Okay, folks. I’m about to attempt something here which I equate with tightrope walking, spinning plates or trying to get up without awaking my dog who has fallen asleep on my lap. I, Sombrero Grande, am going to review a politically biased documentary.
Why is this such a daunting task, you ask? Well, call me crazy, but I have a real issue with the way in which political documentaries are often reviewed. I think this was best illustrated in many of the reviews that came out for Fahrenheit 9/11. It seemed to me that there were just two kinds of reviews I kept reading: ones from liberals who touted the film as a must-see wake-up call from a talented voice of the people and ones from conservatives who dismissed it as fantasy propaganda made by a fat, disgruntled anti-American. I began to wonder: is it possible to write a non-politically-biased review of a highly politically biased film?
Well, when I go to see a movie for entertainment, I judge it by whether or not I was entertained. When I go to see a comedy, I judge it by how funny or unfunny it was. So, if I’m going to try to judge a documentary–specifically one that presents one definite viewpoint complete with a “Call to Action” at its conclusion–perhaps I should judge it by how well it makes its point. Did it persuade me? Did it motivate me to its “Call to Action?”
Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism sets out to prove wrong several notions. One is that of Fox News’ slogan “Fair and Balanced.” Another is that of a “liberal” media. Outfoxed is a documentary made by liberals to outrage other liberals at the shameful ways in which the news networks owned by conservative Rupert Murdoch continually present a version of the news which skews heavily to the right. The film vilifies Murdoch as an opponent of journalism who runs his various “journalistic” networks with the clear plan of pushing his own political agenda.
Where the documentary succeeds is in tossing the notion of a “Fair and Balanced” Fox News out on its ear. The film offers up instance after instance of Fox giving an advantage to conservative viewpoints through the number and skill of Republican guests on their programs, rewarding right-slanted ad-libs and focusing on positive stories while ignoring negative counterpoints (such as in stories pertaining to current situations with the U.S. economy and Iraq). Outfoxed‘s message comes across most effectively when it allows long, uninterrupted clips from Fox News to be seen, such as in Jeremy Glick’s infamous appearance on The O’Reilly Factor. In this segment, host Bill O’Reilly comes across as a rather close-minded jerk trying to squelch and dismiss a dissenting opinion with rude interruptions and a desperate attempt to play at Glick’s emotions with a crack about his mother. Another highly effective segment shows a Fox interviewer casually chatting with George W. Bush before an interview. Here, before the cameras were supposed to roll, the interviewer and Bush talk about the fact that the interviewer’s wife is currently actively campaigning for Bush.
Where Outfoxed falters in making its point is in quickly edited “see how many times this happens” montages. In one, O’Reilly is first quoted as saying that he’s only told someone to “shut up” once. What then immediately follows is a montage of O’Reilly saying “shut up” many, many more times than once. What bugs me a bit about this tactic is that the clips are strung together in such a rapid-pace fashion that many appear to be taken out of context. There are only a few where his “shut up” is directly aimed at a guest and the last one isn’t even taken from his Fox broadcast but a C-SPAN2 clip. It appears that someone working on Outfoxed scoured every minute of O’Reilly footage they could find and pulled each and every time he uttered the words “shut up” for any reason, regardless of whether or not it suited the purpose of the documentary. This kind of quantity over quality also shows up in a montage where Outfoxed attempts to depict Fox News reporters as providing a conservative viewpoint by labeling Murdoch’s ideologies in the context the journalistic no-no, “some people say.” Here the examples are more numerous and are removed even more from context, with most of the examples edited so tightly that the entire clip shown provides nothing other than those three words or anything remotely similar to them. It feels a bit suspect and gives the impression that the filmmakers didn’t want you to hear many of the assertions that were being made, as if the statements wouldn’t support what they wanted you to assume the newscasters were saying. Showing at least the whole sentences uttered with perhaps a running tally near the bottom of the screen of every time “some people say” was said would have seemed less suspicious and would have made a better case.
Though I felt Outfoxed succeeded in painting Fox News as being unfit for its “Fair and Balanced” slogan, I wasn’t outraged to the point where I felt a desire to rally to the documentary’s “Call to Action.” Really, all the film motivated me to do was continue to not watch Fox News…or any major network news for that matter. Outfoxed only briefly touches upon facts concerning how sensationalized network news is today–the reason why I can’t stomach to watch any of it.
One portion I thought was particularly lacking in Outfoxed was the huge missed opportunity to expand on how the news we receive all disseminates from only a few sources, all possessing their own corporate or personal interests, and the effects that has. Even keeping the firm focus on the news empire of Murdoch, much more could have been said and illustrated. At the beginning of the film, statistics are displayed showing how many media outlets Murdoch owns, yet only a very small portion–Fox News as it is broadcast in the U.S.–is discussed at any length in the documentary. What about the newspapers, magazines or any of the Asian satellite networks? Surely there must be some good examples to be shown there, yet Outfoxed completely glosses over those to instead place its argument solely with the more flashy and easier to research U.S. TV news.
Ultimately, Outfoxed is a call to action for liberals that’ll tick off conservatives. If you’re a staunch Democrat, you’ll see this as further undeniable proof of right wing evils. If you’re a proud Republican, you’ll see it as an unsound attack on the only news organization that offers a non-liberal perspective. For viewers in the middle, I have to say that as a documentary with a message, Outfoxed delivers some of its examples better than others, ending up with a call to action that would only seem to appeal to those who already felt strongly about all this before Outfoxed was even inserted into their DVD player.