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Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism

(2004) *** Unrated
77 min. Cinema Libre. Director: Robert Greenwald. Cast: Douglas Cheek, Al Franken, Bill O'Reilly, Bob McChesney, Chellie Pingree.

With Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism, documentarian Robert Greenwald chooses a worthy subject and delivers a sturdy if unexceptional treatment of it. The subject is, in particular, the Fox News Channel. Murdoch's cable news network has become infamous for its "Fair and Balanced" claim, which—according to Greenwald—the network belies daily with its intentionally biased coverage and general disregard for journalistic integrity.

To many, Fox's partisanship is no secret, which takes some of the wind out of Greenwald's sails. Still, if Greenwald's statistics are to be believed, the network's capacity to spread disinformation is as prodigious as it is insidious. Focusing on the post-9/11 era of Fox News, Greenwald presents barely accountable statistics (including a claim that Murdoch reaches 3/4 of the population), talking-head interviews, internal memos, and footage pulled straight from the Fox News Channel. Greenwald interviews numerous former employees of Fox News (a couple of them on condition of anonymity) and lays out the findings of the team he charged with collecting data from the network broadcasts.

Even at a slim 77 minutes, Outfoxed feels padded. The interviews—including chats with Al Franken, Independent Congressman Bernie Sanders from Vermont, and Walter Cronkite (the most trusted man in America, y'know)—eventually reach a point of redundancy, boredom, or both, but the internal memos damningly set daily, pro-Republican, anti-Democrat agendas. Nothing hurts the network's integrity more than its own broadcasts, which Greenwald frequently edits to great effect; the montages demonstrating the use of apparently pre-approved buzzword talking points confirm the ease with which newsmakers decide what they think you should know and, worse, what you should think.

In getting to his point, Greenwald robs Fox of the contextual padding which might mitigate its message (the footage, like the countdown to Bush's re-election which is a snide feature of Hannity & Colmes, is heavy on opinion-based shows). That's why the longer, anecdotal passages are the film's most effective. Greenwald shows Fox's senior political reporter Carl Cameron, seconds before a 2000 newsmaker interview, cheerily telling George W. Bush, "My wife's hanging out with your sister" (Cameron's wife worked on that year's Bush campaign). Footage of Fox attack dog Bill O'Reilly's interview with Jeremy Glick—whose father died in 9/11—and the interview's aftermath, embody O'Reilly's techniques of forceful dominance and factual manipulation.

Greenwald makes a convincing case for the network's influence on the electorate and other news organizations. One section recounts how Fox News, at the behest of Bush cousin John Ellis, led the charge to declare Bush the winner in Florida in 2000. Cut to a press conference with Fox News chief Roger Ailes: "It will not happen again," he promises, not so comfortingly. Earlier in the film, Ailes crows at the initial press conference for Fox News, "We'd like to restore objectivity where we find it lacking!" Greenwald also picks up the familiar argument of the conservative instillation of fear, noting Fox's dutiful alert reports and a special series entitled "How to Save Your Life," about coping with terrorist threats.

Of course, Greenwald has his own agenda, which he does not hide. The film ends with an overlong, vague segment titled "A Call to Action," suggesting that viewers should do their part to rid the world of corporate crypto-control of news. Greenwald might have had a truly masterful documentary had he taken the time and effort to do a massive study of the shrinking diversity in news which he alludes to only briefly by noting the almost-complete news-outlet ownership (and meddling) of a select few corporations. As it is, Outfoxed succeeds in hoisting Fox News by its own petard. Greenwald's approach may not be balanced, but it seems pretty fair.

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