THERE'S NO reason Fox News should stop at cornering the market on the phrase "fair and balanced." It might try claiming permanent ownership to the words "shut up," since Bill O'Reilly says it so often in his line of work. "Outfoxed: Robert Murdoch's War on Journalism," a left-wing filmmaker's attempt to call foul on megamedia owner Murdoch's exclamation-point news network, showcases O'Reilly at his inimitable finest, as well as other Fox journalists like Brit Hume and Sean Hannity.
"Shut up!" says O'Reilly, as soon as his interviewee offers an opposing viewpoint.
"Shut up!" he says to another, who dares to do the same. And again. And again.
What "Outfoxed" clearly wants to show viewers -- and it would take an act of political will or sheer goofiness to dispute this -- is Fox's conservative agenda. But more than that, filmmaker Robert Greenwald, also the director of "Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War," wants to take issue with the "fair and balanced" claim.
"There was further evidence today that President Bush's days of absorbing John Kerry's attacks without counterattacks are over," begins Brit Hume in one Fox broadcast. Fair? Balanced? You decide. There's more. But that's for this clearly partisan film to tell you. Perhaps only the pre-converted will attend this movie. But for independent thinkers and those who think of journalism as a profession of accuracy, fairness and ethics, there's more than enough to chew on.
Clearly from the angry liberal camp, Greenwald rolls out an army of left-leaning pundits, including The Nation columnist Eric Alterman, self-professed ex-conservative David Brock, comedian-commentator Al Franken, Rep. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) cultural critic James Wolcott and Peter Hart, author of "The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly."
But more compellingly, he interviews more politically balanced observers such as widely respected former CBS anchor Walter Cronkite, who's hardly laudatory, and many former members of Fox News, locally and national, who speak candidly about the regular in-house edicts that told them how to politically portray their news broadcasts. Some speak of harsh reprisals and measures taken to ensure the field reporters were toeing the party line.
One former Fox reporter -- assigned to cover the anticipated crowds at Ronald Reagan's presidential library on his birthday -- says he was suspended for airing footage that showed the meager turnout. This kind of firsthand, detailed testimony, even in the context of a liberally biased film, is not easy to dismiss as propaganda or the lamentations of the fired and disgruntled. There's too much detail and too many similarities in the complaints.
If there's one scene that ranks as the most emotionally telling, it is surely O'Reilly's contentious interview with Jeremy Glick, whose father was among those killed in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Haranguing Glick for signing an antiwar petition and opposing Bush's war policies, he emotionally accuses the young man of everything from treason to defamation of the president. When Glick continues to disagree, O'Reilly tells a technician to cut off Glick's microphone, before ordering him out of the building. This is where viewer emotion is likely to run high on either side of the political fence. And it's likely to be the defining point in the movie for everyone watching.
OUTFOXED: RUPERT MURDOCH'S WAR ON JOURNALISM ( Unrated, 77 minutes) -- Contains nothing objectionable. At the Avalon Theatre.