Doc of the Day: Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism Review - Dan Schindel

Doc of the Day: Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism

Posted in Days of Docs by - April 22, 2012

No one really believes that Fox News is “Fair and Balanced,” right? Well, in case you needed more proof against it…

Dir. Robert Greenwald, 2004, 78 min

Even though the world of documentary film is rife with progressive types, two giant enemies of progressivism, Fox News and Wal-Mart, have only one documentary apiece attacking them, and both were directed by Robert Greenwald. Now, if these two movies were a pair of be-all end-all works of criticism of their respective targets, I suppose it would make a little sense. But neither Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price nor Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism are in any way definitive.

Which is a shame, since this film came out at a time when we as a country desperately, desperately needed to be woken up about Fox News. This doc pulls no punches and, unlike Fox, makes no pretension of objectivity (which, I must always remind everyone, is not a requirement for a documentary anyway). It uses interviews with Fox employees both past and present (although all the present ones come on anonymously for fear of professional reprisal), leaked internal memos from the company, and a wealth of footage culled from the network that’s so specific and in-depth that it’d make the Daily Show team envious. The goal of the film is to attack Fox not for its obvious conservative slant, but for its stated mission of being “Fair and Balanced,” and for the negative effect the network’s practices have had on journalism as a whole.

I would hope that any reasonable person who sees this movie would be dumbfounded by the sheer gall of Fox’s way of doing business. The way the network cheerlead the Bush administration at every step is possibly even more infuriating with hindsight than it might have been when the film was originally released. The network’s naked fearmongering and pandering to the most regressive, least rational parts of people is horrific.

This doc contains enough Bill O’Reilly that you’ll never, ever want to set eyes on his face again. Watching him bully the son of a 9/11 victim for speaking out against war lays bare what a gaping, rancid, festering asshole that man is. And his compatriots on the network aren’t much better. I’m actually halfway curious now to watch for a while and see how often they vaguely, sourcelessly mention that “some people say ____ about ____,” as a way of undermining anything and/or anyone they don’t like.

This movie is made for people like me. And there lies its problem. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong about preaching to the converted; it’s not a total waste to reinvigorate the proponents of progress and sanity. But this movie would be more interesting, and more useful to wider society, if it could really pick apart Fox.

Greenwald starts with the assumption that you already take for granted that Fox isn’t really objective, thus automatically turning off the people who most badly need to learn this. It doesn’t help that, as experts, he brings in people like Bernie Sanders. Now, I’d probably vote Sanders for President in a heartbeat if that extremely unlikely situation ever arose, but what credibility does he have in the field of media?

While Greenwald is able to stir some powerful righteous indignation, he fails to offer more than a cursory glance at his subject. Worse than that, though, is the stunningly amateurish way this film is put together. This doesn’t look like the work of a man who’s been in the film industry for almost a quarter of a decade. I understand that Fox would probably launch a war any large-budget attempt to take them on, but a low production cost doesn’t mean you have to use titling that looks like it came from a 1980’s local news station (unless that’s somehow part of the point, in which case it’s just dumb).

I’m not just putting the film down for low production value, mind you. I try to never do that. After all, it’s the rare documentary that gets made with any significant amount of money behind it. The problem is that Outfoxed sometimes feels off. Because it works as if you already agree with it, it often feels like it’s talking down to the audience. Then there are the flat-out strange details, like the way that Rupert Murdoch’s rise to power is explained. Murdoch, by the way, isn’t in this movie much, which is odd, since his name’s in the title.

Outfoxed also ends with that old doc trope that annoys me oh so much: the call to action. You know, this may seem like a logical ending to an advocacy doc, but it really isn’t. And that’s this movie in brief: not quite making as much sense as it thinks it does. Which is a shame, because the parts that work are pretty great.

This post was written by
Dan Schindel is a writer and editor. He lives and works in Los Angeles.
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