Tilting at the Right, Leaning to the Left
Robert Greenwald's 'Outfoxed' Has Its Own Slant on Balance
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 11, 2004; Page D01
Robert Greenwald, an admirer of Michael Moore, is trying to give Fox News Channel the kind of cinematic spanking that Moore just delivered to President Bush in "Fahrenheit 9/11."
"Fox is not a conservative network, it's a Republican network," and its fair-and-balanced slogan is "ridiculous," the Los Angeles director says in explaining why he sought funding from two liberal groups -- and took out a loan -- to make the documentary "Outfoxed."
But Greenwald, whose last movie was "Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War," makes no effort at fairness or balance himself. Not only did he avoid contacting Fox, and indulge in some misleading editing, but the film also features a parade of the network's liberal detractors -- including Al Franken, Vermont Rep. Bernie Sanders, the group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting and out-of-the-closet liberal columnist Walter Cronkite.
Greenwald does score points with a handful of memos from a top Fox executive that appear to suggest tilting the news on such subjects as Iraq and the Sept. 11 investigation, and in interviews with a few former Fox staffers and contributors -- three of whom are off-screen and anonymous, their voices distorted.
But many of their allegations are hard to assess because they involve orders, or attitudes, by an unnamed "they" at Rupert Murdoch's network.
Greenwald says he didn't ask Fox for interviews because "there was every reason to expect that not only would they say no but they would take steps to legally shut me down." He admits he's taking a risk by using lots of Fox footage without permission.
"They're a network," Greenwald says. "They don't lack opportunities to tell their story. . . . I'm hardly Goliath taking on David."
Unlike "Fahrenheit 9/11," Greenwald's movie, which debuts Tuesday in New York, is not likely to play at the local multiplex. The $300,000 film, partly financed by the liberal organizations MoveOn.org and the Center for American Progress, will be shown at 2,000 house parties around the country, and a $9.95 DVD is being sold online. Greenwald hopes to generate enough buzz to make it into some smaller theaters.
The movie focuses on daily editorial notes to the Fox News staff from Senior Vice President for News John Moody, who wrote in March about the 9/11 commission hearings: "This is not 'what did he know and when did he know it' stuff. Do not turn this into Watergate."
In an April memo on Iraq coverage, Moody wrote: "Do not fall into the easy trap of mourning the loss of US lives and asking out loud why are we there?" Two days earlier, during U.S. military operations in Fallujah, Moody said: "It won't be long before some people start to decry the use of 'excessive force.' We won't be among that group."
And in a May 2003 note on President Bush's judicial nominees, Moody wrote that some were "being held up because of their POSSIBLE, not demonstrated, views on one issue -- abortion. This should be a trademark issue for FNC today and in the days to come."
In an interview with The Post, Moody rejects "the implication that I'm controlling the news coverage," saying of his 1,200 employees: "People are free to call me or message me and say, 'I think you're off base.' Sometimes I take the advice, sometimes I don't."
On Iraq, Moody says his point was that "casualties are part of war" and should not be overplayed. That's a separate issue, he says, from "the political question we debate all the time -- should we be there?
"The insurgents were and are using every possible method they could and can to cause American casualties. Then you have those who say U.S. troops are doing terrible things to these poor Iraqi people. Well, it's a war."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company