OutFoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism
Director: Robert Greenwald. Documentary/Political essay about the media conglomerate owned by Rupert Murdoch, in particular the Fox News Channel, and the slanted conservative imprint on the "news" delivered in these venues.

Want to hear a secret that leftist media-types are hoping you won't uncover? Filmmaker Robert Greenwald, who has recently inaugurated a career in mass-distributed grassroots documentaries, was also the director of the Olivia Newton John starlight-express fiasco Xanadu, quite possibly the chintziest pseudo-musical of the 1980s. He's directed other features also, but Xanadu is really the kind of immortal stinkorama that can stain and define your résumé forever. So, it's taken a deft bit of PR control for Greenwald to reinvent himself as a radical truth-teller, first with Uncovered: The Whole Truth about the Iraq War and now with OutFoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism. Seriously, if you'd seen Livvy roller skating around as one of the Greek muses transposed into modern LA, you wouldn't believe anything Greenwald said.

As it is, you will have a hard time doubting the gist of Greenwald's sentiments here, which attack not just the muckraking and culturally antagonistic tone of FoxNews as an enterprise but the hypocrisy of the station's pretenses toward "fair and balanced" reportage. There is an important distinction between these two claims, even though I for one have a hard time getting excited about it. I wouldn't be much happier with a FoxNews station that more honestly confessed its inborn biases, just as I wouldn't want a 24-hour channel of anything resembling journalistic information that had been pre-filtered with liberal biases. The hypocrisy of their self-advertisements is not the worst of FoxNews' offenses, at least from my point of view; I simply don't see why such an enterprise has to exist, and once unchecked opinions and thoroughly adulterated arguments are insulated by this much money and legal apparatus, real harm is already being done to public culture and intellectual discourse. Ample evidence of these declines has been gathered within the film, epitomized by the offensively arrogant bluster of Bill O'Reilly and the calculated internal memos that dictate a corporate, conservative ideology straight from the summit of Rupert Murdoch's invisible desk right on down to the worker bees and scurrying minions who keep his empire of misinformation in working order.

I would be delighted to report that OutFoxed itself gives the likes of FoxNews a taste of what real journalism and factual fidelity actually look like, but I'm afraid that the rather slipshod assembly of images and statistics makes the film a relatively feeble vehicle for its earnest and important indictments of media abuse. Looking past the coy and amateurish intertitles that divide OutFoxed into chapters (and the glittery, Apple IIGS-era graphics are straight-up Xanadu style), OutFoxed makes all kinds of blunders that a more reputable documentary would not allow itself to make. Most of the interview subjects seem to be fired or discredited employees of FoxNews, and while I didn't have any trouble believing their allegations of privately enforced censorship and pro-Republican mandates, it seemed worth observing that most of this gallery has an interest in poking Murdoch. One of the most illustrative anecdotes in the movie involves a former newsman who was enlisted to report a story from the Reagan Library to commemorate the then-living ex-president's birthday, even though nothing much was happening at the library and the story itself was a total non-entity. Seeing the evidence of how strategic visual framing and elaborate rhetoric create the sense of a massive celebration is both hilarious and horrifying, even if it doesn't teach us much that we don't already know, or at least suspect, about media spin. At the same time, Greenwald doesn't press this guy at all as to why he succumbed to the pressures to deliver this false story, or why he stayed at Fox as long as he did, what finally prompted to leave, or how whatever work he is doing now might try to undo the collateral damages of duping and brainwashing the public to which he was an accomplice in his last job.

Whenever, God help us, the current era of yellow journalism and widespread ethical capitulation is finally behind us, the standing question won't be whether or not this decade and the last had an adequate and attentive news media. We know that they haven't, and still don't. The real question, cutting beyond the ubiquitous evidence of everyday life, is why so many people agree to go along with the nefarious political programs and sinister declines in professional standards that we see all around us, particularly in the media. What is the psychology that motivates people to sacrifice their integrity? At what point did we achieve such pervasive social despair and cynicism that the mentality of "It's just a job" excused a whole range of dishonesties and inadequacies? The best version of OutFoxed would barrel through the evident facts of what a sellout shill operation FoxNews really is—this shouldn't take more than an hour, and OutFoxed is barely longer than that as it is—and then proceed to the germane issues of how, why, and for how long. But Greenwald has made a limited and domesticated piece, a rabble-rouser rather than a genuinely useful artifact, and the thinness of his approach lets too much air out of the very real problems he has prepared himself to address. Like Fahrenheit 9/11, though with even less formal discipline and certainly less pure feeling (there is no Lila Lipscomb in this movie), OutFoxed is a delivery-package for an anti-Fox, anti-Murdoch, anti-Republican sentiment. In expressing such sentiment, the film has mostly relieved itself of any obligation to be a good documentary or an honest, layered bit of reporting, and so OutFoxed rather lamely winds up duplicating the same degraded form of media intervention that it means to critique in others.

This basic dichotomy of honest, urgent intentions and desultory, cheapskate expression marks OutFoxed from a fairly early moment and never really changes. A few times, the movie attempts to throw in a chart or a graph or a statistical analysis, but the way these charts are framed is a virtual guarantee of proving whatever Greenwald wants them to prove. (Are regular NPR listeners really a fair demographic to represent the average American citizen, as against FoxNews disciples?) If you arrive to the movie mad as hell, not taking it anymore, et al., you will leave with even more ammunition against the dishonesty and moral compromise of the media-industrial complex that we've all recognized for a while as the new face of domestic mind-control. Some of these excerpts from Murdoch missives and clips of Bill O'Reilly flamethrowing his way through his sad-sack interview show are pretty priceless artifacts. However, you'll be wary of using this ammunition as firm evidence even at your next Billionaires for Bush cocktail hour, because OutFoxed so obviously prioritizes the passion of its protests over the substantiation of its claims, you can't help but sense the manic prejudices at its own heart—you don't trust yourself to repeat Greenwald's contentions without just perpetuating the cycles of bias and flippancy that predominate in our public sphere. See OutFoxed, as I did, between Jehane Noujaim's more professional al-Jazeera doc Control Room and the superior polemicizing of The Corporation, and you are destined to forget what this minor circular of liberal outrage has to say. Greenwald effectively adds his name to the list of people who wish this country were radically different, but he's the kind of spokesperson you don't necessariliy want for your own party: his heart is in the right place, but at some point, shouldn't he start leading with his head? C+

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