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What Else Is In Scott's Head?

The blog site for writer Scott C. Smith. Some observations on the world we live in and life in general. And maybe some politics.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War On Journalism

I think it's safe to say that most viewers of Fox News realize the network has a conservative bias.  There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but Fox News has created an image of itself for the world, branding "fair and balanced" into the public's consciousness.  In Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism, director Robert Greenwald shows us the real Fox News, an organization that is not so much concerned with journalism, but rather with promoting a thinly-veiled conservative agenda. 

Greenwald worked in secrecy on the project, worried that word would get to Rupert Murdoch and Murdoch's team of lawyers.  The end result exposes Fox News to the world and shows us exactly how management goes about the task of disseminating a style of reporting friendly to Republicans and conservatives, and indifferent to hostile towards Democrats and liberals.

Greenwald interviews a number of former Fox News contributors, analysts and producers, as well as people like Walter Cronkite, Al Franken, and Vermont Congressman Bernie Sanders,  to give us the real behind-the-scenes look at the "we report, you decide" network.  And while some critics have panned the documentary for not presenting an opposing point of view, I don't see that as an issue.  What would Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, and Brit Hume say, anyway?  Obviously they'd deny that Fox News had any kind of bias.

Outfoxed is at its most effective when it shows the tricks and techniques Fox News uses to set its agenda.  Management would set the tone of the working day via a memorandum with instructions/suggestions on what tone or angle the network would take on a particular day or issue.  A good collection of these memos can be found at Wonkette.com.  Here's an example from Fox News chief John Moody on March 12, 2004:

Spain's neighbor, the ever-superior France, had its own spate of railway terrorist warnings last week, though it's not clear that those were in any way related to the Madrid bombings.

The President is on the stump, this time for women's rights. His remarks may be worth dipping into and then getting out.

John Kerry may wish he'd taken off his microphone before trashing the GOP. Though he insists he meant republican "attack squads," his coarse description of his opponents has cast a lurid glow over the campaign.

Or this gem from March 23, 2004:

The so-called 9/11 commission has already been meeting. In fact, this is the eighth session. The fact that former Clinton and both former and current Bush administration officials are testifying gives it a certain tension, but this is not "what did he know and when did he know it" stuff. Do not turn this into Watergate. Remember the fleeting sense of national unity that emerged from this tragedy. Let's not desecrate that.

With the tone for the day set, Greenwald shows us many examples of how Fox on-air talent will take a particular phrase or idea and run with it.  To see clip after clip of this practice in action in both astonishing and amusing.  For instance, when John Kerry was called a flip-flopper by the Republican National Committee, (and in a March 16 memo from John Moody) that phrase made its way into many Fox broadcasts.

We see other examples of bias: Sean Hannity on-air with the countdown for the presidential election: "224 days until George W. Bush is re-elected."  And Hannity says this over and over and over.  "181 days until the re-election of George Bush."  And so on.

Rupert Murdoch's vast media empire is shown, and it is startling to see the extent of Murdoch's holdings, from newspapers, television, radio and film.  Murdoch is discussed briefly in Outfoxed.  One of the most telling moments of Outfoxed is footage of Murdoch testifying to the FCC.  Murdoch is asked by someone off-camera who Fox's on-air liberals were.  "Alan Colmes," Murdoch says quickly.  After a pause he then says "Greta Van Susteren," but those are the only two names he can come up with.

Sure, liberals share air-time with conservatives, but a Fox liberal is someone who basically agrees with the conservative spin, such as Susan Estritch and, yes, Alan Colmes.  The liberals that disagree strongly with the conservative host on shows like Hannity and Colmes are frequently yelled at, and over, to the point that the disagreeing liberal has his or her microphone cut off.

Outfoxed should be required viewing by anyone who watches Fox News.  Fox News knows it is not fair and balanced, its viewers know this, and Fox knows its viewers know.  Ideally, Fox News would drop the pretension of being "fair and balanced" and just admit that it has a conservative slant.  Perhaps Outfoxed will be the catalyst for that change.

 





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