Movie Reviews

Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism (2004) – Where Have All The Real Reporters Gone? Not to Fox News, That’s For Sure!

Directed by Robert Greenwald

How ironic, is it, that Colin Powell was seen on television calling into question the Ukrainian election results. The cries of fraud ring particularly hollow since the main reasoning for this seems to be that the results do not match what the exit polls were showing. Sort of like the elections in this country. I guess exit polls in the Ukraine are more accurate than here? Yet I have yet to hear anyone call him out on this fact.

Such is the state of journalism in the good ‘ol U.S.A. nowadays. Into this current, often surreal climate, enters a scathing documentary Outfoxed co-financed by and the Center for American Progress. I was reluctant to watch it as I had recently also viewed The Hunting of the President, which I wasn’t a big fan of (not because of what was said – I just thought it was boring – maybe I’ll write up that review soon). However, Outfoxed is a much better documentary, detailing the very obvious bias of a network that purports to be “fair and balanced”.

The documentary is primarily filled with interviews with former Fox news correspondents, consultants, producers, and executives as well as those who worked at the first TV station Rupert Murdoch owned. Many of these people spoke on the record while some spoke anonymously about the directives received on the news each day, controlling what they were reporting on and what they were saying as they reported.

Aside from the interviews, there is a lot of original footage from Fox News broadcasts and shows. These clips show how people like Bill O’Reilly outright lie by showing exactly what they say. In one instance he answers a viewer’s complaints that he’s setting a bad example by saying “Shut up” all the time by stating he’s only said it once in six years. A barrage of clips is then shown – he’s said it A LOT more times than once in six years. Also brought up is the case of Jeremy Glick who was directly impacted by 9/11 – he lost his father – who O’Reilly brought on the show and then proceeded to more than hold his own against O’Reilly. When this happened, O’Reilly resorted to trying to shame him by bringing up his parents as if they would be ashamed of his action, when O’Reilly has no idea of their politics, then has his mike cut. He can’t hold his own in an honest debate. The footage is stunning as O’Reilly twists and misrepresents what was said (the actual footage is here) trying to discredit Glick both during and after his appearance on the show.

Correspondents and media commentators like David Brock, Peter Hart, Steven Randall, and James Wolcott weigh in talking about how reporters on Fox News blur the line between commentary and reporting. There’s no conscience in the reporters about what is right and wrong – it’s just about promoting their careers and advancing the Republican Party and ideals. When consultants didn’t toe the line in saying what they were expected to say, such as in the case of CIA officer Larry Johnson who dared suggest that fighting a war in Afghanistan and Iraq at the same time wouldn’t be a good idea, they were jettisoned.

The film also shows how Fox News went after Richard Clarke because they knew what he was saying would be damaging to the Bush Administration. He worked in the White House, and he has no problem revealing how the White House has employed all of these people who make sure all of the Conservative talk show hosts, radio commentators, and columnists are saying the same thing; repeating the same talking points.

Jon Du Pre, a former Fox News anchor, provides a lot of detailed information. In particular, I found his story of how he was suspended because he was covering former President Reagan’s birthday celebration at the Reagan Library. Well, the problem was there was no real celebration at the library. Du Pre did the best with what he had, but he ended up being suspended because his coverage wasn’t “celebratory” enough.

Think “oh well, there’s a balance on other stations”? Think again. Jeff Cohen, former MSNBC and Fox News contributor, talks about the changes that went on at MSNBC in the time he was there as it too began copying the Fox formula and having a conservative bias and only showing that point of view without any counter-programming to what Fox News is showing. In this segment, Outfoxed takes a swipe at the “news business” in general.

Unlike The Hunting of the President, I found this documentary to be quite watchable. In fact, I watched it twice, the second time to better fill in the notes I’d taken the first time through when I was totally engrossed in the message. This despite the fact that there were no real surprises here about Fox News for me. Producer and director Robert Greenwald has paced the film very well, keeping my attention riveted on the footage. There was no time when I felt the documentary bogged down. When I had to stop watching for a moment or two, I made sure to pause it so I could see every moment of it.

The one complaint I have here is the same one I have with Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. It makes it look like Fox News was almost single-handedly responsible for changing the direction of the 2000 election toward Bush. While I don’t doubt that the fact that George Bush’s cousin, John Ellis, was the person in charge of Fox’s election analysis if Florida hadn’t been as messed up as it was, no matter what John Ellis and Fox News said, it wouldn’t have happened.

Other specific charges levied:

• Talk about the use of “Some people say…” when no one has said it.
• Lack of sources for material covered
• Use of the American flag as a network icon
• Only bringing on an opposing point of view when they are fairly unknown and can’t make a strong argument
• Bring on Republicans for interviews in a 5 to 1 ratio over Democrats for one on one commentary
• When Democrats are brought on, more often than not it’s to sing the praises of something the Bush Administration did
• Reporters admonished for asking tough questions of Republicans

As if that’s not scary enough, the effect of misinformation disseminated by Fox News on the viewer:

• Fox News viewers were three times more likely to think that weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq than people who watch NPR or PBS
• Fox News viewers were seven times more likely to think world opinion favored the U.S. invasion of Iraq than viewers of NPR or PBS
• Fox News viewers are four times more likely to believe the U.S. has found links between Iraq and al-Qaeda (before we invaded, that is)

Bob McChesney, author of The Problem of the Media sums it up best: The more people consume this media (Fox News) the less they’ll know about the subject and the more they’ll support government policy. That’s the worst thing any journalist should want to hear…

Bonus Material:

Behind the Scenes featurette
Trailer for Uncovered: The Movie
Combined trailer for Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election, Uncovered: The War on Iraq, and Unconstitutional: The War on Our Civil Liberties

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