Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism
Produced/Directed by: Robert Greenwald
Publisher: The Disinformation Company
I picked up this surprisingly cheap DVD in, fittingly enough, downtown Berkeley, California today. After watching it, I have to say, like any good political movie, I feel I'm mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take it any more! The movie is really just a long series of cut up interviews with former FOX News Channel (FNC) employees, journalists, one acting senator, and (for better or worse) Al Franken, spliced together with clips from FNC broadcasts. While some parts of the film are comical, such as the long series of clips of Bill O'Reilly telling people to "shut up" as only he can, it's obvious that Outfoxed isn't edutainment like Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine.
So, full disclosure time: I'm a liberal. I believe in saving the environment, limiting corporate power, the freedom to choose, and so on. I have marched in protest of the current war in Iraq. However, many of my college friends were conservatives, so I also know that conservatives really do want to make the world a better place, not just for themselves, but for everyone. Indeed, I believe that liberals and conservatives need each other in order for real progress to occur.
So, that said, here's what bothers me about Outfoxed:
- Statistics: Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics, indeed. There are a few cases where we see statistics showing the percentage of FNC viewers agreed with statements like "We found WMDs in Iraq" and "The international community generally supports the war in Iraq" is significantly higher than other people's. The problem is that the "other people" here are those who got their news from National Public Radio (NPR), or PBS. NPR, of course, is often considered to be generally left-wing in its coverage. Now, while this does make the difference far more pronounced than it might be if we were comparing against, say, people who get their news from ABC/NBC/CBS, it makes the data more suspect, and easier to argue against.
- Al Franken: Not the only staffer of Air America that speaks in Outfoxed, but Franken provides little except for color commentary, and he's sort of a polorizing figure, like Rush Limbaugh or Michael Moore. You see him, and you've already formed your opinion of whatever it is he has to say before it's even said. Outfoxed says almost nothing about Franken's own fight against FNC, and on the whole, the film doesn't really need him.
- The end of the film: The very end of Outfoxed suddenly shifts to a call to action, by which I mean there's a title card that comes up with the words "A call to Action" on it, and then the talking heads start dispensing information on things you can do to make the world a better place by sticking it to Rupert Murdoch. While I get at what Greenwald is trying to say here, this section feels really tacked on, and not very motivational. None of the call is terribly specific. It's more of a "if you see something you don't like, you should get up and do something about it, because you can, you know" sort of call. And while it's true that the American public has something of a reputation for political apathy, it's for that very reason that Greenwald needs to be as specific as possible. He needs to say, "If you don't like what FOX is doing go to this web address and sign our petition to have Murdoch hung upside down from a magnolia tree so children can taunt him with sticks," or something very much like it.
On the other hand, here's what Outfoxed did really well:
- Jeremy Glick: This is the real heartstrings moment of the documentary. Jeremy Glick's father was killed in the 9/11 terror attacks, but he opposed the war, and publicly signed a document condemning it. Bill O'Reilly just rips into him, and doesn't let him finish any sentences, as is his wont. The things he says to this kid just make you want to punch O'Reilly in the face.
- The blurred edges between editorial and reporting: This is something I listen for when I listen to NPR news, and in my opinion, I'm pretty good at catching it, but FNC really takes my breath away. Of course, Outfoxed shows several of these incredibly partisen statements back-to-back, which exaggerates the effect, but still. Even though I know that FNC is right-leaning, watching this was a gut-wrenching experience.
Now, as it would happen, on the same day I bought this DVD, I also bought We the Media, a book about the future of journalism after the advent of the blog. News bias is more acceptable in the blogsphere because blogs are more like a conversation than they are a broadcast. If you disagree with a poster, you can usually just type in your response (and, unless you're completely uncouth, it will usually stay there) for all the world to see. Thus, the problem with FNC is not that it is biased, but that it is so totally opposed to dialogue. All the positive reviews of Farenheit 9/11 in the world cannot make a channel either fair or balanced when it does not champion the spirit of honest debate.
Despite its flaws, Outfoxed is a worthwhile documentary. You should see it, if for no other reason than to get an understanding of (disturbingly) one of the major influences on American journalism today. Outfoxed gets a very angry thumbs up.