Tuesday January 23, 2018
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Six-part documentary ...

... analyzing Milwaukee Conservative talk radio as a microcosm of the genre’s impact on American politics, media and culture.

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About The Movie
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The Idea

It came to me one evening in July of 2010. I was driving home from work listening to Mark Belling portend the economic ruination of Wisconsin and the United States should we fail to repent of Liberal policies and politicians. Belling and Conservative talkers have, of course, been saying this stuff for years. Few, however, even among Republicans, ever seemed to take them very seriously. But now things were different.

Beyond CaliforniaThe debate was no longer academic. Economic ruination was upon us. Debts, deficits, foreclosures and unemployment—the products of fiscal imprudence—were real crises affecting real lives: coworkers’, neighbors’, friends, my family’s, mine. In the eyes of a growing number of people, not to mention a swelling Wisconsin Tea Party and Conservative Internet community, the familiar claims of Conservative talkers and callers were being vindicated on a daily basis. And yet, the local intelligentsia seemed committed to maintaining its standard dismissal of the people and content of Conservative talk radio.

Why? What did they know that the rest of us didn’t? Why did the conventional media still revel in making mention of Conservative talkers when they had gotten something wrong but rarely, if ever, when they had broken an important story or conducted an interview with a politician or policy analyst about issues crucial to local and national interests? And why did our poll-obsessed media maintain its meticulous disinterest in the views of civically engaged citizens expressed every hour of every day on Conservative talk radio?

Was it truly, as the critics claim, all just ignorance, misinformation, partisan nonsense and hate speech? Or was there something more sinister afoot: a crumbling Liberal establishment desperately trying to preserve its dominance in government, media, and education at the expense of open and informed public discourse?

With a public more politically engaged than it had been at any point in my lifetime, and a fierce election season just heating up, I realized that this was the optimum moment to exam these questions anew. "Somebody ought to make a documentary," I thought. "Hey ...why don't I?"

The Process

Video ProposalOriginally I had hoped to produce Liberty or Lies? as an independent study through Marquette University's College of Communication. My undergraduate degree is in communications and I figured this would be a great way to kick start the process for the coveted graduate degree.

I drew up a proposal and shopped it around. Unfortunately, the College of Communication had no interest in a student-produced documentary about a controversial form of mass communication and its impact on politics, media and culture in Milwaukee and across the United States.

Disappointed but not defeated, I ran the proposal past Dr. John McAdams in Marquette's Department of Political Science. He agreed to supervise the project as a graduate level independent study as proposed. I was off!

September 2010

  • Interviewed Jay Weber and Jerry Bott at WISN radio
  • Began researching arguments pro and con regarding Conservative talk radio

October 2010

  • Interviewed Jay Heck, Charlie Sykes, Jeff Wagner, Dan Cody, Joel McNally, Chris Liebenthal, Chris Kliesmet and Eugene Kane.

November 2010

  • Interviewed Vicki McKenna and Bruce Murphy
  • Began transcribing interviews
  • Ran Liberty or Liesproposal by Milwaukee Public Television management. They expressed interest in possibly airing the documentary when completed.

December 2010

  • Interviewed Tim Cuprisin
  • Began selecting most compelling interview quotes
  • Began attempting script outline

February 2011

  • Wisconsin suddenly became the center of the political universe. The plot thickens!
  • Headed to Madison to record Walker rally and union counter protest. Wow.
  • Realized now there is NO WAY this will be a mere 30-60 minute documentary

March 2011

  • Interviewed James T. Harris and Dr. John McAdams.
  • Finalized general outline

April 2011

  • Began organizing interview quotes
  • Began scripting narration

May 2011

June / July 2011

  • Began recording narration
  • Began video editing
  • Began creating music soundtrack (thank you Steve Jobs and GarageBand!)

August 2011

  • Finished Parts 1 and 2 and submitted just in time for the end of Marquette's summer session. Though this was only partial completion of the documentary as it had come to be envisioned, I had more than fulfilled the expectations of my original independent study proposal. I got an "A"!

September 2011

  • Continued video editing
  • Began building Liberty or Lies website
  • Spoke again with Milwaukee Public Television. They found parts 1 and 2 compelling and worthy of broadcast. Wanted to see remainder of documentary, however, before making final decision.

October 2011

  • Completed Part 3
  • Launched website
  • Continued editing

November 2011

  • Completed and posted part 4
  • Was asked to produce a special 2-hour version of Liberty or Lies? for Milwaukee Public Television

December 2011

  • Completed 2-hour MPTV version

January 2012

  • Produced promotional  trailer
  • Transcribed Liberty or Lies? for MPTV closed captioning.
  • Liberty or Lies? airs on MPTV January 30 from 9-11 pm!

February 2012

  • Complete parts 5 and 6 for website


The Style

Jerry SpringerLiberty or Lies? is not produced in the high-impact, confrontational, in-your-face manner of many of today's politically oriented productions. There are a few reasons for this.

Primarily, I don't have the budget, time or talent to produce something so sensational. Secondly, though I have nothing against them, there are enough of these kinds of programs out there; I don't think the world needs another one. Lastly, I am not a confrontational person. Had I attempted to "get all Bill O'Reilly" on my interviewees they would have torn me to shreds and left the room laughing. And had I post-produced the documentary to make myself out as some Right-wing Michael Moore heroically dragging those evil Lefties through the dirt, I would quite likely and deservedly find myself the object of derision in many of my guests' columns, most of which are quite high profile. No thanks. I may well be derided in said columns but at least it won't be for being a chicksh*t.

In short, my goal with this documentary was to capture the chief complaints about Conservative talk radio, give them a thorough airing, and then allow for Conservative response and rebuttal, all within the context of the massive and rapidly evolving free-market media environment in which this debate is occurring. Doing so, I believe, allows viewers to see for themselves which arguments are most credible, respectful of the public interest, and demonstrative of a mature understanding of the First Amendment.

Speaking of which, a note about the law. Viewers will note that I employ a great many photos, newspaper clippings and video snippets throughout Liberty or Lies. Certain of these elements are no doubt copyright protected in one form or the other. It was simply not possible for me to seek and obtain permission for the use of all these elements. However, under the provisions of the United States Copyright Office's Fair Use Policy, use of these elements for a production of this nature is entirely legal . In short, Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17) lists various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as "criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research." Liberty or Lies? strives to be all of these things.

The Producer

Brien FarleyMy name is Brien Farley. I am a Conservative, 46 year-old, happily married father of two living in Waukesha County, Wisconsin. In the early 1990s I worked at WISN radio as a producer and on-air talent. For a brief period of time, I had my own weeknight comedy show until it was taken away to make room for a syndicated program hosted by a guy named Michael Reagan. (Yes, THAT Reagan!) My radio career never recovered. Indeed I am a victim of the Conservative talk radio revolution. Ultimately, however, I accepted the painful reality that Reagan's show made money for WISN and mine didn't…and that's what it's all about. Conservative, Progressive, contemporary hits, country, whatever the format: no money, no station. Today, of course, I'm a big fan of Conservative talk radio.

Because of my experience in radio, and later in video production, marketing and public relations, I felt I might be able to provide some long overdue myth-busting about Conservative talk radio in the form of a documentary film – kind of an antidote to former WTMJ news director, Dan Shelley's, famous Secrets of Talk Radio "exposé." Having family, friends and co-workers on the Left side of the aisle, however, I have learned to keep in mind that those who hold views with which I strongly disagree are real people, usually good people, who deserve my respect, regardless of our differences.

With Liberty or Lies?, I hope I have managed to do both.

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