Greenwald Targets FOX News with New Doc, Highlights Bias at Top U.S. Cable News Outlet
by Brian Brooks
The latest film from producer/director Robert Greenwald asserts that the FOX News Channel, America's top-rated 24-hour cable news network, is biased and does little more than parrot the words and opinions of the Bush Administration and the Republican National Committee. "Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism" joins the growing list of political documentaries that have gained widespread attention this year, including Michael Moore's Palme d'Or-winning "Fahrenheit 9/11," Jehane Noujaim's "Control Room," and Jennifer Abbot & Mark Achbar's "The Corporation." Greenwald co-hosted a news conference Monday afternoon in Manhattan to promote and discuss the film along with liberal groups The Center for American Progress and MoveOn.org.
The new movie, which will have its premiere tonight (Tuesday) in Manhattan and screen at MoveOn.org house parties next week, was sent to indieWIRE yesterday afternoon and also distributed to the media at the press conference, where clips were screened. It contains interviews with former FOX employees who allege that FOX News management are biased and the film details management directives to portray Republicans with a positive spin while casting Democrats and liberals negatively. In the film, Greenwald also alleges that FOX News management pressure employees to follow the Republican party line and function as a mouthpiece for the party.
"They're bullies at FOX News," Greenwald told journalists at Monday's gathering at the Ritz Carlton Hotel near Central Park. He went on to say that the "Fox-ification effect" was being compounded by media consolidation and that the network's business model is influencing other news organizations to follow suit in the interest of profits. "It's cheaper to have people [on television] ranting and raving [instead of] doing real research and reporting," Greenwald said, adding that although he did not have a "smoking gun," there were patterns that can be identified that expose FOX News's bias.
One notable segment of the film shown yesterday, featuring FOX News' political reporter Carl Cameron just before a 2000 interview with then-Governor George Bush, captured an informal chat between Bush and Cameron talking about the reporter's wife, a staffer for the Bush-Cheney campaign team. Greenwald noted that the interview aired without a disclaimer of the potential conflict of interest.
Clara Frenk, a former producer at the FOX News bureau in Washington, D.C., who appears in the film, gave some details of a particular tactic used by the network. Lists of guests invited to be interviewed on camera often included a litany of well-known, and what she described as "well-spoken, good-looking right-wingers" who would present their point-of-view, while people asked to represent the "liberal" side were often unknowns who were perhaps not the best people to present the opinions of the left. Frenk claimed she suggested other higher profile expert names, in the interest of being "fair and balanced" and to better represent the left, but she said those ideas were ignored by producers.
At the press conference and in the film Larry Johnson, a self-described Republican who once worked as a journalist for FOX News, was especially critical of the network. "I don't think FOX should be used as a propaganda outlet for any White House, Republican or Democrat," said Johnson, in explaining why he participated in "Outfoxed." Johnson told attendees that he voted for Bush in 2000 and gave money to his campaign. He also described the network workplace as having a "Stalinist environment." Johnson told the gathered press that he had heard from colleagues at FOX News about memos that allegedly dictated biased news coverage, although he said he had never seen these memos himself. For example, the film indicated that such memos were sent out to FOX News journalists to portray the Iraq war in a positive light, concentrating on the 'rebuilding' of Iraq and playing down the violence and death of soldiers and Iraqis. In all, the film features seven former FOX News employees.
Greenwald did not interview FOX News management in the film but did say that he has copies of leaked memos from FOX News management that depict the slant. Although the memos were not provided during the conference, Greenwald said that the documents would be made available upon request. (indieWIRE sent a request yesterday evening to view these memos.)
At Monday's press conference, a FOX News reporter asked Robert Greenwald if he himself was in fact biased and if he could represent himself as a "credible documentarian" since the new film is being backed by MoveOn and the Center for American Progress. In response, Greenwald claimed that neither group had seen "one frame" of the film before it was completed. Both organizations contributed a total of $80,000 of the $300,000 budget, according to a profile about the film written by Robert S. Boynton and published in The New York Times Magazine on Sunday. The atmosphere became temporarily combative when the FOX News journalist continued to ask questions, only to be quieted by a press conference organizer. The FOX journalist also said he had never seen any memos or directives in the many years he has been employed by the network.
For its part, FOX News Channel distributed a statement regarding the film to exiting journalists outside the press conference. The statement sought to undermine the former FOX News journalists that participated in the film, describing them as "low level employees hardly worth addressing," emphasizing that some of them never worked directly for the FOX News Channel, but clarifying in additional materials distributed to the press that some worked for FOX network affiliate stations. FOX News said in its statement that some of the employees left because of "incompetence" and that none had ever "expressed their concern about editorial policy while employees."
The network also criticized Sunday's New York Times piece for not allowing the company "adequate time to react," which it called "unprecedented." FOX also accused the paper of "taking orders from a George Soros-funded website," perhaps referring to MoveOn.org or the Center for American Progress. The statement characterized Soros as a "left-wing billionaire currency speculator who funds many liberal efforts [and] corrupts the journalistic process." Soros has given large sums of money to both the Center for American Progress and MoveOn.org.
Robert Greenwald is a veteran of political documentaries, producing and directing "Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War" last year, and executive producing "Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election" by Richard Ray Perez and Joan Sekler. His other previous credits include the 2000 biopic "Steal this Movie," about '60s counter-culture guru Abbie Hoffman and "Xanadu" (1980) in addition to other producer credits for television going back to the 1970s.
Like "Uncovered," the "Outfoxed" DVD is for sale via the Internet at the film's website (http://www.outfoxed.org) for $9.95. "This is true democracy at work," referring to the Center for American Progress and MoveOn.org house parties that will present screenings of his new doc. He said that there are currently no plans for a theatrical release, but added that he is confident the film will generate debate about the topic of media consolidation and FOX News in particular.