This article was updated at 9:59 p.m.
NEW YORK — First there was Bush-bashing. Now there’s Fox-flaming.
Fanning the fire ignited by Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11,” documaker Robert Greenwald introduced his Fox News Channel-bashing “Outfoxed” to the media Monday.
Whistleblowers from within the company described the top-rated news cabler’s internal spin machine, which they said skews news in favor of the Bush administration.
The press conference in a meeting room at the Ritz-Carlton in Gotham was packed by journos from major news outlets, including Fox. Fox reps outside the hotel handed out talking points meant to discredit the four ex-Fox staffers on the podium.
“The former low-level Fox employees are hardly worth addressing,” Fox said in a prepared statement. “Some of the ‘sources’ for this documentary never worked for Fox News Channel. Some others left because of incompetence, and none expressed concern about the editorial policy while employees.”
The net called the use of its footage “illegal copyright infringement,” but so far isn’t planning to sue.
Fox News said the real story was that the New York Times cut a deal with the George Soros-backed MoveOn.org to prevent Fox from responding to the allegations in the pic. Greenwald cooperated with a New York Times Magazine story published over the weekend.
“Any news organization that thinks this story is legitimate is opening itself to having its copyrighted material taken out of context for partisan reasons,” Fox warned in its statement.
The doc attempts to hang Fox by its own videotape, juxtaposing moments of supposed spin, including a chummy pre-interview conversation between White House reporter Carl Cameron and President Bush, in which Cameron describes his wife’s gratifying work for the Bush campaign.
Doc includes a montage of Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly telling multiple guests to “shut up!” and Fox reporters peppering descriptions of John Kerry with “flip-flopper” as if it were some companywide conversational tic.
Former CIA officer and paid Fox analyst Larry Johnson said he stopped getting airtime on the net after a segment in which he said the Iraq campaign was “distracting” from the administration’s purported goal of fighting terrorism.
Daily editorial notes described how reports should downplay U.S. casualties in the war and play up the building of schools and spreading of democracy. Former writer David Korb said instructions included orders to refer to U.S. snipers as “sharpshooters,” stop making references to weapons of mass destruction and “keep it positive.”
“We’d get the edicts every day coming down on what you can say and what you can’t say, and God help you if you violated that,” Johnson said.
The notes are dispatched to all staffers.
“If they will put out 100% of their editorial directions and internal memos, Fox News will publish 100% of our editorial directions and internal memos, and let the public decide who is fair. This includes any legitimate cable news network, broadcast network, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post,” Fox said.
But Fox employees came out in force to support their cause.
A PR team handed out bios on former Fox employees, noting two actually worked for Fox affiliate WTTG in Washington, D.C., one worked at Fox for a mere 13 months and another was allowed to leave because he was “a weak field correspondent who could not do live shots.”
In response to questioning, Korb admitted he could not give a specific instance in which his work was altered.
Fox reporter Eric Shawn said in his 15 years at the net, he’d never experienced the kind of spinning the former Fox employees described. He asked Greenwald why Fox wasn’t given a chance to respond to the allegations and how a doc backed by liberal orgs can have credibility on the issue.
Greenwald said he feared a Fox lawsuit would shut down the pic before it saw the light of day. He said even though MoveOn.org volunteers provided research, the orgs backing the pic had no input in the final product.
“My partners, MoveOn.org and the Center for American Progress, never saw one frame of the movie before it was completed,” Greenwald said. Fox, he added, has no trouble getting its point of view onto the airwaves. “Fox is a big organization, and they’re out there with their side 24 hours a day.”
Greenwald said he’s pleased with his distribution strategy of selling the DVD for $9.95 over the Internet and live at MoveOn.org house parties around the country, but wider distribution may be next.
“There may be theatrical, there may be cable,” he said.
Joining Greenwald on the stage was a member of his legal team, intellectual property scholar Lawrence Lessig.
Greenwald said he had not been contacted by Fox lawyers but intended to vigorously defend his right to use Fox footage. “I have the absolute right to use this footage,” he said.