The Russia Collusion hoax is one of the biggest media stories in recent years, and yet there is more public confusion than clarity.
So when the texts between high ranking officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page were made public, journalist Phelim McAleer read through them looking for the story. These were the originators of the hoax, involved in an extramarital affair ahead of the 2016 elections and deeply invested in having Hillary Clinton secure the Oval Office.
“I just looked at this and saw A, a love story; B, a conspiracy; C, madness; D, childishness and juvenilia—and a personal tragedy for Lisa Page as well. If you read the texts and testimony … there’s a personal heartbreak there. There’s international intrigue, there’s politics. How could you not be interested in this story?” McAleer said. It’d seemed brushed aside by major media. “It’s an amazing story nobody wants to cover.”
The media might not have wanted to tell the story, but McAleer and his wife Ann McElhinney knew the public would want the truth.
Time and again they’ve found grassroots support to tell stories that butt heads with the narratives pushed by bigger media entities, and this was no different.
McAleer had been interested in verbatim theater, a form similar to dramatic readings, in that the actors on stage read entire testimonies and transcripts verbatim. He’d done it before with the Ferguson grand jury testimonies to great effect, and thought letting people hear these texts, hear Strzok and Page in their own words, would be a great way to get the truth out.
“Three’s a voyeuristic aspect to it … it is very shocking because you’ve got these very senior FBI officials, one of them a lawyer and one of them a counterintelligence officer, and a lot of what they say is very juvenile,” McElhinney said. “I think the most overwhelming emotion is how disturbing it is that these are the people, particularly in the case of Peter Strzok, who really instigated the Russia Collusion story—and then you realize who this guy is and how he speaks and how partisan he is, and how in the bag he was for Hillary Clinton. You think stage reading and you think, ‘It’ll be a bit on the stale side,’ and it certainly wasn’t that.”
In fact, once they managed to find a theater willing to show the play, audience members burst into laughter during “FBI Lovebirds” more times than you might expect from the subject of the play.
Magdalena Segieda, a producer who has worked with the couple for over a decade, says this is what they do best.
“You have to bring some humanity to those stories, to those subjects, and we always look for that,” Segieda said.
Hundreds had voted with their wallets to crowdfund the production of the play, starring Dean Cain and Kristy Swanson, and so they’ve made it the full program public.
Ann McElhinney had been a journalist for a few years when she and her husband Phelim McAleer traveled to Transylvania to cover a story about a new mine.
McElhinney had been a high school teacher before becoming a reporter, and McAleer grew up in a house full of newspapers and had a natural sense for it. He was also in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, and lived amongst a big news story for years.
He later worked for the Financial Times and The Economist as an Eastern Europe correspondent, and this led the two of them into making documentaries.
As they made their way to the little Romanian village, McElhinney could see the story playing out in her mind; it was an environmental story we’ve all heard hundreds of times—the villainous corporation was going to destroy these poor townsfolks’ village, all for profit.
The truth couldn’t have been farther from what she’d imagined.
The town was poor, the townspeople were unemployed, and many buildings did not even have indoor plumbing, meaning in the winters people had to go out to use outhouses in -4 F weather.
McElhinney and McAleer visited a model home, a replica of what the Canadian mining company would build for the local population as a part of their agreement, and met an elderly woman who had tears in her eyes. She said she only hoped she could live long enough to live in a house like this.
They realized then there was something suspect about the environmentalism movement.
Why were well-to-do foreigners flying in from far away, claiming to rescue the poor townspeople from the evil Canadians who would destroy their “rural, idyllic lifestyle”? They had to be either grossly misinformed, or deliberately trying to prevent the townspeople from access to a better life.
It turned out the activists were so married to their narrative that they refused to look at the facts, and the journalist duo’s findings became the 2006 documentary “Mine Your Own Business.”
The stranger-than-fiction nature of environmentalist deception took more than one film to fully explore.
In 2008, they took on Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and dove into the climate change issues—then still called “global warming”—and looked at why there was so much legislation intended to mitigate climate change, if the science was inconclusive. They discovered the impact of some of these new laws would actually cause more harm than benefit, and the incredible irony of billionaires trying to prevent economic growth and development in poverty-stricken areas in their quest to “save the world.” They found shockingly anti-science, and sometimes even racist, roots in many environmentalist movements, and in 2009 came out with “Not Evil Just Wrong.”
In a similar vein, when the 2010 film “Gasland” prompted a sudden and robust, celebrity-driven protest against “fracking,” or hydraulic fracturing, their interest was piqued. The film contains an iconic scene of a man lighting his sink water on fire, and so McAleer did a quick online search, and found it had nothing to do with fracking. There was a disturbingly similar theme to the other environmental projects they’d tackled: incredibly wealthy and influential people were keeping struggling farmers from keeping their land.
“FrackNation” addressed the misinformation, and sought to tell the truth about fracking.
These projects—grassroots and crowdfunded, quite unlike the celebrity-backed environmental movements—have gotten them labeled enemies of the environment by various activist groups.
After “FrackNation” came out, they held many screenings in Philadelphia, where fracking is popular. McAleer had a day off, and read in the local paper that Kermit Gosnell was being tried for murder. So he went down to the courtroom.
“It was some of the most shocking evidence I’d ever heard in my life, it really was,” McAleer said.
Gosnell was an abortion doctor who regularly delivered babies alive and then cut their spinal cords with scissors, and he kept parts of the fetuses as trophies. He performed illegal abortions beyond Pennsylvania’s 24-week limit under unsafe (“filthy” “very outdated, horrendous”) conditions, leading to the deaths of multiple women. There were photos, harrowing testimonies, and descriptions of the clinic walls literally dripping with blood.
McAleer had covered “dozens, hundred of court cases of crime as a crime correspondent,” but what the evidence he saw in this case was worse.
But shocking as the evidence being presented before him was, it was the rows of empty press benches behind McAleer that drove him into action.
“Gosnell was there sitting in front of me, the five rows behind me were empty benches,” McAleer said. “To leave out this stuff was shocking—that the media was not covering this amazing story. Now, regardless of your opinion of abortion, it’s an amazing, amazing story.”
When McAleer brought this story to McElhinney and Segieda, they balked.
None of them had considered themselves pro-life, and frankly just weren’t interested in the abortion debate.
“If anything, I was very skeptical of pro-lifers, and all the things that they said, claims that they made that I sounded exaggerated, sounded untrue, so I had been very suspicious and skeptical of pro-lifers prior to this story,” McElhinney said.
Delving into the Gosnell case turned out to be tremendously educational: for starters, those images she’d seen pro-life activists cart around, with tiny baby-shaped fetuses being snipped at with scary-looking implements—that’s standard procedure. They started to realize that with the billions of dollars the abortion industry spends on marketing, the public doesn’t actually have a good, scientific understanding of what the abortion process is.
“It shocked me, what I didn’t know as a grown woman,” McElhinney said.
McAleer said the crux of their covering the story was to get the truth out, not enter the abortion debate per se. This was a prolific serial killer who took pleasure in the act of ending lives and keeping parts, and he was only exposed because of a brave rookie cop who ignored the pro-choice administration’s directives to let abortionists operate without scrutiny. It was undeniably a huge learning experience.
“We learned so much about abortion through doing the story. We’re journalists—it’s shocking we didn’t know what we should have known. And you know, Planned Parenthood are geniuses; the establishment’s done a great job in hiding the truth about abortions from Americans,” he said.
Over 30,000 people signed up to give $2.3 million to the Gosnell project in less than two months, and the team created “Gosnell” the movie, and a book of the same title, which sold out just three days after publication.
The two have continued to tell the truth Planned Parenthood has been trying to cover up, being among the very few who covered the lawsuit Planned Parenthood brought against investigative journalist David Daleiden, who exposed their operations of skirting procedures in order to deliver babies in a way where they could harvest and sell their body parts.
Getting Around Gatekeepers
Although “Gosnell” had tremendous interest, a guaranteed built-in audience, no distributor wanted to pick it up.
Kickstarter wouldn’t even let the project be funded on its platform, though it became the most successful crowdfunding venture on Indiegogo.
“There’s all these gatekeepers,” McAleer said. As they’ve done more and more of these misinformation-busting projects, they’ve seen both increased resistance and increased support.
“With ‘Gosnell,’ we’re getting hundreds of emails from people, they’re saying they didn’t know, and they’re angry they didn’t, know, why didn’t anyone tell them,” McAleer said.
It’s taken a lot of work, but they’ve become some of the most successful crowdfunders, and all of their projects are supported by regular news readers who want the truth, who along with their $5 or $10 contribution online, or $25 mailed in check, send messages of heartfelt encouragement and thanks.
“We get a lot of people that turn up again and again for us, on different stories that are very different,” McElhinney said. “We have people turning up because I think they see the need for it.”
While the movie was underway, McAleer tackled Ferguson. The grand jury transcripts told a different story from the one permeating social media, and he wanted to bring the truth to light on stage.
The truth was shocking enough that nine of the actors who had signed up to tell this story read the transcripts, and then walked out.
“When a lot of people saw the ‘Ferguson’ play, they were completely changed and they told me afterwards. Nine of the actors walked out of the ‘Ferguson’ rehearsals—they may not think that changed them, but they got to realize what the truth was, and they didn’t like the truth. It made them think,” McAleer said.
“The narrative was so embedded—’hands up, don’t shoot,'” McElhinney said. “Just try not to believe it when it’s so often repeated, and so much taken up by the cultural elite … To learn that that wasn’t true, to really learn that that wasn’t true from multiple witnesses who gave evidence during the grand jury, testimony under oath, under pain of perjury. They were literally asked to tell the truth and none of them not one—no, he never said ‘don’t shoot.'”
“It’s very powerful, the truth is very powerful, and the telling of lies by journalists is a terrible thing, and the telling of stories that aren’t true is a terrible thing,” McElhinney said.
It’s a sign of dark times that their reputation for telling the truth has made them enemies of influential gatekeepers.
“I think journalists now see themselves as activists rather than truth tellers,” McAleer said. “They’re not curious when a story might challenge their beliefs.”
Despite the challenges, they’re optimistic. “Terminally optimistic,” McElhinney said. “I think something has got to change. Funnily enough, exposing these stories, what we’re doing, I think it does chip away at this problematic journalism that’s going on. It’s going to have to stop. It’s going to have to come into account.”
They’re committed to telling the stories that interest groups are determined to cover up.
McAleer is the kind of journalist who comes up with a hundred story ideas a day, and there are more lies to dismantle than they have the bandwidth for. In order to better communicate with their followers and get stories out there quicker, they started the podcast The Ann and Phelim Scoop.
“I’ve always been interested in podcasts, I originally wanted to do the Gosnell story as a podcast,” McAleer said. “It’s the lack of gatekeepers actually, which is very, very useful.”
On the podcast, they interview guests, review books and movies, comment on the news (“We read The New York Times so you don’t have to,” McElhinney said) and report stories that other media ignore.
“People really appreciate the truth and really appreciate the truth being told,” McAleer said. “There’s plenty more lies out there for us to expose, and we’re going to have fun doing that.”