Posted on 16-8-2004
Afraid Of Fox?
Note: PTV will attempt to obtain and screen this documentary.
The extraordinary rise of Rupert Murdoch's Fox News television
virtually unchallenged in the United States, until now. ANDREW
A few months ago, John MacArthur, the publisher of Harper's
invited to an American television show to defend his argument
President George Bush should be impeached. Except this was not
television show. He was to be questioned on a programme on Rupert
Murdoch's Fox News network called Hannity & Colmes.
And that was tantamount to putting his head in a lion's mouth
waiting for the fangs to sink in, as anyone knows who is familiar
gladiatorial style of America's most unapologetically right-wing
MacArthur would have argued, had he been given the chance, that
President had lied "on a grand scale" about the reasons
for going to war
with Iraq. But he was not there to explain himself. He was there
ridiculed and humiliated.
Before he had uttered a word, Sean Hannity, the attack dog on
interviewing team, dismissed his thesis as "not even really
worth discussing". When that provoked a testy response,
he goaded his
guest further. "Name me one lie! Name me one lie!"
MacArthur tried to oblige, but within seconds of his launching
now-familiar catalogue (the canard of Iraq's nuclear weapons,
aluminium tube imbroglio, and so on), Hannity cut him off, saying:
don't have time for a speech".
The exchange soon deteriorated into a peculiar mixture of inquisitorial
baiting and unintentional black humour.
"I've got to ask you," Hannity said. "Did you
call for the impeachment of
"I wasn't interested in the impeachment of Bill Clinton."
"You weren't interested? So, you're only interested in
the impeachment of
MacArthur stood up well, squeezing in more points about dead
and betrayal of the public trust until Hannity finally snapped
him: "Be quiet".
Hannity summed up, no longer referring to his guest in the second
"The idea here is he cannot give a specific example."
"I did give a specific example," MacArthur countered.
"He's full of crap," said Hannity.
"I did give an example," MacArthur repeated.
But Hannity was having none of it. "Hatred of George W.
Bush now has
become a sport for these guys," he thundered. And that
was the end of
It is hard to watch such exchanges - similar ones are broadcast
News most nights of the week - without being overwhelmed by
is one thing to have an editorial slant, questionable though
that may be
for a station purporting to be "fair and balanced"
in its reporting. It is
quite another to bludgeon viewers with the party line and deride
dismiss everything else out of hand.
Hannity is probably the station's most aggressive cheerleader
for the Bush
Administration, but he is far from the only one. The station's
host, Bill O'Reilly, is notorious for his short fuse with guests
he can get away with humiliating.
On numerous occasions he has told them to "shut up",
or referred to them
as "pinheads" or, on one occasion, a "vicious
son of a bitch".
Even the straight up-and-down news coverage on Fox strays deep
partisan territory. The anchors are reverential and often openly
supportive when the subject-matter is President Bush's latest
speech, or a
group of US Marines returning from Iraq.
Bad news for the Administration is either screened out altogether
will not catch Fox discussing military casualty figures in Baghdad
else spun in the Republican favour.
The Democrats are considered fair game for just about every
kind of abuse.
Anchors have been known to joke about how well John Kerry, the
Party presidential candidate, gets along with Kim Jong Il, the
Korean leader. Coverage of the recent Democratic National Convention
eccentric, to say the least.
Hannity and O'Reilly moved their operations to Boston's Fleet
the duration, but used the time either to engineer confrontations
their political nemeses (a stand-off between O'Reilly and Michael
the muck-raking documentary-maker, was particularly memorable),
or to talk
to the few Republicans present and agree that the spectacle
television masquerade behind which lurked an extremist left-wing
When complaints started coming in to the station that Fox, over
its usual bias, was not doing its job as a news channel, a highly
defensive O'Reilly explained that Fox was actually performing
its rivals because it was offering viewers "perspective",
US media watchers have been marvelling for years at the extraordinary
of Fox News, which among its many other attributes has been
successful at attracting audiences and forcing the other cable
stations - CNN and MSNBC, in particular - to rethink their strategies.
If Americans had no clue until late in the day that the Bush
Administration's stated rationale for war in Iraq had collapsed,
largely because the television news stations were not telling
But until recently, the singular status of Fox News as the cathode-ray
embodiment of the political party in power had stirred little
debate. That has now changed, thanks to the extraordinary success
reverberating influence of a modest little documentary that
began to be
distributed over the internet a few weeks ago.
The film, called Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War On Journalism,
is the work
of a prominent left-wing Hollywood producer called Robert Greenwald,
put it together at high speed in weeks, under conditions of
to avoid pre-emptive legal action.
The film's underlying thesis, that Fox has broken with the journalistic
ethic of fair political coverage and deliberately blurred facts
partisan opinion, seems, at first blush, so self-evident that
why it needed to be spelled out. Released on DVD and distributed
by the anti-Bush grassroots website MoveOn, Outfoxed sold 100,000
in its first two weeks, was shown at thousands of co-ordinated
house-parties across the country and shot to the top of amazon.com's
As of this weekend, it has found cinematic distribution, showing
cinemas in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Washington.
If it is
successful there, it could break out more widely.
Outfoxed's producers say the lesson of this success is that
people do not
watch television nearly as critically as one might imagine.
people don't think of the Machiavellian impact of politics on
lives," Kate McArdle said.
"When we say in the film that the man who first called
2000 presidential election for Bush was Bush's own cousin, John
was working for Fox News, people gasp in disbelief. One would
people would know 90 per cent of what we put in the film, but
The film is at its most effective as a deconstruction of what
puts on the screen. It follows talking-points from the White
House, to the
memos distributed to staff at Fox, to what goes on the air,
and shows how
extraordinarily similar they are.
It demonstrates how close coverage of President Bush is station
is the decision to offer only filtered glimpses of the Kerry
reveals certain specific linguistic prescriptions, such as the
"sharpshooter" instead of "sniper" to describe
US soldiers picking off
Iraqi targets in Fallujah. Sharpshooter, a memo explains, does
the same negative connotation.
And the film offers an intriguing close syntactical reading
of the phrase
"some people say", which is repeatedly used by Fox
to cloak their opinion
in the language of reasoned analysis.
Whenever a fact inconvenient to the Bush Administration pops
source is denigrated. Thus, when Richard Clarke, the disillusioned
White House counter-terrorism chief, offered his damning portrait
Bush team's stance on terrorism before September 11, Fox immediately
denounced him as a liberal fruitcake prepared to say anything
more copies of his book, Against All Enemies.
One of the film's interviewees, the veteran reporter James Wolcott,
Fox does not particularly mind if such tactics look faintly
don't have to win every argument," Wolcott says, "but
if they can muddy
the argument enough, if they can turn it into a draw, that to
them is a
victory because it denies the other side a victory."
Naturally, Outfoxed has become an object of the Fox machine.
denounced it as "rank propaganda" and the "distorted
work of an
A Fox News reporter who confronted Robert Greenwald at Outfoxed's
news conference said: "It's unfair, it's slanted and it's
a hit job. And I
haven't even seen it yet."
But for all the indignation, Outfoxed appears to have had a
effect on station policy. After a deluge of complaints during
Democratic Convention, Fox News started airing more of the speeches
in the last two days.
An informal group of media-watchers inspired by Outfoxed has
monitoring Fox News around the clock, and swears the station
inviting more bona fide liberals. Like everything else in America,
stakes of this new media debate have been heightened by the
Perhaps the most insidious thing about Fox News is the sheer
engenders. An opinion poll last October shows 33 per cent of
viewers think the US has found weapons of mass destruction in
it has not, and 67 per cent think Saddam Hussein had ties to
which the recently published September 11 Commission report
The figures for listeners to National Public Radio were 11 per
cent and 16
per cent respectively.
The poll shows not only are Fox News viewers often the least-informed
consumers, alarmingly, they also regard themselves as well-informed.
Anyone wondering why it is so hard for Kerry to pull away from
Bush after the policy disasters of the past few months should
and gird themselves for a propaganda war like no other.