Directed by Robert Greenwald
This documentary illustrates the way Fox News Channel works, pushing a conservative/Republican agenda to the public while maintaining that it presents the news in a “fair and balanced” manner. A phrase that is so important to them it resulted in Fox suing Al Franken when he used those words for his book’s subtitle, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. Of course, Fox was laughed out of court, which, according to accounts, is one of the few times that has happened literally instead of just figuratively. The fact that they need to constantly reinforce the slogan might be a reflection on whether or not their work speaks for itself.
Before Outfoxed made its way into the theatres, house parties were organized through the website MoveOn.org so like-minded folk could gather and see the film on DVD. Afterwards, some combination of conference call/Internet chat room was going to be set up for a discussion.
I like parties and free movies, so I registered. My buddy Miguel had heard about the film and wanted to attend, but when he tried to sign-up the house was full at 35 people. I told him he should come along anyway. We would bring our own chairs and blame it on a website error if anyone gave him any guff. Plus, these were most likely liberals, and between the who was going to notice one more body. I never heard back on whether the party was BYO, but in an effort to distract from Miguel’s party-crashing, we hit the store and purchased a six-pack of both Coke and Sapporo to make sure we were covered no matter what type of party it would be.
The house was in a very nice and probably very expensive neighborhood. As we unloaded the chairs out of my trunk, a woman with a raspy, East Coast accent shouted at us. “Are you Kerry supporters?” I froze for a moment. I wasn’t sure about Miguel, but I’ve voted for Nader since 1996 and planned to do so again because I find the two-party system to be a complete mess that needs to be overhauled. Of course, Democrats get annoyed with me because of Nader’s impact on the 2000 election. The fact that I lived in Georgia at that time and Bush won that state by more than one vote has little effect on their attitude. I was about to surround myself with people that detested Nader almost as much as they hated Bush. I decided as long as I let them know I was against Bush, which I am, I wouldn’t be lying and they would love me. Then again, the woman shouting could be an angry Republican neighbor who was feuding with the party host so I wasn’t sure how to respond. I blurted out, “The Outfoxed party?” She said, "Yeah," and we made our way inside.
Miguel and I were the first ones there. We met the owner, a nice woman, early 40’s, mother of two. Two of the kids out of the pack that were running around looked like her, anyway. They would yell, “Bush sucks!” out the bedroom windows. No neighbor yelled back. We were asked to fill out some papers regarding attendance, future political involvement and voter registration. The last of which was not applicable to either of us. We spoke with Nancy, who was the East Coast shouter. “Spoke” isn’t the correct word because Miguel and I mainly listened as Nancy went on a tirade regarding the Bush administration and how badly they have messed things up.
There was a continual knocking and doorbell ringing for the next hour as others started to show up; some alone, others in small groups. They looked surprisingly normal. Parents, grandparents, a few people in their twenties. All were concerned about the direction the country was heading. They weren’t rabid Bush-haters, except for Nancy. The most interesting gentleman was a retired Haliburton worker who had just recently returned from Iraq. He told us how he was the only openly Democratic employee of the company and other employees wouldn’t call his room from theirs because it might get back to the higher-ups.
As everyone packed the living room and kitchen (Miguel and I gave up our chairs), Nancy talked about how happy she was that there was such a big turnout, over forty of us. “It’s great to see so many young Democrats here.” I looked at her and gave no response. “C’mon,” she said, trying to engage me. “You are younger than me. I’m a grandmother.” I acknowledged that I was younger and she dropped it. If pressed, I would have told her I wasn’t a Democrat. Luckily, it never came to that.
The film is comprised of interviews of people who are critical of Fox’s practices. Most of them are on the left, but then, no one on the right is going to have anything bad to say about Fox News. Politics is about winning, not being right. This point is highlighted when former Fox News Producer Clara Frenk discusses the practice of bringing on liberals who are not well known and unaccustomed to arguing on television to present one side of the issue while strong, well-known conservatives present the other side. Who do you think won more of the arguments?
Greenwald supports the critics’ issues with the help of Fox News’ own handiwork. He shows daily memorandums from Fox News that detail how the news is to be handled, such as word choices and subjects to highlight. When the anchors spread gossip and opinion, but don’t state that is what they are doing, they use the phrase, “Some people say…” The film then shows a series of clips where that phrase is used repeatedly. In regards to subject matter, the decision was made to call our snipers in Iraq sharpshooters because “sniper” has a negative connotation to it.
Another example of Fox’s “balance” features Larry Johnson, who worked previously with the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. State Department's Office of Counter Terrorism. He was an expert that appeared many times on different programs until he ran afoul of the talking points. His last appearance was on an episode of Hannity & Colmes. Johnson disagreed with Sean and the administration’s assessment of the war in Iraq. He talked about the problem of going in with so few troops and how hard stabilizing the country would be after the war. When he didn’t tow the line Sean was spewing, he was released. History has proved that he was both knowledgeable and correct on the matter.
There should be no surprise to anyone that pays attention to politics that Fox slants things to the right after watching their coverage of a few stories. There’s nothing wrong with it, but their lack of honesty about their bias is what has a lot of people upset. Like when you see Carl Cameron, an allegedly “objective reporter,” in pre-interview video chuckling with then candidate Bush. It turns out Cameron wife’s was working for Bush’s campaign. A little conflict of interest, maybe?
The crowd certainly enjoyed the film in part because it was a reinforcement of their opinions and now they had evidence. I don’t know how much impact it will have with them since California is going to Kerry, but if it can get people more active in the political process, more power to it. Miguel and I grabbed our chairs and left having no need to take part in the discussion with the filmmaker and viewers across the nation. We were also disappointed in the complete lack of free love and pot smoke. I guess the '60s are over.
Supporters of Fox News say the documentary isn’t fair, but the clips are from Fox, the memos are from Fox and some of the interviews are former Fox News people. These defenders are either fools or liars, but that’s not even the real issue. What people are missing is that this is more than an exposé of Fox, but instead looks at the bigger picture of how the media controls the message that gets to you. As media consolidations continue to shrink the number of outlets for information, it is worse for the public at large on all parts of the political spectrum. You should take away from this film the techniques that are used and then pay attention to how and where you get your information from. That is what Outfoxed teaches you: to be more informed about who is telling you what they are telling you and why.