Charles Davis

 

Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism

 

            This past Friday Fox News’ lead political reporter, Carl Cameron, posted a remarkable report of a Kerry rally the day after the debates containing enough embarrassing quotes from Kerry to ruin any hopes of the presidency.  In the report, Cameron quoted Kerry as saying, “Didn't my nails and cuticles look great? What a good debate!” followed up by the gems, "It's about the Supreme Court. Women should like me! I do manicures," and then stating, “I'm metrosexual — he's a cowboy,” referring to President Bush.  Now it’s fairly likely that any one of these quotes could be used in a successful ad campaign against Senator Kerry, with most people confusing Kerry with some guy from “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” than a legitimate presidential candidate.  It’s not hard to imagine some pictures of President Bush strolling on an aircraft carrier in a flight suit – highlighting his stern resolve – juxtaposed with John Kerry offering every woman in America to do their manicures if he gets their vote.  There’s just one problem with Cameron’s story that just might prevent it from being the political bombshell of the presidential campaign – John Kerry never said any of the quotes Cameron attributed to him -- they were simply fabricated.  It’s incidents like this, where the lead reporter on the Kerry campaign engages in clear partisanship, that tend to infuriate Fox News’ critics, who say that the cable news channel is provoking a race to the bottom in the way of journalistic ethics.  It’s this subject that Robert Greenwald’s documentary “Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism,” sets out address, and it contains some amazing clips of actual Fox broadcasts, but the film itself is flawed, with all the good moment interspersing the largely tedious rounds of largely liberal media critics.

            Greenwald’s film is at its best when it simply lets Fox speak for itself, with extended segments of clips capturing what are often bizarre and blatantly partisan statements taken directly from Karl Rove’s playbook.  One such clip shows us one of the hosts of the morning program “Fox and Friends” declaring matter-of-factly, “North Korea loves John Kerry.”  Another sequence shows how Fox’s newsmen and women insert Republican talking points into the news by the use of the all-purpose phrase “some people say.”  Greenwald shows us dozens of such clips, where Fox reporters throw ethics out the door and state things like “some people say John Kerry looks French” and their favorite “some people say John Kerry is a flip-flopper.”  Inevitably the phrase is used to insert statements that blur the line between the news and commentary, and throw any journalistic standard of actually sourcing a quote out the door, attributing the quote to an abstract “some people” as a means of inserting the station’s own agenda.  Another clip shows us Fox News anchor Brit Hume reporting that there have been 277 military deaths in Iraq, but that hey, that’s still lower than the murder rate in California, complete with an accompanying graph.  Unfortunately, the director doesn’t effectively utilize the power of simply letting the Fox product speak for itself, and sucks most of the life out of the film with an endless series of commentaries from media watchdog groups that quickly wear the viewer’s patience thin, as even the most ardent Fox-basher is likely to yell “enough already” as commentator upon commentator bemoans Fox’s affect on real journalism.

            A successful documentary about Fox News should not be a hard thing to make.  Whether it be a news anchor barely able to contain their glee at images of “shock and awe” bombing campaigns over Baghdad, or when the aforementioned Carl Cameron is seen in “Outfoxed” chatting it up with President Bush in 2000 prior to an interview, jovially talking about his wife with the candidate Bush, who just happens to know her personally as she was actively campaigning for the President at the time – instances of bias aren’t very hard to come by with Fox.  Unfortunately, “Outfoxed” often times seems amateurish in its production, and is bogged down by uncreative interviews with too many critics.  While the film does contain some remarkable instances of blatant politicking on video, the rest of the film doesn’t maintain the viewer’s interest, and the closing segment that encourages the viewer to engage in activism as an answer to media bias seems tacked on and clichéd.

It’s easy to get worked up about one conservative network and then forget the rest of media’s culpability in spreading poor journalism.  After all, it was columns by the New York Times reporter Judith Miller that were filled with sensational claims about weapons of mass destruction leaked by anonymous security officials, all later proving to be false, that were then trumped up by the very same administration that was likely leaking the disinformation.  And television journalism, if it can be called that, tends to be universally bad, regardless of whether it’s CNN or Fox, choosing hard-hitting material on Britney Spears’ love life over the harder, real journalism.  The media is long over due for a scathing indictment from some intrepid director with a Tivo, but “Outfoxed” isn’t that film.  Rupert Murdoch may be engaged in a war on journalism as the makers of the film state, but it’s a war that got started a long time before he came along.