Montana-based documentary on misinformation, disinformation will get worldwide audience

Most PBS and WORLD stations will carry ‘Trust Me’ on Friday

By: - January 5, 2022 7:37 pm

The film poster of the documentary, “Trust Me” which was produced by Livingston-based Getting Better Foundation (Courtesy of Getting Better Foundation)

If you’re reading this article, it’s likely that this story isn’t directed at you. 


But a Montana organization and film that is winning a pile of awards is going to get a worldwide showing this week, and the documentary aims to make sense of the world of disinformation, misinformation and why news may be so polarizing. And the film’s creators say it’s about media literacy and getting in front of folks who struggle to find good information.

In this case, writing about media literacy and the need for reliable information on an online news site is – to use a cliche – preaching to choir because readers can find reliable information here prepared by career journalists. That’s not the problem; instead, it’s those who don’t find reliable information.

Executive producer and Getting Better Foundation founder Joe Phelps hopes that as more people see the documentary, “Trust Me,” the more will begin to understand the need for more media literacy, more journalists, and also the science behind why misinformation is so appealing and yet so corrosive.

Phelps, a former Los Angeles-based advertising and marketing executive, traded his entire business to start an organization that would focus on good news. Quickly, he realized the problem was much bigger than just hunting down stories with a positive twist. Instead, he found the challenge much more basic: Readers were attracted to polarizing, extreme stories, even if those articles were of dubious origin or credibility. That led him to recalibrate his mission: Re-establishing trust, which will, in turn, re-establish community.

“Journalists are America’s unsung heroes, and they’ve taken a beating, and we have to do something about it,” Phelps said. “People today can name singers or entertainers, but can they give you a name of a scientist or a journalist?”

To see “Trust Me” check your PBS or WORLD broadcasting times locally. Most Montana PBS stations will carry the documentary at 5 p.m., and 10 p.m., Friday, Jan. 7.

The film can be purchased for download at:

More information on the film and the mission of Getting Better by going to:

“When fear goes up, it erodes trust. When people don’t trust each other, they don’t help each other and progress stalls,” information about the documentary states. “Sensational media take advantage of our survival instincts to earn more clicks and more ad revenue with shocking headlines, and we’re enabling them each time we share.”

The film also explores what attracts readers to stories about violence. 

He first got the hint that something was wrong while living in the posh community of Palisades Park, California.

“I’m a pretty upbeat, positive person. And yet, all the people who were around me were talking about how bad crime was or how bad life was,” Phelps said.

He said the reality was much different: His friends were well off and local crime rates had been dropping for years. The economy was full-throttle and his friends had few challenges that beset many people. He wondered: How could people with so much possibly believe they were under attack or living in such an awful place?

Even as early as the 1990s, Phelps had tried to sell the idea of a “good news” show to networks, long before the advent of social media. No one bought it, he said.

“Bad news sells, good news doesn’t,” Phelps said. “We look for things that could hurts versus what is a good story. That is a problem that we have. We, as individuals, have to take the blame for that because we create the demand for the content. If we created the demand for good news, the media would respond.”

Phelps sold his business, and he moved to Livingston. His hope was to produce a documentary that would help lay out the basis for why individuals believe frightening or bad information, and use that as a beginning point to rebuild community once the demons of disinformation had been slayed.

But that wasn’t as easy as it sounded because first he had a more basic problem of getting people to even find or believe credible information. That has led him on a journey to create a documentary that is now being hailed as one of the first feature-length documentaries to tackle the challenge of disinformation and misinformation. Maybe even more surprising is that none of the film was due to events like the Jan. 6 capitol invasion in Washington, D.C. Instead, this documentary has been several years in the making, and it eerily predicted the disastrous consequences of media literacy and misinformation, using examples of how disinformation has disrupted communities across the globe, sometimes with tragic consequences.

“Trust Me”

The film is a feature-length documentary exploring human nature, information technology, and the need for media literacy to help people trust one another.

Director: Roko Belic, who directed the documentary “Happy”

Length: 91 minutes
Release year: 2020

The film includes the story of a lynching in India where villagers in a remote part of the country believe a rumor swirling that men are attempting to kidnap children, luring them with candy. Villagers, who believed they located a car carrying the kidnappers, surrounded it and beat one of two men to death. However, shortly after the incident, authorities revealed the two men were technological engineers who had gone to the countryside for a picnic and only offered the kids candy when they were approached by the youth. 

The villagers said they were just acting because of messages they’d received on social media.

One of the problems, as illustrated by the India story, is that social media moves, changes and reports things so quickly, people only respond in the moment without having time to think, reflect or tease out any misinformation.

“Here’s an easy way to describe it: If crime rates are lower than they’ve ever been, which is happening in many parts of the country, then trust should be as high as it’s ever been, but it’s not. Why?” Phelps asked.

For at least a year, Phelps and Getting Better has worked on media literacy, training teachers, and creating and distributing lesson plans and the film to schools, where it fits nicely into many curricula about media literacy. More than 30,000 teachers have used the materials, which have the backing of the American Libraries Association.

Here are the film festivals that have featured “Trust Me.”

    • Flickers’ Rhode Island Int. Film Festival – Providence, Rhode Island
      WINNER, Best Documentary
    • Montana Int. Film Festival (MINT) – Billings, Montana
      WINNER, Best Documentary
    • IndieFEST Film Awards – La Jolla, California
      WINNER, Best Documentary
    • Portland Film Festival – Portland, Oregon
    • Ojai Film Festival – Ojai, California
    • Lonely Seal Int. Film, Screenplay, and Music Festival – Boston, Massachusetts
    • Ft. Lauderdale Int. Film Festival – Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
    • Mill Valley Film Festival – San Rafael, California
    • Alexandria Film Festival – Alexandria, Virginia
      WINNER, Joe Cantwell Excellence in Documentary Award

This week, the national Public Broadcasting Service and WORLD TV announced they’d be showing the documentary across the world, with most stations picking it up on Friday.

According to most Montana PBS affiliates, the documentary “Trust Me” will air at 5 p.m., and 10 p.m. Friday.

Putting so much of his money toward a project like this worried Phelps at first. Originally, he hoped to put up one-third of the funding, while raising the rest. But he was so anxious to produce it, he bankrolled most of the film.  

“I was originally afraid the movie would be obsolete within a year,” Phelps said. “Now, it will definitely need to be revisited several times.”

The wish, as Phelps describes it, is a change in behavior: For citizens to seek out trusted sources of news, consume good information and then unplug from social media.

“People should spend time to source credible media and then go about their lives,” Phelps said. “If it’s a problem now, it’ll probably never go away, kind of like proper nutrition. You don’t eat vegetables once and then be through it with it. It’s a habit that has to be changed.”

Getting Better Foundation Managing Director Rosemary Smith said there’s a common theme running throughout many issues — from climate change to mental health.

“Each one is rife with disinformation, and media literacy is at the core of each,” Smith said.

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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming.