If you don’t trust the New York Times or the reporters who work there, Showtime’s four-part docu-series, The Fourth Estate, might not make you a full convert, but it could make you reconsider your perception of the paper and the journalists who work there. The series, which debuts at 7:30pm ET Sunday night, focuses on reporters Maggie Haberman, Michael Schmidt, Matt Rosenberg, Matt Apuzzo, Glenn Thrush, Elisabeth Bumiller, and others as they try to cover and keep up with the Trump administration’s chaotic first year in office while often seeing their efforts branded as “Fake News” by the President and his supporters.
Still, director Liz Garbus (What Happened, Miss Simone) tells Uproxx that she “hopes people who aren’t necessarily predisposed to read the New York Times and [who] might attack the New York Times will come to this to see how it’s done.” Garbus is a Times subscriber and not a regular Fox News viewer, but she says she’d be “really, really” interested in seeing a documentary that focused on Hannity and how producers “[go] about deciding what story to cover, how to cover it, what to say, and what words to use.”
After Trump was elected, Garbus says she was eager to use her voice as a filmmaker to “make sense of this new political climate.” And when she realized that, in the absence of Hillary Clinton, Trump was going to more frequently focus his ire on the media, The Fourth Estate started to come together and a pitch was made to the New York Times — “Trump’s hometown newspaper [and] one of the most important and largest news organizations in America.” That the paper of record allowed Garbus into their midst and gave her so much access to so many high-profile staffers was a surprise to the Oscar-nominated documentarian, who says she thought she had a 1-in-100 chance of getting a yes.
“The Times realized that it was going to be a volatile year, that they were gonna be under the microscope and under attack, and that they were pretty proud of their journalists. So they felt like maybe this was not such a bad idea,” said Garbus.
Still, there were ground rules. Some common sense ones set up by the Times included a prohibition on revealing the identities of sources, and some self-imposed ones like trying to keep a low profile in the newsroom while filming for about 150 days across 16 months.
“We were definitely one more thing for people to have to deal with in an incredibly stressful environment, so we tried to keep our footprint low,” said Garbus. “It would be the director, a camera person, and a sound person. That would be the entire crew. Sometimes we had two crews — in Washington and New York.”