VICE News has created a niche in the world of media by exploring offbeat stories in remote corners of the earth. The program has evolved into an influential media giant for young audiences yet continues to cover topics that remain obscure to most of the Western population. However, in this week’s episode, it dives into a problem at the forefront of global communication: fake news.
This week’s episode is titled “Post-Truth News and Microbiome.” The first 17 minutes of the episode chronicle the evolution of the term “fake news” and focus on President Donald Trump’s distrust of the media. VICE’s correspondent, Isobel Yeung, meets with advocates from both sides of the debate on fake news and alternative facts, which ensued following the election of Trump in 2016. She spends time with a pro-Trump journalist, asking him thoughtful questions about the implications of his reporting. Yeung also meets with Eugene Yi of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab to quantitatively understand the connection between the media and the Twitter-driven politics of the 2016 presidential election.
VICE uses a creative filmmaking style, with the documentaries being divided into two 15-minute segments. These relatively quick segments have both their advantages and disadvantages: They are short enough to maintain the audience’s interest but struggle to fully tackle all the questions associated with the subject matter. Especially given the scope of the subject matter in question — fake news — these segments should have been more fleshed out, as they tend to leave viewers feeling as though they are missing pieces of the puzzle.
In its second half, the show jumps across the globe to the Central African Republic. The segment follows developments in antibiotic technology and the study of human microbiomes that regulate the immune system and food digestion. Correspondent Thomas Morton travels to the CAR to better understand the benefits of microbiome diversity in combating infections and superbugs.
This portion of the episode has the potential to be extremely confusing given how the scientific subject matter is packed into such a short amount of time. However, both Morton and the scientists use plain language to explain the technical aspects of their analysis. Ultimately, the segment does a fantastic job of presenting both professional opinions from respected figures in science and medicine and testimonies from people in the United States undergoing experimental treatment to repopulate their microbiomes.
VICE also interviews citizens of the CAR to understand their forms of medicine and healing. It is compelling to listen to their stories and experiences and learn about their way of life, which so directly contrasts with ours. The episode’s brevity works well for this segment, as a longer piece would be technically denser and harder to digest for the average viewer. The length of the segment helps VICE to include only the most important information. Not only does the program successfully present the information in an understandable way, but it focuses on the human narratives connected to the scientific developments, which helps make viewers more invested in watching.
VICE has carved out a commanding place in the world of media by expanding and evolving to talk about issues crowding social media feeds but also by staying true to its roots in covering stories off the beaten path. This week’s episode captures both sides and the full range that VICE has achieved in its diversity of stories, and may be the highlight of its season.
“Post-Truth News and Microbiome” airs tonight at 10:30 p.m. EDT on HBO.