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'Outfoxed': Another Documentary Salvo From the Left

By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 6, 2004; Page C05

If you're keeping score at home, it's Lefties 6, Righties 0.

Joining "Fahrenheit 9/11," "Control Room," "The Hunting of the President," "Orwell Rolls in His Grave" and "The Corporation," the new documentary "Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism" sends up one more heated cry during an already hot and bothered political season. The film, by Robert Greenwald, seeks to deconstruct the methods (and occasional madness) of Fox News Channel, which he sees not as "Fair and Balanced" -- as the network's catch phrase has it -- but as radically partisan. To bolster his claims, Greenwald has enlisted several former Fox employees as well as volunteers who monitored the cable channel's news reports for political bias.

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Using interviews, internal memos and outtakes, "Outfoxed" paints an often grave but sometimes hilarious picture of a hugely powerful network owned and run by men (Rupert Murdoch and CEO Roger Ailes, to be exact) with unmistakable right-wing agendas. Along the way, the film argues, they routinely repackage Bush administration talking points with snazzy graphics and pumped-up volume and present them as objective news. ("Outfoxed" came out on DVD two weeks ago and is being shown in theaters in part to build on the success of that release.)

Often, Greenwald's argument is convincing, especially when he's talking to former Fox News workers and when he shows political reporter Carl Cameron cozying up to candidate George W. Bush (Cameron's wife worked on the Bush campaign) before doing a disclosure-free interview. And there's something particularly depressing about Walter Cronkite bemoaning the state of Fox's journalism. It's as if Captain Kangaroo were breaking the news that somebody's been putting crack cocaine in the Cocoa Puffs. When Walter is unhappy, clearly something's gone horribly, horribly wrong.

But Greenwald undermines his own mission when he mixes apples and oranges, the very sin he accuses Fox of committing. It's no surprise that Bill O'Reilly can be a rude and belligerent host -- here amply demonstrated by his appalling treatment of a young man whose father died on Sept. 11, 2001 -- but O'Reilly, along with another "Outfoxed" target, Sean Hannity, is a commentator, not a news gatherer. Throughout Greenwald's film, news and commentary programs are conflated, with the ultimate effect being confusing and, well, somewhat Foxlike.

What's more, while "Outfoxed" addresses Fox's influence on other channels and programs, the subject is given short shrift. With their reliance on tabloid sensationalism, zap-edits, in-your-face graphics and sanctimonious displays of patriotism, too many broadcast and cable news outlets are adopting Fox's excesses. Rather than Murdoch and Co., the title of "Outfoxed" could refer just as easily to the way the mainstream media continually seek to up Fox's ante in lowering the denominator.

Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War onJournalism (77 minutes, at the Avalon) is not rated.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company