Despite my once having appeared on FOX News Radio as a guest on Alan Colmes’ show debating the FOX Movie Channel’s banning of Charlie Chan films, I confess to only a minimal firsthand knowledge of FOX TV’s news coverage prior to watching Robert Greenwald’s Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism.
Oh, sure, I knew that the network’s claims not just of being “fair and balanced,” but of owning all national, international and perhaps even interstellar rights to that phrase were, perhaps, a little dubious. And I knew, if only secondhand, that FOX News was supposed to be skewed to the right, and that its TV anchors and talk-show personalities were unabashedly conservative — and that all of this “fair and balanced” business was in the great tradition of calling a thing something it isn’t in an effort to sway public opinion.
Well, here I am some 78 minutes later — sadder and wiser, and with my FOX News virginity now a thing of the past. I’m not so much disheartened by this film’s depiction of news-media abuse, because I fully expected to see examples of that (if maybe not in such volume). No, I was saddened — and disturbed — by the idea of something as important as the media, and not just the news portion of it, increasingly becoming the sole province of a very small, very select group of people.
This isn’t strictly a left-right issue, and it goes far beyond FOX owner Rupert Murdoch’s notoriously heavy-handed approach to media. What’s at stake here is far broader than that: Look around you and see how precious few independently owned-and-operated TV and radio stations, and even newspapers, still exist. The others all answer to a corporation that ultimately calls the shots on what is — and, more significantly, is not — reported and covered. And at heart, Outfoxed deals with that subject far more than it does Murdoch and his FOX network.
Greenwald’s documentary is certainly liberally slanted and is just as certainly anti-Murdoch and anti-FOX (and, by extension, anti-Bush). This is no Michael Moore documentary; Greenwald doesn’t put himself into the material and the tone is never playful. Outfoxed sets out to enrage the viewer — and where it will most likely succeed in this regard comes via indicting the FOX network with its own programming.
The “fair and balanced” reporting comes off here, as one pundit puts it, “completely consistent with the agenda of the Bush administration,” while polls are cited showing that viewers most likely to watch FOX News are the same ones most likely to misinterpret world events (for instance, those FOX viewers polled are far more likely to believe that the U.S. actually found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq).
We also get scenes of newsman Bill O’Reilly browbeating a guest, and claiming in interviews that he’s only once ever told someone on his show to shut up (then being shown to have done so repeatedly in subsequent FOX News clips). When that much-abused O’Reilly guest later asks liberal author/commentator Al Franken if he can sue O’Reilly after subsequent FOX programs twist what the guest actually said on air into something else entirely, Franken is told by legal advisers that he probably cannot. Why? Because the former guest will have to prove that O’Reilly knows he’s lying — and with such a loose cannon as O’Reilly, that’s probably impossible.
We’re told that FOX News intends on labeling anyone who disagrees with the war on Iraq as an “enemy of the state.” Even venerable elder-statesman news anchor Walter Cronkite is apparently shocked by the network’s coverage, saying he’s never heard of a news organization using such tactics before. Outfoxed is thus potentially quite chilling, even maddening, which is exactly what it intends to be, of course. And owing to the film’s obvious agenda to incite outrage, viewers should remember that Outfoxed itself is quite slanted. But then, it never claims to be otherwise — something the film vividly suggests cannot be said of its target.
Despite Outfoxed being about as different from Moore’s Fahrenheit 911 as possible, the two films do share one constant (no, I don’t mean a liberal bent). In both cases, the movies work due to the power of accumulation. Neither 911 nor Outfoxed may tell you much that you don’t already know, but seeing all this material marshaled together in the space of less than two hours gives it a power far beyond what it could ever hold when encountered in bits and pieces over months, even years.
The point that Outfoxed ultimately makes (beyond that of increasing media conglomeration) is that other news programs and networks are now following FOX’s lead. And not because they agree with the FOX approach necessarily, but because that approach draws in viewers, thus boosting ratings numbers and, of course, profits. We’re ultimately reminded that the news business is just that: a business.
Outfoxed is powerful stuff, and deserves to be seen — by both sides of the political spectrum.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke
[Liberals and conservatives alike have but one chance to see Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism at the Fine Arts Theatre, Thursday, Sept. 16, at 9:30 p.m.]