Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War On Journalism is the latest
weapon to be unveiled in the media war between right and left, conservative
and liberal, good and evil (in no particular order). Oops, too late.
Here come Bush’s Brain. But, before we rush off to
the next event, I think that this film deserves more serious consideration.
This movie falls squarely in the genre of a political documentary,
with the purpose of exposing a biased agenda of Fox News Channel
as an attempt to replace journalism with a rather mean-spirited
fascist propaganda. (“Fascist” is my word, not theirs.
It is a word with a meaning that can be found in the dictionary,
and it correctly can be applied to many aspects of current Republican
ideology). Conservatives are labeling it a “hit job”
and are trying to pick it apart, but let’s talk things that
you may not already know.
If we can try to step back from the ideology and consider the pure
technical prowess of the film, it never drags. The seven editors
of this film did a superb job building meticulous arguments while
keeping a pleasant and eminently watchable façade. Their
elegant visual and musical style (the film benefits enormously from
two exquisitely appropriate pop masterpieces that the filmmakers
were fortunate to be allowed) leaves most of the other pieces of
the genre in the dust, or rather, mud. You can say what you will
about the validity of the film’s argument, but the various
montages of Fox News Channel footage are solid, poetic, and textbook
examples of the art.
It approaches the subject through this extensive use of this actual
Fox broadcast footage, through interviews with selective media experts,
and by airing the insights of disgruntled former employees of various
aspects of Fox News. Ironically, the film is framed in what is immediately
recognizable as a television news story format, though clearly not
as strident as Fox’s. The pace is rapid-fire. Brief comments
from their various sources are woven together to elucidate some
specific point, mixed with a montage of Fox footage to provide support.
Flashy graphics dramatize the point and remove any ambiguity as
to the message. More comments, analyses, brief explanations, and
conclusions are offered, then it’s quickly on to the next
point. “You cannot outfox Fox,” says one media expert.
He was complaining about how other television networks have abandoned
traditional journalism to imitate Fox’s success in capturing
public attention and ad revenue. However, for any receptive audience,
I think this film itself lives up to its name and does exactly that.
Of course, a seemingly objective news story can distort the truth
through editing and subtle shading of comment. All broadcast news
does it in varying degrees, and this film does it, too, but Outfoxed
is honest and transparent as to its agenda. It’s not pretending
to be objective, only sincerely argumentative. For my money, this
film makes its point, and comes in under budget. If it is propaganda,
it is done well. There are a few embarrassingly cheap graphics near
the beginning of the film, trying to illustrate the immense expansion
of the Rupert Murdoch media empire and scare you
with the enormity of this man’s controlling influence and
power. That point is beyond dispute, but the graphics are laughable.
Fortunately, this is about the only thing that was done poorly.
The production values of this documentary are not nearly up to the
standard of say, Fahrenheit 9/11, but I don’t think
that matters. In many ways, with a more coherent, logical, and focused
presentation on a smaller and more specific topic, Outfoxed
is the better film.
Outfoxed also suffers from this limitation of scope.
Michael Moore, for all the derision of the factual
basis of his film, presents something that approaches a deeper,
more moving human truth. There is not much human emotion to be gleaned
from Outfoxed beyond simple anger and orchestrated outrage.
You do get a sense of the passion and dedication of these media
experts, but this is rather dry in comparison to more emotional,
arguably less intelligent, and typically more effective, propaganda.
Bits of an interview with Walter Cronkite are
the striking exception, helping to frame the film. Many of us grew
up watching this man on TV. I am far from his biggest fan, but just
seeing him packs an unreal wallop. He could be drooling and asleep
and he would still have an impact, bringing back all those memories
of a time when we had that so-called “liberal media,”
and news was dignified, civil, and compassionate. He didn’t
have to say a word, but he seems pretty damned lucid for a man his
age (88 this November).
Thus, the film brilliantly and covertly suggests the question:
If the broadcast media is so “liberal,” why must liberals
rely largely on the venue of movies and books to express their points?
Lucky for them, they have some talented, passionate, and creative
people doing it, and they are getting better at it. So, on to Bush’s
Brain and then Greenwald’s next film, Uncovered:
The War On Iraq. Now that I know what is possible, I’m
looking forward to it. In the meantime, there is still one last-bastion
news source that is fair and balanced: “The Daily Show”
with Jon Stewart.