What Michael Moore did to the Bush administration in “Fahrenheit 9/11,” producer-director Robert Greenwald does to Fox News in “Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism.” Presenting an often repetitive yet generally cohesive examination of the cable news net as an unapologetic propagandist for the Republican cause, this op-ed doc makes persuasive points about media manipulation, political bias and smear-campaign tactics. Distributed on DVD through the Disinformation Web site, the film lacks the accompanying media spotlight that boosted the Moore release and therefore appears unlikely to reach beyond a liberal audience with an already vehement aversion to Fox News’ partisan coverage.
Greenwald’s guerrilla filmmaking methods have enabled him to assemble timely docs like “Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War,” which was promoted and released through alternative avenues involving political orgs such as MoveOn.org, a backer of this project.
Any moves by Fox to discredit this highly damaging doc ultimately may bolster the filmmaker’s success in gaining exposure.
Touching on subjects as current as the John Kerry presidential campaign or the 9/11 commission hearings, the film clearly came together in haste, reflected to an extent in its pedestrian structure.
Notably, the opening and closing provide less than forceful bookends for the stream of more cogent information in between. Some direct dialogue with Fox News and greater comparison with other nets’ coverage also would have made the film more compelling.
One of the main characters, who seems to require little outside help in his demonization, is Bill O’Reilly, host of Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor.”
Arguably the only time Greenwald comes close to the visceral kick of indignation fostered by watching “Fahrenheit 9/11” is in the extended section covering a guest appearance on O’Reilly’s show of Jeremy Glick, an opponent of the war in Iraq whose father died in the Twin Towers attack.
O’Reilly’s handling of his guest — even invoking Glick’s dead father and widowed mother against him — and his follow-up to distort and discredit his guest’s views the next day, will be shocking to viewers uninitiated in the right-wing host’s abusive style.
But while O’Reilly represents the extreme — the rightist yin to Moore’s leftist yang — Greenwald illustrates that Fox News systematically functions as a Republican lobbying group. The filmmaker uses amusing rapid-fire montages to make a mockery of such claims as “We Report, You Decide” and “Fair and Balanced” (the net’s slogans).
Doc also claims the network has fostered an operating style — now being imitated by its competitors — in which cable newsrooms are being downsized as opinionists take precedence over newsgathering and reporting. Fact that this approach is more cost-effective seems not insignificant.
That those opinionists show a relentless bias to the right and a tendency toward negative caricaturing of liberals and Democrats appears to represent no problem for Fox — a fact backed by internal memos and interviews with media analysts and former Fox News producers and contributors.
Some are used anonymously with voice distortion to protect future employment prospects as they describe a “Stalinist monitoring system” under which any line other than the White House line secures a swift company exit. A few more critics like former Fox News reporter Jon Du Pre might have further reinforced the film’s point.
Much has been documented in European media about the political bias and lack of journalistic integrity in coverage on Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s three commercial networks and, since his election to office, on the pubcaster he now indirectly controls. However, criticism of Murdoch’s 4.7 billion worldwide audience reach has been more confined to op-ed pages and forums like Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show.”
Given that, Greenwald’s film provides stimulating evidence of how thoroughly news can be skewed, political agendas served and a climate of fear created by a news net selling itself as an objective information service but in reality offering little distinction between news and commentary.