Docmaker Robert Greenwald has an ax to grind with Fox News Channel, but the cable news net may be holding the scissors.
At a press conference in Gotham today, Greenwald will tout his new documentary slamming Fox News for having a persistent Republican bias and for slanting the news on the U.S. war in Iraq.
The hitch for Greenwald and potential distributors, however, is that the doc, “Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism,” uses Fox News footage without permission from the news net.
“Outfoxed” relies in part on internal Fox News editorial memos. One memo dispatched this spring suggested that U.S. casualties not be stressed when reporting on Iraq.
Greenwald, who featured Fox News footage without securing permission, said the news net hasn’t tried to block the film in court.
The doc also features several former Fox News employees, along with a litany of media commentators, including Walter Cronkite. Some are decidedly liberal and anti-Fox News, such as Al Franken.
With Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” continuing to break box office records for docs, films like Greenwald’s suddenly have a chance for greater visibility. But it’s still unclear what sort of theatrical or television distribution path “Outfoxed” may take. Any and all plans could be scuttled if Fox News claims copyright infringement.
Fox News has not issued an official statement on “Outfoxed.” As a general rule, execs suggested that the news org doesn’t go after people using footage without the proper clearance.
Like his other recent film, “Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War,” Greenwald is using alternate distribution routes, meaning people who want to see “Outfoxed” can buy it online for $9.95 or somehow get an invitation to one of 2,000 screenings planned in private homes around the country.
After screening at the Cannes Film Festival, “Uncovered” generated enough buzz to land a cable TV deal with Sundance Channel and a theatrical distrib deal with Cinema Libre.
MoveOn.org and the Center for American Progress, which helped finance “Outfoxed,” are throwing an official screening Tuesday night in New York along with today’s press conference. Another such screening is planned for L.A. next Monday with Howard Dean.
On Sunday, Greenwald planned to post online some of the editorial memos featured in his film and written by Fox News senior veep for news John Moody.
“The memos are very specific. I would really compare them to the message-of-the-day memos that are sent out by the political campaigns,” said Clara Frenk, one of the former staffers who appears in Greenwald’s film. She worked as a booker and producer in Fox News’ Washington bureau in 1998 and 1999. Previously, she worked in ABC News’ Washington office. In 1992, she worked several months for the Clinton campaign.
In April, Moody sent a memo discussing Iraq coverage: “Do not fall into the easy trap of mourning the loss of U.S. lives and asking out loud why are we there?”
In another memo talking about the war-torn Iraqi city of Fallujah, Moody wrote, “It won’t be long before some people start to decry the use of ‘excessive force.’ We won’t be among that group.”
On the controversial subject of President Bush’s judicial nominees, Moody reminded staffers earlier this year that some nominees were being blocked because of their “POSSIBLE” views on abortion. “This should be a trademark issue for FNC today and in the days to come,” Moody wrote.
Fox News, the No. 1 cable news channel, insists it is not biased and says Moody is in no way trying to slant coverage. Net execs say Greenwald never provided them a chance to respond and address his concerns.
The cable newsie has long maintained that it is a voice of reason in a sea otherwise filled with liberal and leftist journalists. Hence, its monikers: “fair and balanced” and “we report, you decide.”
“What ought to be the wakeup call here is that if it wasn’t clear before, Rupert Murdoch can press a button and watch his political whims and impulses become front-page stories or network ‘news,’ ” former Clinton aide and Center for American prexy-CEO John Podesta said.
Podesta was referring to reports it was Murdoch who fed a tip to the New York Post last week that resulted in a front-page story proclaiming Richard Gephardt would be John Kerry’s pick for vice president.
Fox News says that Greenwald hasn’t been playing fair, nor have some of the people doing stories on Greenwald’s “Outfoxed,” referring specifically to a New York Times Magazine piece appearing Sunday.
According to Fox, the author of the piece, Robert Boynton, gave the news net only 24 hours to comment.
Boynton, who teaches journalism at New York U, told the Washington Post that he did agree to Greenwald’s request that he not contact Fox News too early because Greenwald was concerned that Fox would seek an injunction. Boynton said he gave Fox News enough time to respond, and that he first made contact three days before his deadline.
A Fox News spokeswoman said it was wrong for Boynton — and the New York Times — to make any agreement with Greenwald.