The new documentary Outfoxed, directed by Robert Greenwald was shown in many (perhaps 20-30,000 screening parties across the US today. It’s probably a revelation to no one that Fox News is partisan. Thus I went in to view this movie thinking perhaps not much would be revealed. What was more disturbing was the way that the producers and higher ups at Fox decide in advance of any actual newsgathering both what the story will be and what to emphasize in the story. In fact, it’s difficult to say anything displayed in the movie on Fox could be called journalism. Instead, it seems to be a kind of impersonation of journalism. The recitation of talking points is amusingly portrayed on the Murdoch-owned network, as the hosts of shows repeat the same phrases over and over as though they were facts. The seamless blend between what seems to be reportage and what is undeniably commentary certainly leaves an unpleasant taste, for those who would like something resembling journalistic integrity in the professional news.
Bill O’Reilly comes in for a brutal treatment, but he can find no one to blame. In fact the impression of him grows worse and worse each time he appears in the film. From browbeating a 9/11 son’s survivor on his talk show, to peddling blatantly untrue stories about what that son said on his abbreviated appearance, the appeal of O’Reilly’s show is lost on me, politics aside. To put it simply, he doesn’t seem to be saying anything of interest, and the repeated recitation of talking points indicates either how little he thinks of the intellectual strengths of his viewers, or his own limited thought process. As a news-gathering organization, Fox generally comes across as foolish at best, and the doublethink behind their “Fair and Balanced” slogan is mind-numbingly insincere. However, the fact that other networks try to “outfox” Fox by overbooking Conservative guests versus liberal ones in pursuit of profit does not help their reputation much either. I guess I can understand someone wanting to watch Fox to have their own views confirmed repeatedly, though I have a difficult time imagining wanting to actually get news from it.
As a film, “Outfoxed” tends to drag in parts. It largely relies on talking heads, clips from Fox, and graphics. There are several laughs in the film, mostly at the expense of the hapless anchors who play off of a game plan we the viewer are aware they had little hand in forming themselves. Not as sweeping as Michael Moore’s recent political documentary, it does achieve a certain strength from focusing on one subject. The consolidation of media in the hands of a few corporations, not to mention what can only be described as a loose handle on principles in the TV cable media should be worrisome even to those who subscribe to the same basic notions as Fox News. I have read some claiming other networks are “as biased” as Fox, but I’m not sure that addresses the central point in the film, that Fox seems to resemble what you and I might imagine a real news org to be in name only. Whether this awareness will trickle down to people who rely principally on cable news for their view on the world remains to be seen.
In viewing ‘house parties’ across the US tonight, coordinating with MoveOn.org, the left-leaning political action group, many people mass-scheduled and followed up on with a webcast where viewers could ask question of the director and other appearing in the film. I noted several large enclaves of viewers in places other than the usual Democratic strongholds, such as Texas and Florida. Participants and viewers of the webcast were encouraged to sign petitions and volunteer time to organizations that support the message of the film. In some ways, the net lets a new kind of mass media exist, where the net is a nation-wide water-cooler. Al Franken also took part and filled in some more detail on the treatment of one 9/11 survivor’s son by Bill O’Reilly. So it’s fair to say it is in many ways a partisan film, though it hardly seems to matter considering that a media organization that delivers news is doing a disservice to write the news before it occurs.