Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism (2004) *** 1/2
Produced & directed by Robert Greenwald. Co-producers: Laurel Busby, Jim Gilliam, Kate McArdle, Devin Smith, 77 minutes. Not rated.
The key word here is “Procrustean.” In Greek mythology, Procrustes was a robber who caught people, placed them on his bed, and stretched or cut off their limbs to fit the size of his bed.
That, in modern political variances, is what multibillionaire Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News TV channel does to the people it does not like. The slogan of the News is “Fair and Balanced.” It is a grotesque slogan which, while not as barbaric as Iraqi and other militants who behead their captives, it does replace swords with words. But the words are what George Orwell called “newspeak.”
The Murdoch TV is aimed at audiences of conservative Republicans, extreme rightists and neo-cons. (In the French language “neo-cons” means “new imbeciles.” Remember the Chevrolet Nova car of yore, which, in Spanish meant “Chevy does not run.” It pays to be multilingual.)
The “Outfoxed” documentary comes on the heels of Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” and of “Uncovered: The War on Iraq” also by Robert Greenwald. Comparisons and contrasts among those works would go far beyond the space allotted to me for reviews. I will only say that Moore’s movie was clearly embattled and in many ways personal. That Greenwald’s “Uncovered” was essentially of talking heads.”Outfoxed” too uses talking heads but on a different scale.
The talkingest heads here are Brit Hume (Fox News managing editor and chief correspondent of its Washington bureau) and Bill O’Reilly (syndicated columnist, host of the Fox News “The O’Reilly Factor,” and, it seems, a mega-slanderer.) He keeps reappearing in “Outfoxed” and ought to get an Oscar for shouting down many of his guests, in various circumstances, with a constant, loud, imperial “Shut Up!”
(O’Reilly claims that “Shut Up!” was a single occurrence, but the film segues with a montage of many of those exclamations-coercions. Quite amusing.)
Among the big collection of talking heads a large number of talking heads in the documentary there is a host of former hosts of disgruntled –to put it mildly—persons. The ex-employees expose the pressures of their jobs, their having to disseminate falsities, to apply attacks and such on their interviewees.
They now provide the “Outfoxed” people with information(s), plus office and internal memos on how to “treat” those of their “guests “ whose do not share Murdochian opinions. (Overall, the people interviewed in the past on Murdoch’s have been overwhelmingly Republicans.)
What emerges from the screen now is that the News TV deals with opinions but neither facts nor information. Lies and manipulations abound, supported by a lack of journalistic ethics, by nasty devices and tactics, by a “we’re right, you are wrong” ambiance, by repeated, hammered distortions which work on the principle that repetition gets eventually—and naively—accepted by many Fox watchers.
The Murdochian strategy does not really deal with intelligent, informed Republicans. Rather, it reminds one, vividly, of Nazi or Soviet methodologies. These are not Conservative methods but simply dictatorial, demagogical ones that make you think of Hitler and his minions and mouthpieces. False accusations have been the bread and butter of politicians’ rivalries. Centuries ago, during European turmoil, an honest person protested to his political leader that their side was slandering the opposition. His superior replied: “Keep on slandering; some of it will eventually work for us.”
One favorite ploy of Murderochians (sic) is to start out vilification with “some say,” or “some people say” and segue with the victim’s fabricated misdeeds. Sometimes it is funny. The top grade goes to the statement-accusation that Presidential candidate Kerry “looks French.” Go figure. But nobody declares that Mr. Murdoch (who acquired US citizenship in 1985 for financial reasons, including the creation of Fox Broadcasting) “looks Australian.”
All that is like a throwback to the demented Senator Joe McCarthy who was obsessed with fabricated communists during the Red Scare days and whose downfall came in the 1954 Army-MvCarthy hearings (when he tackled the U.S. Army). Still memorable are the words of Joseph Welch, the gentle, grandfatherly defense lawyer. “Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”
Please pay attention to the the film’s finale and the terse conclusions of commentators, including Robert McChesney, professor of communications at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.