“I’m always interested in the path of corruption,” says the filmmaker who did “Casino Jack” and “The Smartest Guys in the Room.”
Q: When you started to make Casino Jack in 2006, did you imagine that things could actually deteriorate?
Alex Gibney: What Jack represented was really just an exaggeration of business as usual. It’s systemic. With Citizens United, the situation has gotten much, much worse.
Q: You never interviewed Abramoff on camera, but you talked to him in person in prison. What was that exchange like?
Gibney: It was fascinating. He was a charming guy, a good storyteller, and a big movie buff. But he’s also very insightful, from the point of view of how to manipulate the government. From Jack’s perspective, it was all about relationships, getting young staffers from key members of Congress who were important to your success. But it was always coupled with the money and the favors. Jack admits that he did stuff that was wrong. He seemed quite sincere about it; he felt he had crossed a line. But he felt scapegoated because when he was king of the Hill, everybody wanted to know him, since he could dispense enormous amounts of money. But when he got caught, suddenly nobody knew him.
Q: Did your own thoughts about how to reform the system change over the course of making this film?
Gibney: When I first started making the film I thought the problem was lobbyists, but now I don’t think lobbyists are the main problem. The problem really is campaign finance and the revolving door. Right now, the career path in Washington is not about serving the country; it’s about serving the country for a brief period so you can cash in on K Street, and that’s a pretty terrible model of government. It’s a free market of money, and the ideas that seem to be most persuasive are the ones attached to the biggest amount of cash.
A hidden goal in this film is to undermine the notion that the market lies at the root of every human relationship, and is the only value worth following. If what we want is a truly free market, why should we care if Tom DeLay says what you buy is what you get? But if we want equality of opportunity, then, no, that’s not fine.
Q: How does Casino Jack relate to Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room?
Gibney: With Casino Jack, you have political corruption as opposed to economic corruption; it’s a different kind of problem. What’s interesting to me and similar to Enron is that the Enron people were very ideological. They had a sort of agenda, and they felt they were pure-hearted warriors. But that idea leads quickly to corruption because the ends justified the means. You can cook your books because Enron is a force of good. Same thing with Jack and his cronies, because after all what you’re seeking is good and true, so again the ends justify the means. I’m always interested in the path of corruption because ultimately it’s about deception.
This is an excerpt from the interview with Alex Gibney in the August issue of The Progressive. To read the entire interview,please subscribe for only $14.97. That’s 68% off the newsstand price!