force himself to eat the meals even when he wasn't hungry to the point where he would sometimes vomit, which isn't the behavior of anyone no matter how fat... unless that person is trying to make themselves gain weight.
- Thrive is a film that apparently tries to be the next ''Zeitgeist'', integrating New Age thought and a slew of various conspiracies ranging from UFO secrets to the New World Order. Like Zeitgeist however, the quality and worth of the documentary is what one would expect. And similarly to Expelled above, some of those interviewed had apparently disassociated themselves with the documentary and its makers.
- Disney's True Life Adventure nature documentaries from The Fifties came with a neat disclaimer declaring that they depicted nature untouched by human hands. However, some scenes were staged. Most infamously, the 1958 installment White Wilderness (about the Arctic, but actually filmed in southern Canada) helped perpetuate the myth of lemming suicide (to the film's credit, the narrator does correctly note that the creatures are not committing suicide, but rather attempting to cross a body of water that is too wide for them to swim over without tiring out and drowning). The filmmakers achieved this by actually placing lemmings (purchased, as they were non-native to the area) onto a turntable and flinging them off the edge of a cliff.
- What the #$*! Do We Know!?: The constant misrepresentation of the laws of physics (especially quantum physics) is unbearable. Not surprising, since the whole thing was produced as a giant promo for J.Z. Knight's Ramtha cult. Additionally, the film selectively edited an interview with Columbia University physics professor David Albert in order to make it appear that Albert endorsed its claims, when he had actually spent four hours explaining why they were wrong.
- Zeitgeist: The Movie is split into 3 parts. The first part claims that Christianity is completely made up using bits and pieces of other religions, specifically the 12 apostles and the resurrection of Jesus. However, the parts that director Peter Joseph cites are either distorted, out of context, or completely made up. His sources are also either non-existent or heavily biased. All of part one can be refuted by reading a Religion 101 textbook. The other 2 parts are bog-standard 9/11 and New World Order conspiracy theories, all while cribbing quotes from Thomas Jefferson to Carl Sagan. The "final" version released a few years later purportedly serves to justify and correct Joseph's message, adding some source annotations...but leaving much of the content unchanged.
- As for the sequel, while some of the most blatant things about the documentary are seriously hard to believe (like all those phone calls proving everything the author had to say about 9/11), some parts are backed-up by evidence. It's just the whole tone of "Revolutionary Documentary" that makes some people feel so bullshit'd.
- The second follow up, Moving Forward rehashes the above and puts more focus on Joseph's purported solutions. Despite the somewhat higher production values and additional talking heads, the result still comes across as wishful thinking at best, manipulative and self-congratulatory at worst. For a series of documentaries that supposedly encourages viewers to use critical thinking, it doesn't hesitate to milk propaganda and emotional pandering for all their worth.
- Triumph of the Will manages to approach this based almost solely on deceptive editing (while it self-defines as a documentary, it mostly just consists of un-commented excerpts from the 1934 Party Congress of the NSDAP) — it was, at the time, a very innovative film in the department of manipulating the viewers' emotions. It also gives the impression that events happened in a different order than they actually did (for instance, there is a scene which quickly cuts from speaker to speaker. There were days between some of those speakers, and some of the things shown earlier and later in the film happened in-between).
- Chariots of the Gods?, by Erich von Däniken, has many misleading or downright fraudulent elements. One particular egregious one: von Däniken shows an "alien landing strip" cut into the ground by the Aztecs. The "landing strip" was actually a part of a larger carving (the leg of a bird, the rest of which he cropped out), and was only about 30 feet long.
- Older Than Radio: In the year 1800, Parson Weems published A History of the Life and Death, Virtues and Exploits of General George Washington, a highly fictionalized "biography" of George Washington. It's generally full of hero-worship and moral lessons for the youngsters. This book is the source of the famous cherry tree legend. Notably, Weems portrays Washington as a deeply religious man. In one episode, Washington prays at Valley Forge and he prays so well that he convinces a Quaker guy to renounce pacifism. Historians are in disagreement as to Washington's religious views, but the very fact that he didn't talk about religion much seems to indicate that he wasn't particularly pious.
- The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard posits that Shepard was a meth dealer and that his murder was the result of a rivalry with Aaron McKinney... who was also his occasional sexual partner. It was written by Stephen Jimenez, the same guy who was behind the discredited 20/20 report on the same subject (see the Live-Action TV section.)
- Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor argues that Franklin D. Roosevelt and the US Government in general deliberately provoked Japan into war and manipulated an isolationist America into a horrific war against their will. The book, which has been thoroughly rebuked by historians and military experts, is part of a long line of conspiracy theories that play on antiwar pretensions than actual facts, in a similar vein to Hearts And Minds mentioned above.
- The late Howard Zinn's A People History of the United States has since come under harsh scrutiny from both sides of the political spectrum, including those otherwise sympathetic to his ideas. He made it plain and clear that his work was biased and ideologically charged, for the purpose of telling the truth. In practice, this amounted to cherry-picking facts, recasting heroes as villains (and vice versa) bordering on conspiracy theories and imposing his thoughts and beliefs upon the past to the point of whitewashing history along his lines. The end result has been described as a "demented fairy tale" that does no real justice to its subject matter. The nadir of this is his claim that the Viet Cong were not under the command or administration of the North Vietnamese government, a North Vietnamese propaganda claim which nobody believed at the time, let alone thirty years later.
- Ralph Nader's Unsafe at Any Speed severely criticizes the Chevrolet Corvair. However, in 1972, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) tested the handling of the 1963 Corvair, and compared it to the Ford Falcon, Plymouth Valient, Renault Dauphine and Volkswagen Beetle, as well as the second generation Corvair with the revised suspension design. The subsequent 143 page report (PB 211-015) reviewed these tests conducted under extreme conditions, national accident data compiled by insurance companies and traffic authorities on those specifica cars, and internal memos and documents from General Motors regarding the Corvair's handling, as well as contracting a three man advisory panel of engineers (PB 211-014), which concluded that "the 1960-63 Corvair compares favorably with contemporary vehicles used in the tests...the handling and stability performance of the 1960-63 Corvair does not result in an abnormal potential for loss of control or rollover, and it is at least as good as the performance of some contemporary vehicles both foreign and domestic." Additionally, Nader was ignorant and dismissive of the trade-off between safety and affordability and did not acknowledge the fact that motor vehicle death rates per 100 million passenger miles fell from 17.9 in 1925 to 5.5 in 1965, and focused only on the Corvair while ignoring other vehicles from that era with swing axle rear suspensions, such as Porsche, Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz.
- In 2004, 20/20 aired a controversial report claiming that Matthew Shepard's murder was the result of a drug-related robbery gone wrong, and had nothing to do with the fact that he was gay. Most of the "evidence" for this claim came from testimony given by the two guys who were convicted of murdering him.
- The ABC
- Media Watch recently had a crack at the ABC's science show Catalyst over its two-part documentary "The Heart of the Matter", which suggested — despite overwhelming mainstream evidence — that cholestrol does not cause heart disease and that statins are a racket to drive up drug sales. However, not only were Catalyst's "experts" certified quacks who had way more screen time than the legitimate health specialists who rightly critiqued the doc's thesis, but one of those specialists later claimed that Catalyst cut the majority of his two-hour interview in favor of a four-minute soundbyte. Media Watch also noticed how the presenter's body language (enthusiastic nodding for one of the quacks versus a stony gaze for the specialist) gave away her bias. Not only that, but the ABC acknowledged that they had Catalyst include said legitimate health specialists because even the ABC saw how one-sided the documentary was.
- Animal Planet
- Animal Armageddon. While the facts aren't as twisted as most of the other shows, they are still twisted enough to showcase Peter Ward's crazy theories and nihilistic agenda. Case in point, it claims that the Triassic-Jurassic extinction (which, while bad, wasn't going to do much more than wipe out most of the larger animals) nearly wiped out all life on Earth and turned Earth into a new Mars. It doesn't help that the graphics are bad too.
- Fatal Attractions: A herpetologist featured in an episode about snakebites elaborates on how the director tried to Quote Mine him during an interview, dismissed his suggestions to make the facts presented more scientifically accurate in favour of a fictionalised, sensationalistic approach, and hired a quack to act as a talking head to try and lend themselves credence.
- In 1993, CBS aired a documentary titled The Incredible Discovery of Noah's Ark, featuring a man named George Jammal who claimed to have discovered Noah's Ark on Mount Ararat in Turkey and brought back "sacred wood" from it. Only Jammal was an actor, and the "discovery" was a hoax intended to discredit Sun International Pictures, a studio that had been making documentaries (including this one) pushing fundamentalist pseudoscience while presenting themselves as factual, "scientific" investigations. Jammal claimed to have been assisted by people named Mr. Asholian, Vladimir Sobitchsky, and Allis Buls Hitian, names intended to be obviously fake. He had never been to Turkey (a fact reflected on his passport), and the photographs he claimed Vladimir had taken of the site didn't exist (since the photographer didn't either). The "sacred wood" smelled like teriyaki sauce, since that was part of how he had artificially aged the wood. All these errors were intentional, to demonstrate just how bad SIP's fact-checking was.
- In 1986, 60 Minutes ran a report on the Audi 5000 titled Out of Control, which featured interviews with six people who had sued Audi after experiencing unintented acceleration, and footage of a 5000 accelerating out of control when the brake pedal was pressed. Not shown was the that car had been specially modified to do just that, using a canister of compressed air on the passenger side to pump transmission fluid through a hose in a hole drilled into the transmission. Audi rebutted that the drivers caused it by mistaking the accelerator for the brake, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigated and concluded that the majority of these cases, which included all six people interviewed by 60 Minutes (including one mother who tragically ran over her own son), were caused by the driver pressing the wrong pedal. When Audis were recalled back to 1978 to install Shift Lock, the idiotproof device that would prevent the transmission from being shifted out of Park unless the brake pedal was pressed (later mandated on all vehicles made after 1986), reports of unintended acceleration when shifting into reverse dropped significantly. 
- In 1998, CNN aired an hour-long Newsstand documentary, entitled "Valley of Death", which claimed that U.S. forces in the Vietnam War used sarin nerve gas in an attack on a Laotian village where a group of American defectors were believed to have been hiding, killing over 100 inhabitants. The program included an interview with Admiral Thomas Moorer, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the war, in which he seemingly confirmed the use of the nerve gas. However, Moorer claimed after the broadcast that CNN had taken his statements out of context after asking him "trick" questions, insisting that he never really confirmed the use of sarin. Then The Pentagon launched an investigation and found that the program's allegations were false. Following their own three-week investigations, CNN and Time (which ran an article in conjunction with the Newsstand report) retracted the story and fired the journalists and producers involved. CNN's reputation as a serious news organization took a serious hit as a result of the debacle.
- Channel Four
- Fat Girls and Feeders was a documentary in which real feeders and feedees brought in to tell their stories. According to the feeders and feedees who took part in the documentary, Channel 4 edited the footage to make it look like the feedees were sad and the feeders were abusive.
- Discovery Channel
- Clash of the Dinosaurs seriously sucked big as the staff quote mined a paleontologist interviewed, and is showing no signs of taking responsibility for that. More obvious signs of this trope are present in the rest of the documentary as well, like making Quetzalcoatlus a scaly, flying reptile hunting eagle-style from the air instead of the fur-covered, terrestrial pterosaur it was, and having dinosaurs defending themselves with sonic weapons.
- Monsters Resurrected is easily one of the most inaccurate documentaries on prehistoric animals ever made; particularly in regards to the Spinosaurus episode. If anyone thought Jurassic Park III did a misleading job at portraying the creature, it was nothing compared to this episode. Essentially, the Spinosaurus is portrayed as the ultimate predator of all time, able to effortlessly kill any other predator that lived in its time and region. In short, it is depicted as devouring a Rugops with one bite, killing a Carcharodontosaurus by slashing it across the face with its claws and effortlessly tearing apart the giant crocodylomorph, Sarcosuchus. And that isn't all, its size is practically Godzilla-portioned, as it is able to pick up a 30ft long Rugops in its mouth and the thing appears to be no bigger than its head. Spinosaurus didn't grow much larger than 60ft, meaning the one depicted in the episode would have been close to 300ft. The episode also seems to take a lot of facts that we know about the animal out of context, seemingly with no other reason than to turn Spinosaurus into some kind of prehistoric Villain Sue.
- Subverted/parodied by The World's Strangest UFO Stories, which showcases people advocating various theories such as "the US president and the Queen of England are man-eating, humanoid lizards" and "everything you see is an alien simulation" while the narrator snarks at how insane most of these theories are.
- The Discovery Channel pissed off a lot of people by starting off their 2013 Shark Week with Megalodon: The Monster Shark That Lives, a documentary on prehistoric giant sharks that presented entirely fake "evidence" (including Found Footage of one destroying a South African fishing boat) that they still exist.
- In 1995, Fox aired a made-for-TV "documentary" called "Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction," which was about a 17-minute film which the owner claimed was taken from secret government records of the dissection of a space alien found in a spaceship crash. (A DVD version was also published.) Most of the "evidence" used to "confirm" the film's validity consisted of baldfaced lies and Twisting the Words; for example, Kodak never dated the film to 1947. Additionally, according to That Other Wiki, the film's owner now claims the film is a "recreation" of an original film he once saw that has since completely decayed.
- According to the book How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World, the people who made the alien autopsy film did it as a prank and couldn't stop laughing while filming it.
- In 1999, Fox aired another special, The World's Greatest Hoaxes: Secrets Finally Revealed, in which they essentially admit, mea culpa, that the "Alien Autopsy" footage was nothing more than a hoax. However, the fact that they themselves participated in perpetrating this hoax is not discussed or even mentioned.
- Also in 1999, Fox aired Live from the Pyramids, a special hosted by, of all people, Maury Povich. So-called documentaries about Ancient Egypt that end up bringing in aliens about twenty minutes into the show. Live from the Pyramids didn't even wait that long.
- In 2001, Fox aired an hour-long "documentary" titled Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon? which presents and "confirms" the thesis that the Apollo moon landings were faked. A thorough rebuttal of the show can be found here.
- Scariest Places on Earth purported to be a documentary series on haunted areas across the world, complete with eyewitnesses who tell chilling stories about their experiences in said locations. Problem? At least one of the witnesses in the episode "Greyfriars Cemetery" is credited as Awassa Tact, but who is now easily recognisable as Angel Coulby, an actress who went on to greater fame in various British television shows, particularly Merlin.
- The History Channel
- Numerous post-Da Vinci Code specials about various "secrets" of Christian apocrypha, including one segment that seriously considered the argument that the Ark of the Covenant was a giant electrical capacitor (thus explaining the stories of people touching it being destroyed by divine light).
- "Documentaries" on UFOs, crackpot theories about the end of the world, and more crackpot theories on Nostradamus, which are always prime examples of sloppy research and often veer into Critical Research Failure territory.
- Ancient Astronauts and Ancient Aliens attempt to make the case that aliens had visited and interacted with various prehistoric and ancient cultures. However, every argument they make, including Pumapunku and its "impossible" temple of diorite, the vimanas, and the Piri Ries map, has been soundly and thoroughly addressed and debunked.
- Lots of shows that try to answer the question of who REALLY shot John F. Kennedy, or the real identity of Jack the Ripper, almost always coming to a different conclusion than the ones they made before.
- Secrets of the Founding Fathers had some solid, interesting facts about the founders of the USA, but the vast majority of it was spent entertaining easily-disproved, crackpot anti-Masonic conspiracy theories.
- Monster Quest is a series about unexplained creatures and mysterious sightings, yes. But whenever they talk about real-life examples or the episode is about giant scary versions of real animals (the episodes involving Megalodon, giant killer snakes, giant octopuses, Giant Squid, etc), the amount of "These are vicious, deadly animals who mercilessly slaughter other animals and will end your life in a nanosecond and kids are in peril from these savage beasts!" approaches Face Palm-inducing.
- The bigger problem is the number of unscientific investigations used, such as giving polygraph tests to witnesses. Even overlooking the unreliability of polygraphs (there's a reason they're almost never admissible in actual court proceedings), an eyewitness account is still relatively worthless; "not lying" doesn't mean the same thing as "not wrong". And in one or two investigations this was the majority of their inquiry.
- Notably, The History Channel often airs "documentaries" that tie in with a current movie. When The Da Vinci Code was in theaters, they began airing tons of programs about The Knights Templar, the Holy Grail, and other related topics. Not coincidentally, this marked the beginning of their Network Decay. When I Am Legend came out, featuring trailers prominently depicting scenes of a deserted New York, History began airing Life After People, a show dedicated entirely to exploring what urban landscapes would look like if people vanished from the Earth. And after National Treasure 2: The Book of Secrets came out, the network began airing a program about a theoretical "President's Book of Secrets," in which they list several already-well known bits about the type of information that the President of the United States would be privy to... and at the end of every other sentence, shoe-horn in the question "But could these secrets be recorded in... *dramatic pause*... a President's Book of Secrets?!" to the point where it could easily become a drinking game.
- In 1996, NBC aired The Mysterious Origins of Man, hosted by Charlton Heston, in which creationist claims were a warm-up for some even wilder ideas. For instance, Atlantis was located in Antarctica, but the civilization was buried in ice when the entire Earth's crust shifted the continent to the South Pole 12,000 years ago.
- In 1992, Dateline released a report on Chevy and GMC C/K Rounded Line pickups allegedly exploding on impact in a side collision due to the design of the fuel tanks. Date Line showed a video of a low speed impact resulting in the gas tank exploding. In reality, the tank was rigged with remote controlled model rocket engines to create the explosion, a fact that was never disclosed to the audience. Upon examination of the wreckage, it was discovered that the speed was not the 30 MPH claimed by Dateline, but over 40 MPH, and an x-ray revealed the tanks had not ruptured at all. GM filed a an anti-defamation/libel lawsuit against NBC. After announcing the lawsuit GM conducted a point-by-point rebuttal in a highly publicized debate at the General Motors Building. NBC settled that week, and Jane Pauley read a three and a half minute appology on air.
- Director Oliver Stone's The Untold History of The United States, has been accused of being this. Among numerous historical inaccuracies, he states that Vladimir Putin is the leader of the "Soviet Union" (instead of the correct "Russian Federation") and that Kuwait was part of Iraq until 1961 (Kuwait remained a British territory after the rest of Mesopotamia/Iraq's independence in the 1930's). The rest of the documentary and the supplement book is either a critique of the US foreign policy or pro-Soviet revisionist history depending on the viewer or reader, and that's all we'll say about that.
- Many television series, such as In Search Of... and Sightings, were notorious for being composed of these. They now occasionally air on Syfy, arguably their most appropriate venue.
- The series In Search Of even provides the following disclaimer as an admission that it is practically built on Wild Mass Guessing:
This series presents information based in part on theory and conjecture. The producer's purpose is to suggest some possible explanations, but not necessarily the only ones, to the mysteries we will examine.
- It's probably no coincidence that the point at which the aforementioned History Channel began briefly to show In Search Of reruns was the point at which they began to go downhill.
- The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan dances over the line between this and Mockumentary since it was presented as true upon the initial broadcast, but was revealed to be a promotional stunt for The Village.
- Fact or Faked is a Documentary Of Lies about other peoples' Documentaries of Lies. They profess to be truth-testing paranormal viral videos to determine which are genuine, but the producers recently got caught offering money to a video's creators to reshoot their footage, proving that they take it for granted such clips are always bogus. Which, well... fair enough.
- Bible Code Foretold 9/11 proved to be embarrassing for TBN, which used to air it annually as part of its Patriot Day programming. The film posited that the "Bible Code" — a pseudo-scientific method used by Bible prophecy scholars to decipher supposed prophecies hidden in the Scripture — predicted 9/11, as well as the Bobby Kennedy assassination, the Clinton impeachment, and the election of George W. Bush. As the film was made shortly before Operation Iraqi Freedom, it also predicted that Saddam Hussein would be linked to 9/11 and would die from terminal disease. For a (very) short time, TBN continued airing the film after the Saddam-9/11 link was disproven and the dictator was hanged.
- TBN still airs reruns of the American Heritage Series, even though its host, David Barton, has been discredited as a historian in mainstram academic circles. Barton, who likes to claim that historical evidence proves that the Founding Fathers intended for America to be a Christian theocracy, has been found to use purposefully misread historical texts to support his claims and, in at least one case, ripped off his "history" from a Louis L'Amour novel.
- Operation: Repo supposedly follows a crew of repossession officers on their routine of reclaiming vehicles. The show quickly brushes over the fact that the portrayed "live footage" segments are staged recreations and numerous lawsuits have been filed by the people who actually had their vehicles repossessed for being portrayed on the show as patently insane. Some segments take the usual, mean-spirited exchanges and amp them up into acts that would be considered crimes.
- It turns out that a more ironic name for a network than "truTV" there has not yet been. Hard Core Pawn, Southern Fried Stings, Lizard Lick Towing, Bear Swamp Recovery, and South Beach Tow — all truTV productions — have similar issues. Southern Fried Stings deserves particular mention. It too consists of "re-enacted" cases of a "private investigator". The "cases" involve things that fall far outside of the purview of private investigators such as vehicle chases and drug busts.
- At the height of the Cold War, democratic Finland was officially neutral yet made numerous concessions to the Soviet Union, with which it had an historically violent and tense relationship. These concessions (combined with management that was widely perceived to be biased towards the radical left) led its national public broadcaster to co-produce a regular program with Soviet propagandists called Näin naapurissa (This Door), which was known for its, shall we say, overly rosy portrayal of everyday Soviet life.
- In March 2012, This American Life, one of the most popular shows on NPR, spent an episode retracting, denouncing, and dissecting a prior episode, which was based on monologuist Mike Daisey's The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, about alleged working conditions at Apple production plants in China. Large portions of Daisey's monologue was shown, with very little effort, to have been fictionalized and fabricated.
- Specifically, Daisey's monologue was a combination of his own experiences (with significant exaggerations), research from other sources, and stories he'd heard from others. While most of the conditions he described occurred in at least some factories, the claim that he'd personally witnessed it all was a lie that he maintained until evidence forced him to admit otherwise.
- Loose Change, an internet 9/11 conspiracy theory "documentary" that has been edited and re-edited multiple times in response to heavy criticism. Even so, most of the points highlighted, for example, here have still not been addressed.
- One of the sequels to Loose Change uses various out-of-context quotes from Kevin Smith's podcast, where the director claims that everyone "needs to see" the film, seemingly an "endorsement" by a celebrity of the project. What the documentary doesn't do is end that quote, as the reason why Smith wants people to see the movie is because he believes it to be hilariously incompetent and incorrect, and he spends most of the rest of the podcast mocking it and its contents. The rest of Smith's quotes used are still obviously dripping with sarcasm regardless of the Manipulative Editing.
- 180, a "documentary" on abortion, with completely fabricated "evidence" and "testimony". They even made up their own awards ceremony to make it "award-winning"! Can be watched on YouTube.
- Julian Assange and other Wikileaks supporters are accusing We Steal Secrets of being one, even going as far as circulating an annotated script pointing out supposed inaccuracies.
- The mockumentary The Dark Side of the Moon, made by French TV Channel Arte in 2002, is a grand spoof of these kind of works, right down to its crazily Troperiffic portrayal of a generic Apollo Moon Hoax. The movie is meant as a funny tribute to the late, great Stanley Kubrick — who appears in the movie as a key participant of the conspiracy, filming fake Moon walks. There are innumerable Lampshade Hangings and deliberately nonsensical or silly bits thrown in, yet the tone is constantly deadpan. The Twist Ending reveals the real nature of the movie. Pity that many conspiracy theorists still took it absolutely seriously...
- Maddox of The Best Page In The Universe fame created the YouTube vid Unfastened Coins: The Titanic Conspiracy, which parodies this trope and the 9-11 conspiracy film Loose Change for all it's worth (including parodies of "undeniable verification tests" done with a model of the Titanic in the author's bathtub).
- Luke's Change, a parody of Loose Change listed above, presents a compelling case that the destruction of the first Death Star was an inside job set up by the Skywaker family.