It is one thing to hear about the Fox News Channel’s conservative (Republican) bias, and another thing entirely to see it demonstrated over and over and over again. Robert Greenwald’s new documentary, Outfoxed (at this time, only available for purchase through www.outfoxed.org), a worthy follow-up to his scathing Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War, not only proves the obvious — that Fox is little more than the official organ of the Bush administration — but speaks to the larger, and far more sinister issue of media consolidation. As a commentator in the film states, Fox News is even more effective than the old Soviet system because in our case, no one believes that they are being manipulated. Citizens under Moscow’s domination chuckled at the obviousness of the official line (although not daring to say so in public), but Americans are increasingly defiant when it is suggested that Fox might be distorting the facts in order to serve their own business interests, as well as the political aims of the White House. The most telling statistic related to this matter shows 67% of Fox viewers believing that a link between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks has already been proven, as compared to 10% of PBS viewers (which in itself is a bit unsettling).
Again, it should be stated that Outfoxed is not shocking news, nor does it unearth information that will rock the journalistic world. That said, the power of the film lies in its presentation. Here, for one of the only times I can remember, is all the damning evidence in one concentrated setting. More than that, the film shows Rupert Murdoch’s powerful reach, which should give pause to all Americans, regardless of one’s political position. Check out the Aussie’s collection of media outlets: 9 satellite TV networks, 175 newspapers, 100 cable outlets, 40 book imprints, 40 TV stations, and 1 movie studio. This, and not the phony hype surrounding gay marriage or Kerry’s “flip-flopping,” is the true issue of the campaign, but you sure as hell won’t hear about it. Not, at least, if you tune in to traditional media sources. But when Murdoch’s TV propaganda reaches over 300 million people and his magazines hit an additional 28 million, unchallenged brainwashing cannot be discounted.
From Fox’s birth in 1996 to the present day, Murdoch — in conjunction with bloated war horse Roger Ailes — has organized a machine so efficient and so powerful that Joseph Goebbels himself would have been taken aback. The key here is not any overt gushing in favor of Bush or any particular conservative cause, but the more subtle uses of mind control that stem from the tried and true: repetition, decontextualization, and distortion. Fox best pursues this goal through daily memos circulated throughout the corporate system. These memos are less “suggestions” than actual commands — directives to get every single employee of the Fox News empire on the same page. Again, this is no mere “liberal assumption,” but a well-documented case with an extensive paper trail. Reporters — or what passes for such on Fox, who are more accurately described as “commentators” — are controlled through threats of dismissal unless they follow these memos to the letter. If, for example, it is desired that Kerry’s “Frenchness” be emphasized, the word (and the association) will be repeated ad nauseum on a round-the-clock basis. Again, this might mean little in isolation, but as we watch the clips edited together, we understand with glaring obviousness how thought control really works. As I’ve always believed, use the words of your enemy not only to damn them, but so that they damn themselves.
The subjects interviewed for this film include numerous ex-Fox employees, which will no doubt convince some that they are disgruntled and therefore bent on revenge. This might be plausible in one or two cases, but when source after source tell the same story — “mold your piece this way or you’re suspended” — it simply has to be believed. It’s like the Bush administration asking us to believe that Bob Woodward, Richard Clarke, John Dean, Joseph Wilson, and a host of other White House critics are all liars and bomb-throwers, while they — Dubya, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Rove, and Powell — remain squeaky clean. But in many ways, the character assassination has worked, because we don’t hear much about the bomb-throwers anymore, unless in mocking tones. I even remember the rumor circulated that Clarke might be gay, which as we know is always the surest sign that one is a dishonest traitor who eats children. Still, it is not my intent to make it sound as if only Republicans play dirty politics, but do not forget that Democrats don’t have an entire network to do their bidding, despite what the lying scoundrels tell you about a “liberal” media.
Another common trick used by Fox is the “some people say” phrase. When used in a newscast or talk show format, it lends the speaker an air of authority, even though it is vague, meaningless, and un-attributed. Still, when repeated over and over, the cumulative effect can no doubt change minds. It’s Fox’s way of having the appearance of hard data and real sources, when in fact it is merely the commentator’s way of injecting opinion without naming it as such. And speaking of dubious sources, what about the paid consultants and “experts” who dot the Fox landscape throughout the day? These people are little more than whores for the network, yet they are always introduced with “credentials” that speak to their great importance and yes, even “objectivity.” After all, when a guy works for the “Institute for Policy Reform in Government,” the yokels are bound to defer to such obvious superiority. The aims and sources of funding for such a group are never revealed, so the intellectually lazy are never aware of the political bias. For all they know, they are listening to an “educated” source rather than a foot soldier for right-wing conservatism.
Outfoxed also shows the alteration of certain words that once again have a cumulative effect. Changing suicide bombers to “homicide bombers” might not seem like much, but in reality, it changes the very nature of debate. And again, if you question the decision, you are branded as a supporter of terrorism itself, which has a way of keeping people quiet in advance. I’m also struck by the use of “Democrat Party” rather than the traditional “Democratic.” This was not discussed at length in the film, but as I watch Fox and listen to conservative radio quite often (if only to bring on the stroke that will release me from this shithole), I’ve noticed it building by the day. I believe Rush Limbaugh was the first to make the change, but now everyone who is a self-described conservative uses the term whenever they are on the air. Why make the change? Again, I’ve never heard it discussed at length, but to me it seems obvious. Democratic implies “democracy,” which for conservatives is too flattering for a party they loathe with every fiber of their being. Democrat, when joined with “party,” is a way to imply that the organization is in no way related to the fundamental idea that gave birth to our nation. It should wake everyone up that to a man (and blond, anorexic woman), the right-wingers have signed on for this alteration. Such a thing lends an enormous amount of credibility to the notion that media conservatives are all served their talking points each morning and work with great deliberation to stick to the same script.
There’s also a discussion about the “fair and balanced” piece of bullshit, which is of course disbelieved by all thinking Americans, who might number in the dozens, give or take a few members of the Ruthless Team. One statistic that forever puts to bed the silly idea that Fox cares about true debate is related to guests on Brit Hume’s “Special Report,” one of the channel’s most popular offerings. During a 25-week period of study, the film found that 83% of guests were Republicans, while the remaining Democrats were usually of the Zell Miller variety (for the unknowing, he’s that rat bastard prick Senator from Georgia who, as a Democrat, is speaking at this year’s Republican Convention). At the very least, the Democrats were no better than centrist. And when a stray liberal manages to sneak by? Needless to say, the poor sap is immediately marginalized, if not spotlighted as a twisted, vile, hunchback with rotten teeth and child porn spilling from his pockets. Or we get the “faux liberals” like Alan Colmes, who is such a slobbering pussy that he might as well switch his affiliation before he hurts himself.
We are also treated to a virtual parade of spiked stories, selectively edited speeches, and campaign events presented as hard news. This is best typified by a comparison of Bush/Kerry images. Bush is always presented at rallies and massive gatherings, usually with a healthy number of acceptable faces — soldiers, kids, and soccer moms. When we see Kerry, he’s either on the slopes, casually dressed, or looking “French,” which in this case seems to mean immersed in deep thought. Bush, however, is a man of action; he of the padded crotch, confident strut, and crisp salute. Admittedly, Bush is President, which limits the number and type of images that the media can use, but Fox is unlikely to show an entire speech, especially when that “chat” contains W’s patented verbal gaffes.
Other Fox critics such as Eric Alterman, David Brock, Al Franken, and Peter Hart discuss Fox’s fear campaign, from the perpetual display of the terror alert, to “breaking news” that is rarely as promised. And from the endless stories about “what to do in case of a dirty bomb attack” to suspicious “Others” (Arabs, Mexicans, and blacks are usually the Most Wanted), it is clear that Fox wants people to be insecure and terrified; two emotional states that usually produce unthinking trust in the powers that be. Conveniently, when a Democrat is in the White House, the tone shifts and the stories about government waste, corruption, and oppression are hauled out of storage. As such, Fox is always playing both sides — watchdog to lapdog — depending on the master who administers the treats. Still, they’re always reliably Republican.
And as the film states, this pathetic state of journalism exists largely because of the failure to uphold the Fairness Doctrine, which of course faded from view under President Reagan (now rotting in the earth, thank the fuck Christ). This retreat from the true role of the media has led to the “Fox Effect,” which has greatly influenced how other outlets book guests, treat the powerful, and craft the news, which is now little more than an extension of the business class. As an ex-Fox employee states, the “news” at the network is generated not by the news room, but rather the promotions department. Facts and high standards have at last given way to simpleminded opinion, which may or may not be true, and of course rarely is the complete picture. The media then, headed by Fox, is little more than an echo chamber, accepting their marching orders, passing them along, and daring other networks not to follow suit. We’ve also seen a decline of local media control, increasing power in the few cities where important decisions are made. Admittedly, much of the local news is bullshit “human interest” stories about heroic grandmothers and escaped animals, but the relevance — that journalists within a city or town better understand the impact of world events on their particular population — is forever lost. As such, homogenization and consolidation push out diversity, unique flavor, and most importantly, challenge. But Fox, in conjunction with an all to complicit FCC, wants at all costs to turn the American people into an extension of their staff — speaking the same language, using the same terminology, and unquestioning in the face of unchecked power and profits.
Outfoxed is only little more than an hour long, but it hits so many important issues that one is left reeling. Of course, it will depress the hell out of you, which it is as it should be. I’m no fan of “the people,” but I am unwilling to accept the stifling of dissent, even if most people have nothing interesting to say. The style is slick and effective, which is surprising for a film with such a low budget. And it’s quite up-to-the-minute, including information as recent as May 2004. And while we see the usual suspects — O’Reilly, Hannity, Hume — the “reporters” are also given a healthy dose of the lash. By now, it is common knowledge that Fox is our Tass (except of course to the network itself), but films like this need to be seen because as we know, this shit precedes — and will follow — George W. Bush. We are becoming indistinguishable from George Romero’s zombies, and no one seems to give a fuck. It is an unending source of irony that as technology has expanded the reach of the media to unprecedented levels, the press is less free than ever. Perhaps it isn’t yet 1984, but that should hardly be a source of comfort. After all, when that time does come, we may not even notice the change. By then, it will be too late.