Outfoxed: How Murdoch's network gets so fair and balanced

Published July 12, 2004 10:10PM (EDT)

The notion that the Fox News Channel does not deliver on its "fair and balanced" motto is not new. But for those looking for more evidence, there's a new documentary by Los Angeles filmmaker Robert Greenwald. His latest film, "Outfoxed," premieres tomorrow night in Manhattan, and from all appearances, it's a scathing -- and compelling -- indictment of the bias of America's most-watched cable news network. War Room made it to a press conference this morning where Greenwald and former Fox employees sounded off on Rupert Murdoch and his media empire.

Greenwald insists that there is no "smoking gun," no one incident that proves a network-wide bent; rather, his film identifies patterns within Fox News' coverage that he says add up to a decidedly conservative slant, including character assassination, blending news and commentary, building up the war in Iraq and privileging the president with friendly and copious news coverage. The goal: not to push a consistent ideological line, but to advance the political fortunes of Murdoch's favored politicians, which over the years have included the Thatcher government in Britain, the Communist Party in China and George W. Bush.

But the film is getting flack for being too slanted itself. In today's Washington Post, Howard Kurtz objects to some of the liberties Greenwald took in the editing room and the filmmaker's one-sided slate of interviews. And much of the question-and-answer session today was devoted to Fox's criticism that Greenwald did not contact the network for comment during the documentary's production. To the Post, Greenwald explained, "there was every reason to expect that not only would they say no but they would take steps to legally shut me down." Today, Greenwald was more defiant, insisting that Fox News was on "24 hours a day" and had plenty of time to make its case. But the Fox News reporter on hand was resolute. Ignoring several requests to not ask follow-up questions -- "it's only fair," he insisted -- the Fox reporter asked the filmmaker whether the political organizations that backed him, such as MoveOn.org, have tainted the objectivity of the film. Greenwald maintained that none of his funders saw "a single frame" of the film before it was finished.

Does Greenwald have an agenda? Almost certainly. But that doesn't make the first-person accounts, leaked memos, documented research and TV clips that Greenwald employs in the film any less compelling. Some of the best is footage of Fox political reporter Carl Cameron chatting with then-Gov. Bush in 2000 about Cameron's wife and her efforts for Bush on the campaign trail. According to Cameron, his wife even knew the Bush campaign's talking points by heart. Even more impressive are the 33 internal Fox memos Greenwald compiled, mostly written by Fox's senior vice president for news and editorial, John Moody. Referred to as "marching orders" by Jon DuPre, formerly of Fox News, here are some of the most notable excerpts:

From March 23, 2004: "The so-called 9/11 commission has already been meeting. In fact, this is the eighth session. The fact that former Clinton and both former and current Bush administration officials are testifying gives it a certain tension, but this is not "what did he know and when did he know it" stuff. Do not turn this into Watergate. Remember the fleeting sense of national unity that emerged from this tragedy. Let's not desecrate that."

From April 6, 2004: "The events in Iraq Tuesday are going to be the top story, unless and until something else (or worse) happens. Err on the side of doing too much Iraq rather than not enough. Do not fall into the easy trap of mourning the loss of US lives and asking out loud why are we there? The US is in Iraq to help a country brutalized for 30 years protect the gains made by Operation Iraqi Freedom and set it on the path to democracy. Some people in Iraq don't want that to happen. That is why American GIs are dying. And what we should remind our viewers."

From April 27, 2004: "Fighting overnight in Najaf didn't go the way the militants there had hoped. Reports say 43 of them were killed, with no US casualties being reported. This is one of the few times we've gotten a count of enemy dead. Let's use that to make the point what happens when terrorists take on the coalition."

From April 28, 2004: "Also, let's refer to the US marines we see in the foreground as 'sharpshooters' not snipers, which carries a negative connotation."

From May 5, 2004: "Thursday update: the pictures from Abu Graeb (sic) prison are disturbing. They have rightly provoked outrage. Today we have a picture -- aired on Al Arabiya -- of an American hostage being held with a scarf over his eyes, clearly against his will. Who's outraged on his behalf?"

By Stephen W. Stromberg

Stephen W. Stromberg is a former editorial fellow at Salon.

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