Saturday, July 31, 2004

Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's war on Journalism

Outfoxed is Robert Greenwald's latest political documentary. He is the director of two previous documentaries, Uncovered: the Whole Truth about the Iraq War, and Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election. As a documentary maker he has a clear agenda, but that doesn't stop his work from being fairly presented.

Outfoxed covers the Fox News network (http://www.foxnews.com/), and their clear agenda that marches in step with the Republican "conservative" agenda.

Like Uncovered there is an "A" and "B" story-line. The "A" storyline in Outfoxed is various media watchdogs like Peter Hart (FAIR), David Brock (Republican Noise Machine), and Eric Alterman (http://www.alternet.org/). These watchdogs are talking about Fox News, presenting their view of what Fox News is doing. The "B" storyline is to present clips from Fox News broadcasts. The two storylines are played off against each other, with clips selected to elaborate the points made by the watchdogs being interviewed.

The thrust of the story is that Fox News is anything but "Fair and Balanced" as they so loudly proclaim. Quite the opposite, and in fact that Fox News is extremely unbalanced, unfair, politically slanted in their news coverage towards the Republican sourced agenda, and often their commentators are lying.

I do not know about this myself, because I do not watch television (except for brief snippets that can't be avoided due to the ubiquitous presence of television). The clips shown in Outfoxed are truly outrageous, however.

For example the most common image shown is Bill O'Reilly (bill.oreilly@foxnews.com) shouting "SHUT UP" at guest after guest. In one segment they show O'Reilly being interviewed and saying "I've only used that 'Shut Up' line once" immediately after which is shown clip after clip after clip with Bill O'Reilly shouting SHUT UP or CUT OFF HIS MICROPHONE. Later in the documentary Al Franken characterizes Bill O'Reilly as a habitual liar. In the process of demeaning and abusing his guests it is clear, again just from watching these clips, that his style is to have a pre-determined selection of "truth" and to be on a witch-hunt determined to stomp out anything that is against that "truth". And they have the audacity to call themselves "Fair and Balanced"?

All in all this is a very well done documentary. The news media in the United States has been conglomeratized to the point where only 5 corporations own the vast majority of the media outlets. The problem is not just with Fox News, but the entire news and information system. There is a well known concentration of the power and ability to inform the populace into an ever shrinking circle of ownership.

The American style of Democracy relies on a well informed populace who can make the decisions of Democracy. Yet, one of the striking statistics shown during the documentary contrasted viewers of Fox News versus NPR or PBS viewers. Several questions were asked such as whether there are proven links between al Qaeda and the Iraq regime (before the U.S. invasion and toppling of that regime). Now, clearly there is no such connection, however Fox News viewers overwhelmingly said there is a connection, while NPR/PBS viewers overwhelmingly said there is no such connection.

Clearly having such a misinformed populace is a threat to America's Democratic system.

Over and over in the documentary, it is claimed that the tone and content of the "news" presented on Fox News is selected by management on a daily basis in memo's sent to the staff. That the tone and content is purposely selected to favor the Republicans and to slander the Democrats. That any Fox News journalist who dares stray from that party line runs the risk of being fired and their career ruined. That the tone and content just so happens to mirror the daily chosen talking points put forward by the Republican party itself, and that the Republican party daily message is parroted word-for-word by the Fox News staff.

No wonder the American populace is so malinformed. At least those who watch Fox, that is. As a listener to NPR (for over 20 years) I am glad to be among the informed populace.

To be fair here, Rupert Murdoch, the mogul leading the news empire that contains Fox News, is really an Australian. In other countries, such as Australia, the news media is expected to be slanted. At the same time there are multiple news organizations, each with their own slant. So the informed public in those countries are free to ingest their news from multiple sources, and the public can then make up their own mind. Perhaps Murdoch just doesn't understand the American preference for unbiased journalism?

Outfoxed isn't just a documentary, it is also a call to action. One of the actions we are called to is to, ourselves, find multiple sources of news and information. Why should we rely on those 5 mega-corporations to feed us schlock? There are plenty of news organizations with other points of view.

Part of the Outfoxed staff has kept up their watchdog role closely tracking Fox News's behavior. You can keep up with them here:

News Hounds: We watch Fox so you don't have to (http://www.newshounds.us/)

In addition they have two web sites full of recommendations of actions and activism we citizens can take. For example, if you see something egregious on a news program, to write a letter to the station you saw it on. Or to contact an FCC commissioner.

Outfoxed: next steps. You've seen the film. You know the story. Now it's time to fight back. (http://freepress.net/outfoxed/)

Free Press is a non-profit organization working to involve the public in media policymaking and to craft policies for a more democratic media system. (http://mediareform.net/)

This country is lost only if Americans continue being complacent in regard to defending this country.

I remember hearing that one or more of the Founding Fathers of America felt that there ought to be a revolution every 20 years or so, because otherwise the powerful will become too entrenched. In our day the powerful have become very entrenched (for example, George W Bush is the third generation of his family to hold high political office, Al Gore's family has a similar history, as does John Kerry's family). Entrenched power often doesn't understand the real needs and desires of the people. That disconnect is, I believe, at the heart of the problems facing the United States of America today.