Outfoxed (2004)

[23 September 2004]

By Terry Sawyer

Henhouse Buffet

Newsflash: The Fox News Network is to journalism what pederasts are to dark playgrounds.

Through internal memos, interviews with former Fox employees, and analysis by media critics, Outfoxed makes the case that Fox News is the video component of the Republican National Committee. Surely the internal memos are the most damning, as they show Fox literally dictating negative coverage of Democrats. But it’s also disturbing to hear a former employee’s story about a reporter who was suspended for asking former Secretary of State James Baker a somewhat difficult question during the Florida recount.

Outfoxed features a string of talking heads and ex-employees, interspersed with bootlegged footage and the occasional graph. Though lacking the glamour and polish of something like Bowling for Columbine, Outfoxed makes up for its lo-fi approach with sarcasm and a refreshingly straightforward presentation of facts. One of its most effective techniques is the cheeky juxtaposition, such as setting Bill O’Reilly’s claim that he’s only said “shut up” once, against a seemingly endless display of him angrily repeating the phrase in multiple contexts.

Outfoxed discerns interesting linguistic patterns that amount to de facto collusion between Fox and the current administration. Fox commentators and interviewers regularly employ the phrase “Some people say,” to reference unsourced and derogatory claims against liberals without directly owning them. For example, “Some people say John Kerry looks French” is Fox’s way of accusing John Kerry of excessive “Frenchness” (that is, weakness), while laying the onus on the unnamed rabble. Greenwald tellingly reveals the network’s systematic bias when he outlines Fox’s absorption of administration spin, whether calling former counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke a “Democrat” or John Kerry a “flip-flopper.”

One accusation that might be made against Outfoxed is that Greenwald should have included dissenting views in a documentary that indicts a network for intellectual homogeneity. But that misses the boat: Greenwald’s point is not that we need equal time for Republicans and Democrats, but that our media should strive for corporate and factual independence, providing a foundation of information from which citizens can draw their own conclusions. Greenwald’s media critics go to great lengths in explaining the dangers of Fox’s refusal to honor traditional notions of journalistic integrity, mixing opinion and questionable fact into a dangerous cocktail of misinformation.

He also claims that Fox, if included in the film, would have sued to prevent its release, a notion reinforced by Bill O’Reilly’s post-release grousing about “copyright infringement” (based on Greenwald’s use of footage from Fox broadcasts). That notion is further girded by Fox’s demonstrably frivolous litigiousness, displayed by their vanity lawsuit against Al Franken, which flew in the face of decades of established precedent on satirical free speech.

In his review of Outfoxed (representative in both tone and content of conservative responses to the documentary), published in the Reverend Moon-owned Washington Times, Gary Arnold offers nothing to refute the film’s charges. The typical counter-accusation has been to suggest that mainstream liberal reporters’ unconscious biases against Christian conservatives create an implicit slant that Fox balances with explicit advocacy. But there is no evidence of the sort offered by Outfoxed, that liberal journalists coordinate their messages or that the major networks dictate negative coverage angles on George Bush like those outlined in Fox’s internal memos against Kerry.

To the contrary, Outfoxed shows that conservative “journalists” have virtually no independence, echoing verbatim White House sound bites and giving them traction through incessant repetition. One study cited in the documentary reveals that 67% percent of Fox viewers believe Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda to be connected, versus 13% of NPR listeners. It’s not just the obvious lack of viewpoint parity, it’s that Fox creates a feeding pool of misinformation intentionally designed to bolster the Republican agenda.

Greenwald is fully aware of the criticisms he might garner, as evidenced by the DVD extra which acts as a form of pre-emption. The DVD includes a second documentary, featuring interviews with the media monitors Greenwald used to compile data on Fox coverage and several lengthy bits exposing his methodology. While it’s not the most riveting thing I’ve ever watched, it is to their ethical credit that they would attempt to provide this level of transparency.

Outfoxed won’t convince people who prefer media that fit their already established ideology. But for the casual Fox viewer, it might prove eye-opening to see such aggressive and obvious bias dissected. The film works best as a sort of intellectual armament, giving liberal viewers tangible instances of what they’ve known all along: Fox is not “fair and balanced.” It’s ego fellatio for angry white middle-aged men fed up with their victimization at the hands of a so-called liberal media that never existed.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/outfoxed-dvd/