In the spirit of media fairness, let me make a full disclosure: I'm a left-leaner who enjoys a good laugh at the other side's expense. But I'm also a longtime TV-news junkie, and Robert Greenwald's film Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism, occasionally left me shaking my head for the wrong reasons.
Presented as an exposé of how Fox News may or may not be an operative of the Republican party, Greenwald's film stitches together interviews with former Fox employees and sympathetic commentators, factoids and lots of very brief clips from the Fox News Channel. While he finds a few smoking guns, including internal memos with instructions on how to spin the day's news, Greenwald unfortunately proves his case by employing the very tactics he rails at Fox for using: anonymous sources; misleading editing; snippets out of context; annoying graphics; and a failure to offer opinion or rebuttal from the other side.
And he never even comes close to proving that Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch has in fact unleashed a "war on journalism." (Greenwald's assertion that "three-quarters of the world's population is reached by Murdoch's media" is never substantiated, or even defined.) Greenwald offers little by way of larger context: He complains about the Foxification of other TV news outlets, but the decline of hard news has been a long time coming and has many antecedents.
Outfoxed fares better in its second half, when Greenwald stops fretting about over-used Fox News Alerts and starts to examine issues of media literacy, the consolidation of media, and the complacency of the public. But rather than shoot the big Fox fish in the tiny news barrel, I wish Greenwald had taken a wider view, and provided more hard facts of his own.
Greenwald's other recent film, Uncovered: The War on Iraq -- like this one funded in part by MoveOn and the Center for American Progress and already available in a shorter video version -- proved useful by encapsulating the Iraq war from more than a year's worth of media, and by throwing light on the subterfuges employed by the Bush administration in making its case for war. Fox News may be filled with blowhards with opinions and tactics that myself, Greenwald and zillions more don't agree with. But fighting poorly executed, biased media with a different work of poorly executed, biased media only compounds the larger problem of rant-and-rave media and ultimately serves no one -- not even people who can't stand Fox News.