Friday, July 23, 2004

'OutFoxed' film misfires

At house parties in Winchester and all across the nation last week, concerned voters watched Robert Greenwald's new political documentary, "OutFoxed: Rupert Murdoch's war on journalism," a film which targets the cozy relationship between Murdoch and the Republican Party.
Unfortunately, the film doesn't tell the whole story.
The film concentrates its criticism on the FoxNews Channel, Murdoch's flashy news channel, claiming the network is an organ grinder for the GOP. Through internal memos, disgruntled former employees and repetitive clips, the case against FoxNews seems overwhelming, questioning the channel's trademarked "Fair & Balanced" slogan. In the presidential race, Greenwald points to coverage where Sen. John Kerry is disparaged as a flip-flopper while President George W. Bush is consistently commended for showing leadership via live shots of speeches most every day.
However, the film completely ignores the fact that most of FoxNews is opinion-based programming - not news. It also overlooks the role of elected Democrats in what our national media has become, placing all the blame on Republicans through subtle hints and careful editing.
For example, it is strange to watch the comments of former FoxNews contributor Jeff Cohen, who in the past has worked with Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting [FAIR]. Cohen has been a consistent critic of both political parties and of corporate influence in the media. In one of his comments, Cohen attacks radio and TV station consolidation yet is silent about the bipartisan 1996 Telecom Bill which allowed this consolidation to occur. He mentions Clear Channel, which owns about 1,200 stations and cuts anti-war artists from its playlists, but never says a word about the hundreds of Democrats who voted to allow this company to buy the radio stations. Did clips of Cohen's criticism about Democrats end up on the cutting room floor?
Chellie Pingree, a former state Senator from Maine, complains in the documentary about the Fairness Doctrine, rescinded during "the Reagan Administration," again, a shot at Republicans. But Pingree disregards the fact that rescinding the Fairness Doctrine was a bipartisan proposal even though small broadcasters and news editors were urging them not to change the law. The Democrats supported the law because at the time they thought they would have control over the media instead of the Republicans. Thought wrong, didn't they?
In some of the creative editing, Sean Hannity, one of Fox's hosts, is shown repeatedly announcing the number of days left until Bush wins the election. Any regular viewer knows that on alternating days, liberal host Alan Colmes announces the number of days left until Kerry is elected, yet those clips are not presented.
One disgruntled employee claims that she only recognized the name of one prominent Democrat hired as a FoxNews contributor. But again, any regular viewer to the channel will see such liberal heavyweights as 1984 VP nominee Geraldine Ferraro, almost-NYC Mayor Mark Green, Newsweek's Eleanor Clift, and consultant Donna Brazile.
The documentary also shows a lack of understanding about the news media in general.
Memos by John Moody, the news chief at FoxNews, offering conservative comments on the state of the nation are used to insinuate that his opinion influenced what was broadcast. While this might be true at Fox, it is true at other stations too. FAIR has done numerous studies showing how corporate opinions on business, culture, and politics influence media coverage. One of the most blatant examples was NBC doing a piece on how safe nuclear power plants were - with no opposing view. NBC is owned by General Electric, a major manufacturer of nuclear power plant components. We all know what happened at "60 Minutes" when they tried to do a story about the cigarette business which was accurately portrayed in the movie "The Insider."
In other words, FoxNews isn't an anomaly and the network's leanings have never been questioned. They didn't hire James Carville to run the network; they hired Roger Ailes. And how influential are they? At the height of the Iraqi invasion, only 4 million people were watching FoxNews or less than 2 percent of the population of the country. The shows most complained about in the film, like "The O'Reilly Factor," barely have 1 million viewers on any given night.
The documentary also doesn't understand why FoxNews is so popular. The network is fast-paced, combative, and yeah, entertaining. It fills a void for those unhappy with the old-styled TV news programs. And despite the protestations by liberals, much of the country is moderate to conservative and they want news that reflects their views or doesn't detract from their views. In the past, TV news coverage on the other networks was perceived to be out of step with the views of many American people.
The larger problem is the fact that many of the nation's voices - especially on the progressive side - are silenced because of the expensive nature of running a news operation. By continuing to support deregulation, Democrats hurt their own cause. "OutFoxed" makes some good points but Greenwald should have presented a fairer and more balanced film.
In the end, those worried about FoxNews can simply change the channel or shut the TV off.


Anonymous said...

terrible review...just terrible

Tony said...

In what way? Try to be a bit more specific, eh?