The Wall Street Journal today raises interesting issues in revealing that documentary filmmaker Ric Burns has been quietly getting paid by Goldman Sachs to make a film about the brokerage house — with Goldman Sachs reportedly maintaining editorial control. This might well have seemed like a harmless industrial film and a way for a journalist to make some freelance income when the project began in 2007, long before the financial meltdown. Given a recent fraud investigation, the scrutiny on Goldman Sachs’ derivatives operations and the hypersensitivity to Wall Street in general, it’s a tough situation to be for a journalist to be in. Even though the film was never meant for public consumption. Burns, who with brother Ken is created the PBS series The Civil War and many other important works, was recently outspoken when Crude documentary director Joe Berlinger was ordered to turn over outtake footage to Chevron, telling The New York Times that it “contributes to a general culture of contempt for investigative journalism,” and if upheld, would amount to a “killer blow to the trust a filmmaker cultivated, deeply, over a very long period of time.” Though they never get paid enough for the hours they put in, documentary directors need to be cautious about alliances that put them in that very position.
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