THIS DOCUMENTARY film starts with some thought-provoking questions about the nature of American democracy. It makes it clear that, as citizens, Americans are reliant on the media to provide the information needed to make decisions. Jeff Cohen (a former MSNBC/Fox News Contributor) puts it like this:
"Media is the nervous system of a democracy. If it's not functioning well the democracy can't function. We're heading toward an election where most people are never going to be in a room with Kerry or Bush. What they learn about the candidates is what the media shows them or tells them or decides not to show not to tell."
David Brock (President/CEO of Media Matters for America) backs this up:
"People are faced with critical choices about the future of the country when they go into the voting booth and I go in and I have been in the course of the campaign cycle subject to false, distorted, caricaturing... and I may not even know where it's coming from because often there's an echo of fact off places like cable and like radio. Those wrong pieces of information are repeated and repeated. By the time it reaches me I don't even know what the source was. This is the environment we are living in. It's fundamentally undermining democracy, which is based on knowing some good, and solid information so that I can make some good, informed choice.
Rupert Murdoch is singled out by the documentary because he has so much power and because he is so partisan. The 'Today I own' graphic sets out the scale of Murdoch's media empire:
# 9 Satellite television networks
# 100 cable channels
# 175 newspapers
# 40 television stations
# 1 movie studio
#Murdoch's US television network reaches 280 million
# Asian satellite network reaches 300 million
# Cable channels reach 300 million homes
# Magazines reach 28 million people
Frighteningly the total audience is 4.7 billion people (3/4 of the population).
The documentary provides some witness testimony from contributors and former employees but most damning are cuts from the programmes themselves. The Orwellian slogans 'Fair and balanced' and 'We report you decide' are constantly flashed on Fox screens but the Truth is very different. Executive John Moody (senior VP for news) sends a message of the day, a political device that sets the tone. One internal memo from Moody of 28 April 2004 read "Let's refer to the US marines we seen in the foreground as 'sharpshooters' not snipers, which carries a negative connotation." In another, Moody urges staff not to make the 9/11 Commission report into another Watergate. "This is not 'what did he know and when did he know it' stuff.
Remember the fleeting sense of national unity that emerged from this tragedy. Let's not desecrate that," Moody wrote. He orders reporters to tout Bush's "political courage and tactical cunning" throughout the day in another. While on Sen. Kerry, Moody urges his staff to concentrate on the "flip-flops" and that Kerry's "perceived disrespect for the military could be more damaging to the candidate than questions about his actions in uniform."
Through hundreds of hours of research, Greenwald assembled a good array of clips to prove his point that Fox is anything but fair and balanced. Outfoxed details the propaganda techniques used. Fox stands accused of blurring news and commentary: encouraging off the cuff adlibs of a right wing nature, character assassination of liberal opponents and selection of ineffective or unknown liberals or those who in fact support conservative Republican policies.
Outfoxed also looks at the stories they cover. The 'good news from Iraq' pieces are remarkable in their complete denial of reality.
The O'Reilly Factor is probably the most blatant propaganda. He interviewed Jeremy M Glick whose Father was killed at the World Trade Centre and who Signed a 'Not in my name' advert. O'Reilly was like a Judge at a Stalinist or Nazi show trial. He distorted the views of Glick and sort to aggressively beat him down with emotional abuse.
Outfoxed was made with the help of various grass-roots organizations; one of them being MoveOn.org, and the last ten minutes of the film examines what an outraged viewer can do to take action against this kind of dirty journalism. The documentary is weakest here. I would have liked to see consideration of the need for alliances to build platforms for alternative media such as Internet TV, Podcasts, Vidcasts and Internet Radio. Media monitoring and complaints are certainly worthwhile but essentially reactive.
Inevitably Outfoxed will be compared with other radical films. Unlike Supersize Me and Moore's films, the filmmaker is off-screen. This helps add to the effectiveness of the documentary - a major criticism of Moore's films is that he constantly intervenes with his opinion. Instead here, we have no comment, just the facts - plenty of Fox News footage and interviews with former employees of the channel.
Outfoxed is part of the backlash to Fox News and reactionary dominance of media It's frightening how blindly FNC's viewers buy into the propaganda. Greenwald points to surveys that show 67 percent of FNC viewers believe there's a link between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks! It should be required viewing for anyone seeking to understand why the US public seems so unaware and alienated from opinion in the rest of the world.
- Patrick Harrington