Tilting at the Right, Leaning to the Left
Moody says he wanted the 9/11 panel coverage to reflect the fact that both the Clinton and Bush administrations were under scrutiny. As for judicial nominees, he says, "the litmus test of abortion is not necessarily a good one."
Larry Johnson, a former part-time Fox commentator who appears in the film, says in an interview that the Moody missives were "talking points instructing us what the themes are supposed to be, and God help you if you stray."
Clara Frenk, a former Fox booker and producer in Washington also featured in the movie, says in an interview: "What troubled me most was what I saw as a real lack of balance in terms of the way news was presented."
During President Bill Clinton's impeachment, there was "a real obsession with the state of the Clintons' marriage," she says, but not "a great deal of interest" in criticism of independent counsel Ken Starr for subpoenaing Monica Lewinsky's book records. Fox notes that Frenk volunteered for the 1992 Clinton campaign.
The notion that Fox News leans to the right is not exactly a novel concept. Most of its talk show hosts and most prominent commentators, such as Newt Gingrich, are conservatives. Nearly seven in 10 national journalists in a recent survey named Fox as an especially conservative news outlet. Los Angeles Times columnist Tim Rutten calls Fox "the most blatantly biased major American news organization since the era of yellow journalism."
The case made by Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes -- that his network covers the other side of arguments often minimized by the liberal news establishment -- is largely dismissed by that establishment. Greenwald, for one, says he doesn't believe the media are liberal.
Greenwald got the idea for the film after hearing other journalists talk about the "Foxification" of the business, a trend he defines as other news outlets becoming more conservative, sensational and dumbed down. He also had conversations with MoveOn President Wes Boyd, and former Clinton White House official John Podesta of the American Progress think tank, both of which helped finance his Iraq film. Getting insiders and ex-staffers to cooperate, says Greenwald, was "brutally hard."
"Outfoxed" accuses Fox of blurring the line between news coverage and the high-decibel opinions of its commentators and hosts, especially Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity (who each night counts the days "until George W. Bush is reelected"). But the movie follows a similar path, melding rapid-fire clips of anchors with pundits and guests -- who are, after all, booked for their opinions -- to illustrate that Fox takes the Republican side of every issue.
A scene aiming to illustrate that Fox anchors and commentators constantly use "some people say" as a way of injecting an editorial slant includes the phrase being uttered during an interview with Washington Post Managing Editor Steve Coll.
Another montage features the line "Presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry was scaring old people as usual with the predictable Democratic line." That was conservative host Cal Thomas, not an anchor, talking. And when various shows were debating the question of whether John Kerry seems French, John Gibson -- another conservative host -- greeted viewers: "Or as John Kerry would say, bonjour."
But "straight" anchors do it too. Neil Cavuto, Fox's managing editor for business news, who has contributed money to Bush, is shown in the movie saying: "Assuming that the unthinkable happens and Senator Kerry becomes president . . ."
A former California reporter, Jon DuPre, says in the film: "Any ad-lib that made the Democrats look stupid or made the Republicans look smart would get an 'attaboy,' a pat on the back, a wink and a nod." He says he was suspended because on Ronald Reagan's birthday, "apparently my live shots weren't celebratory enough." Fox says DuPre was never suspended but was transferred for being weak at live coverage.
In a rare rebuttal, Murdoch is seen in the movie saying, "There is diversity of opinion on Fox News. We have many liberals there," naming Alan Colmes and Greta Van Susteren.
Greenwald says he culled the Fox clips from more than eight hours of tapes submitted by 10 volunteers recruited by MoveOn, who found patterns in the network's coverage.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company