Recently I watched a documentary which I am afraid is hilarious for all the wrong reasons. It’s called Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism, and as far as analysis goes, I really don’t even know where to begin. For a while I honestly felt as though I were watching a parody of a real documentary, as many of the arguments made seemed to work against, as opposed to validating, the central theses. For example, in one scene we are shown footage of popular Fox anchor Bill O’Reilly declaring that he had instructed a guest to shut up only once in six years, and then in the next scene we are given a series of sequences in which O’Reilly uses the words “shut up.” Now I suppose the purpose of this was to expose O’Reilly as a liar, but in fact it works in his favor if we are to believe that these were the only damning bits of footage that the Outfoxed volunteers could dig up. In one sequence, O’Reilly suggests that a guest shut up about his sex life; in another sequence he is cut off right after the word “up,” so we don’t know the context of his words; in yet another scene he tells Al Franken to shut up, but that was at the Book Expo, and not on the O’Reilly Factor. Only once do we actually see footage of Bill O’Reilly telling a guest on his program to shut up as a means of bringing about silence. I couldn’t help but laugh. These Fox haters are truly desperate.
Outfoxed is the product of Robert Greenwald, a documentarian not exactly known for his admiration of the Republican Party. In fact, the film is just brimming with cynicism regarding President Bush, the war in Iraq, and the Republican Party in general. One scene actually condemns Fox for preempting news with a Ronald Reagan tribute. The nerve of those right-wing hacks! So clearly Robert Greenwald is not exactly a beacon of objectivity, nor are the disgruntled former employees (some of whom remain anonymous and are of doubtful authenticity) or “experts” interviewed in the film. Who are the “experts?” Employees of FAIR and Media Matters For America, or as I like to call them, Left and Lefter. Remember Media Matters? Yes, it’s the same Media Matters that has been trying to get Rush Limbaugh taken off the air in Iraq. And for heaven’s sake, FAIR is a screaming orgasm of hypocrisy! I remember visiting their website a while back and finding a headline that read something to the extent of, “Fox Fails the Fair and Balanced Test.” Fox fails the fair and balanced test? Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! Mind you, this is coming from FAIR, “Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting,” one of the biggest left-wing watchdog groups in America! Let me say it again: Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting! At least Fox offers a voice to all sides of an argument, whereas the so-called FAIR is all left, all the time. Don’t believe me? Just visit their website, www.fair.org, any day of the week, and glimpse over the headlines.
Now let’s get back to the analysis of Bill O’Reilly for a moment, since the filmmakers have a particularly strong vendetta against him. To advance their argument that the network, and certainly O’Reilly, leans far to the right, they play a five-second scene in which O’Reilly speaks unfavorably about recent actions taken by former president Jimmy Carter. Now this brief sequence, with no context, is supposed to serve as irrefragable proof of the Fox and O’Reilly bias. Of course they don’t mention the fact that in his book The O’Reilly Factor, O’Reilly speaks quite favorably of President Carter, and praises him for his humanitarian efforts even while criticizing Ronald Reagan. In fact, O’Reilly often praises liberal democrats on his program, but of course it would be counter-productive for Greenwald to have included these facts in his smear film. Perhaps it’s best for the Fox haters to just live with their delusions. I guess they have to vent their rage somewhere.
Not surprisingly, the film spends a great deal of time analyzing the now-infamous Jeremy Glick debacle. Jeremy Glick is the son of a man who perished in one of the twin towers on 9/11, Shortly after the fact, the young Glick appeared on the Factor to discuss his anti-Bush activism inspired by his personal tragedy, and not long into the interview, a shouting match ensues between O’Reilly and himself. O’Reilly’s detractors frequently refer to this confrontation; for instance, Al Franken devotes several pages to it in his screed Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them (for more on that, visit my website, http://planetfranken.tripod.com/). There is no question that O’Reilly is a very aggressive interviewer, but the thesis of the filmmakers in this situation is that he is hostile to anybody who disagrees with his point of view. Any fair-minded person who actually watches the Factor knows that this is absurd, as O’Reilly has conducted civilized interviews with the most notorious of liberals, including but certainly not limited to Michael Moore, Molly Ivins and Alec Baldwin. The problem with Glick was that he persistently blamed America for the unbelievable tragedy in New York. In most cases, O’Reilly goes out of his way to be fair and objective, but don’t try to convince Mr. Greenwald of this, nor our friends at Media Matters and FAIR. As Larry Elder says ever so eloquently, “Facts to a liberal are like kryptonite to Superman.”
Then there are those infamous memos waved about early in the film. This is another hilarious example of the filmmakers shooting themselves in the foot by refuting their own arguments. Apparently the memos, written to direct the newsmakers and somehow seized by Greenwald’s team, are supposed to serve as further proof of Fox’s right-wing ties, but I fail to see how a couple of memos about headline emphasis validates the existence of a conspiracy. Every news organization has to decide how it is going to approach the news, and what stories it will lead with, devote the most time to, and omit for the sake of time and importance. If I may quote Larry Elder once again, “What a newspaper prints and what a television newscast runs is, by definition, subjective. What is news? In the end, news is what news gatherers say it is.” I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. These Fox haters are desperate.
Some of the absurdities in this film have to be seen to be believed, but I’ll try to describe a few. First, there is the paranoid delusion that Fox anchors begin sentences with the words “some people say...” when they want to express an opinion while appearing objective. The speaker in this case even admits that all news anchors use these words in their broadcasts, but somehow with Fox it’s different. How? Don’t ask me. Where’s the proof? Certainly not in this documentary. So what’s the deal? I wish I could say. The whole sequence is ridiculous beyond comprehension. Then there is the scandalous bombshell about Carl Cameron having been a Fox News correspondent while his wife served with the 2000 Bush Campaign. The filmmakers were particularly outraged about this. Never mind the fact that CNN contributer James Carville has worked for many prominent Democrats including former President Bill Clinton, and served as an advisor to the Kerry campaign even as Outfoxed was being produced. Oh, and his wife Mary Matalin also worked for the Bush Campaign, but again, I didn’t find any references to these “scandals” in the Greenwald documentary. Talk about cherry-picking information.
And so how does Outfoxed deal with Fox’s liberal anchors and contributers? Well, by insulting them, disregarding them, and ultimately dismissing them. Fox News Correspondent Susan Estrich is passed off as being a weak liberal, regardless of the fact that she worked for Michael Dukakis, one of the most liberal presidential candidates this country has seen. Likewise, liberal anchor Alan Colmes is described as being a “squirrely-looking guy,” as opposed to his handsome, dashing counterpart Sean Hannity, but Colmes wasn’t even selected by the Fox Network. He was suggested by Hannity himself, as the two already had a close relationship. And let’s be honest: if looks were a prerequisite for representing the conservative image on Fox, Bill O’Reilly and Brit Hume would have been laid to rest long ago. And so the paranoid delusions continue.
I was fascinated by the claim that liberal guests and contributers on Fox must be careful, because if they become too aggressive they will quickly be replaced. Whoever thought that of that whopper has apparently never seen any of the showdowns between Sean Hannity and Robert Kennedy Jr. Here’s another interesting tidbit. One of the film’s great ironies is how it starts off by accusing Fox of painting a false picture of the situation in Iraq by emphasizing the progress made (as though it were a crime to point out some of the good that is being achieved), but ends by accusing Fox of being a network of fear. So then is Fox too idealistic or too melodramatic? According to the filmmakers, whatever suits the Right at a given moment. Al Franken has called Fox a tool of the Bush administration, and that seems to be the consensus among those interviewed in this film, but if that’s true, then why was Fox the first network to break the story about Bush’s criminal record. If I were operating a network for the Bush administration, I certainly would not hire people like Bob Beckel (aggressive Democratic strategist, former Mondale campaign advisor) and Susan Estrich (who even shut O’Reilly’s mouth at the Democratic Convention) to offer commentary.
I want to conclude by saying that I do believe Fox leans to the right, particularly in its editorials. Let me elaborate. I do not believe that it is a “right-wing network,” because it is does offer perspective from all sides, which is why I agree with the ‘Fair and Balanced’ motto. Air America is a left-wing network because it is admittedly one-sided, and that’s fine, but to liken a right-leaning network to a left-wing network would be unfair and inaccurate (not that the filmmakers care). CNN is a left-leaning network, but I don’t see Robert Greenwald using his time to expose the details of the Tailwind scandal, in which CNN reported a bogus story about Americans using chemical weapons in Cambodia during the Vietnam War, and I have a feeling that Mr. Greenwald won’t be investigating CBS News and Dan Rather any time in the near future. When you really get down to it, Outfoxed is nothing more than a sad, amateur hack-job that seeks to create a distorted picture through carefully-selected interviews and methodically cut-and-pasted footage. It’s hard to imagine how any logical person can take it seriously, given the sophomoric way in which it was produced, but I suppose the only people to whom it will appeal are those who have already made up their minds that Fox is the antichrist of cable TV, and of course people like me who are looking for a good laugh. There is so much more I can say about this film: about how it’s claim that 83% of Fox guests are conservative is false and ridiculous, about how Alan Colmes’s place as the first person hired to Fox News Radio refutes basically every charge in the film, about how Robert Greenwald’s other documentaries reveal fascinating insight about a much deeper political agenda on his part, but I think I have rambled on long enough, and besides, a wise sage once said, “Facts to a liberal are like kryptonite to Superman.”