This may come as a surprise to you, but the FOX News Channel is considered by some to be a partisan network that spins the news to the right. I know, I know, stay seated because I'm sure your head is spinning at this assertion.
This is the basic premise of the documentary Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism, which is produced in part by MoveOn.Org and the Center for American Progress, two left-leaning organizations that are working overtime these days to boot George W. Bush from the White House.
The documentary is produced and directed by Robert Greenwald, who directed such films as Xanadu and The Burning Bed. He has since moved on to more impressive and more political subjects; he also produced Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election and directed Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War, which is soon to be released theatrically.
Greenwald, along with the investigative work of FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), has put together a very astute chronicle of the rise of FOX News, which first aired in the mid 1990s. The documentary begins with an introduction to Rupert Murdoch the billionaire media mogul who owns a major chunk of the media outlets that provide information and entertainment to the world. It then becomes a cautionary tale about media consolidation and ultimately moves on to its main course, which is indicting FOX News and setting out to prove that it is anything but 'fair and balanced'.
By using numerous interviews with media critics, former FOX News employees - some of whom are anonymous - actual internal memos written by Fox News chief John Moody and a whole bunch of taped fragments of FOX News shows and commentary Greenwald makes a good case that FOX News is a proponent of a conservative point-of-view.
The main contention that comes across from such media critics as Jeff Cohen, John Nichols, Robert McChesney and David Brock is that FOX News manufactures the news by slyly injecting opinion into its news shows and more importantly has begun to set the standard for the way that news is reported at other networks. FOX News has also been able to have an effect on politics. A prime example is that on the night of the 2000 election, at 2:16 a.m. FOX called Florida for Bush. Within minutes all the other networks followed suit, giving the impression nationwide that Bush had won. Yet the only verifiable fact was that the media had reported this news, which turned out to be incorrect. But it worked to put Gore on the defensive and in a position to be the challenger of "official results."
The main contention that comes from the former employees and regular FOX News pundits is that FOX News works unlike any other news organization because it employs a particular culture of fear in which you have to toe the partisan line or you will be exposed as an outsider.
Greenwald also does a lot of work discrediting FOX News stars Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Brit Hume, which - to be honest - is pretty easy to do. And because of this the film falters a bit. First, O'Reilly and Hannity don't claim to be "fair," so they are easy targets. O'Reilly does claim - often - that his show is a "no spin zone," but Greenwald never mentions this nor tries to tear it down.
Instead he concentrates a lot on one episode where O'Reilly told a guest named Jeremy Glick - who lost his father in the 9/11 attacks - to shut up, and then marginalized his position over the next couple of years by lying about what Glick said. It's a very good piece of reporting by Greenwald but it's really more of an attack on O'Reilly than on FOX News.
Greenwald also shows quite clearly that FOX has all of two liberal leaning commentators who have shows - Greta Van Susteren (who rarely does politics on her show) and Alan Colmes, a milquetoast moderate who doesn't have the bark, bite, or looks of his right-wing counterpart, Sean Hannity. Other than that the only other liberals who show up are guests; many of whom are either screeched at for being "extreme" or who concede easily to right wing view points.
Overall, Outfoxed (which times in at 77 minutes) is enjoyable if you're a liberal and/or hate FOX News. It can also be exasperating to watch when you consider the fact that media consolidation can lead to this type of partisan news, which, it must be admitted, is equally bad if it comes from the left.
However, Outfoxed is not itself fair and balanced either. By using FOX News as an example, Greenwald shows that not only is media consolidation bad but that right wing consolidation is worse. There are no views or interviews from those presently with FOX News. FOX has, however, tried to discredit the film, which is enough reason to believe they are either rankled by Greenwald's fact finding or by his editing choices of their on-air shows.
Like so many documentaries this season, such as Fahrenheit 9/11, it preaches to the converted. Whether or not it makes a difference for liberals and those concerned about news and politics may be determined during the Presidential election in November. Out of this context, however, Outfoxed simply tells everyone what they already know about FOX News. Far more interesting is the subject of media consolidation, which is only touched on at the beginning and the end.