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OUTFOXED: RUPERT MURDOCH'S WAR ON JOURNALISM

SYNOPSIS:
Documentary deconstructing the biased presentation of news and current affairs on Fox News, examining how the lines between news reporting and opinion are blurred. The Channel's right wing bias is documented with examples and statistics. The documentary holds up to ridicule the Fox News boast of being 'fair and balanced'. Subjects interviewed include several former staffers, as well as David Brock, author of political books; Jeff Cohen, founder of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting; Clara Frenk political producer for various networks; Danny Schechter, editor of mediachannel.org; and Gene Kimmelman, deregulation and consumer protection specialist; Bob McChesney, founder of Free Press.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
"My criticism of Fox News isn't that it's a conservative channel, it's the consumer fraud of 'fair and balanced' - it's nothing of the sort," remarks Jeff Cohen, former MSNBC/Fox News contributor, summing up in one sentence what the entire 77 minutes of this doco sets out to lay bare. Cohen is one of many former Fox staffers; 'former' and sometimes anonymous. He is joined by political writers and media observers in a cavalcade of denigration that deconstructs the often noisy and always opinionated Fox News channel. It's not so much a warts n' all portrait: it's an all warts portrait. And that includes Bill O'Reilly's big warts.

We hear from former staffers who give examples of right-wing editorial direction from head office, we hear from analysts who have taken 6 months of programming and sifted the guests to come up with massive bias (83%) towards Republican guests on the prominent Brit Hume Special Report interview segment.

This sort of detail gives a factual grounding to the doco, something that gives it credibility that upstages the schutzpah of a Michael Moore. The channel is condemned - in a well documented argument - for not only being partisan but blatantly blurring the lines between comment and report. We see first hand how manipulative and dishonest the channel can be.

Having gone to great lengths to research the Channel's programs, Greenwald's team has amassed a spectacularly comprehensive archive of clips to make their points - and prove them. Montage after montage of examples that show the bullying and overbearing nature of the major anchors has a cumulative effect which Greenwald refers to in his notes to the film. "I don't know how to describe the pain of watching hours and hours of Fox News. ...it actually became physically painful as the hours turned into weeks and months. The combination of abraisive attack mode ... fear mongering ...and gross amounts of overstatement and bias ... it was no picnic."

I sympathise: I couldn't watch Fox News for more than a few minutes at a time, and I wonder what the effect is on those who tune in regularly. I would think it would make people mad, in all the worst possible senses of that word.

On the other hand, I did detect a sense of showmanship in the on-air stoushes in which the Fox anchor berates and or abuses his guests. It makes for feaisty television, after all, to have a current affairs segment in which the anchor is yelling 'shut up' at his guest. Or the guest is contradicting the anchor in no uncertain manner.

Rupert Murdoch is portrayed as the master puppeteer whose Republican sympathies drive his senior executives to deliver edicts to the editors. The irony of it all, highlighted by comments about the lack of Murdoch's journalistic credentials, is that young Murdoch was in fact a damn fine and principled newspaperman in Adelaide. It's a shame we don't get a glimpse of that, to give us something to think about. Because the doco doesn't need much thinking about: it states its position and goes about proving its case.

The one thing that isn't explored in any depth, other than in variations on Jeff Cohen's remark, is the fact that Fox's bias is self evident - despite it's self-aggrandising and laughable Fair and Balanced claim.

Murdoch's empire is said to have the potential to reach three quarters of the world's population, but not everyone who has cable watches every Murdoch channel. The danger of media bias in such powerful hands is the potential for stifling debate. On Fox News, which is not the leading news source in America, it's evident. In The Australian, it isn't; perhaps that's due to the local editorial team, but in any given week, The Australian runs left wing columnists like Philip Adams along with right wing commentators like Janet Albrechtsen; it also publishes pieces by both Labour and Liberal politicians, and regularly features conflicting positions on social and political issues. Maybe it's an aberration, but as the country's first national newspaper, and one kept alive for years despite heavy losses, it occupies a special position in Murdoch's heart.

In one segment of Outfoxed, a former writer complains about his editor in chief's response to a story of migrants becoming US citizens. What we don't know is how much of that response was coming directly from the editor, how much was it a presumption of the corporate line - and what if any of it reflected Murdoch's own editorial dictates.

The bottom line? Fox News is hardly ever reliable as a source of news, but it can always be relied on to have the same big bias. Pity so many people believe what they see. Maybe this doco will help, even though it, too, is biased.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

(PG)
(US)

CAST: Documentary featuring political reporters, producers and media observers in America.

PRODUCER: Robert Greenwald

DIRECTOR: Robert Greenwald

SCRIPT: N/A

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Rick Perez, Erin Kelly, Monica Kowalski, Jason Ajax Mercer, Hannah Williams

EDITOR: Jane Abramowitz, Douglas Cheek, Chris Gordon

MUSIC: Nicholas O'Toole

PRODUCTION DESIGN: N/A

RUNNING TIME: 77 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: DV1

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 7, 2004







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