For years, my friend Brad and I had a comedy routine that amused our friends. Brad would feign outrage my alleged lapses in good taste or good sense and berate me with a laundry list of my shortcomings. After he was done finding significant fault with everything I stood for, believed in and openly stated, I would gaze at him with mild contempt and blurt out: “Okay, now tell me something that I don’t know.”
My old punchline came back to me while watching Robert Greenwald’s documentary “Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism.” This feature promises to deliver the “secrets” of the Fox News Channel and its bombastic mix of ultra-conservative politics sliced into shoddy news coverage. However, you cannot have secrets when confronting an organization that makes its agenda plain for everyone to behold.
Anyone who has attempted to sit through a Fox broadcast will know immediately that the network’s approach to news is anything but objective. It is no surprise that Vice President Dick Cheney openly announced that Fox was the only news network he watches – Fox shamelessly showers the current White House regime with absurd praise and honor while it takes out the hatchets to Democrats and and anyone who dares to criticize the bumbling Bush team. With its inane line-up of goofballs and goons (including the repeatedly discredited Geraldo Rivera, the Iran-Contra poster boy Oliver North, the failed ABC windbag Brit Hume and the eternally emetic Bill O’Reilly), this network’s claims of being “fair and balanced” cannot fool anyone who possesses hearing and a cell of brain matter.
However, Greenwald stretches the sorry spectacle of exposing the obnoxious Fox formula to the fraying point. A rush of former Fox employees, some distinguished onlookers (including Walter Cronkite and David Brock) and some anonymous current Fox staffers are brought out to tsk-tsk about Fox and its Australian founder Rupert Murdoch. We learn that Murdoch is a right-winger who dictates his biases in the reporting and pushes his media empire around the world via influence peddling and aggressive bully-boy business tactics.
But going back to my old punchline: tell me something that I don’t know. Murdoch’s media empire building has been a transparent and blatant endeavor since he first landed on America’s shores some two decades ago. This was never a secret. And because the old dingo was so successful, Murdoch has built up an army of detractors – many of whom are present in this film. Murdoch never claimed to be subtle.
But give the devil his due – Murdoch has an open agenda. Compare that to the other news giants and how they operate. NBC is owned by General Electric, a major defense contractor – did anyone watching NBC in the weeks prior to the start of the Iraq war ever wonder why it offered so little coverage of the anti-war movement and why there was a glut of sappy human interest stories on the military personnel prepping for battle? Or how about CBS, which curiously presented the recent coincidence of having the authors from a publishing house owned by its parent company, Viacom, as the top guests on “60 Minutes”? Or Time Warner, which routinely gives gushy cover story status on Time Magazine to the major summer movies released by its Warner Bros. movie studio? Or Disney, which syndicates pill-popping Rush Limbaugh on its news radio network yet jettisoned “Fahrenheit 9/11” from its Miramax moorings for being too political?
If Greenwald had a genuine interest in exposing fraud in the media business, he could’ve had an epic documentary that would bring everyone in the new business to shame. But in throwing hatchets at Murdoch and his silly Fox network while pretending the rest of the media world is fine and objective, the film comes across as a shrill, one-note slam against a very easy target.