The chickens have come home to roost

A new leftist documentary interrogates the idea of journalistic objectivity

by Gabriel Shapiro

There are many signs that the world of corporate controlled media is slowly changing. We can download music and books, or read independent papers and zines. Now, “Outfoxed” brings us two opposite examples of a new media regimen.

First, we have Fox News, undoubtedly the most one-sided, politically biased major news organization. Opposed to Fox, there is this documentary film, partly funded by donations, and distributed directly on DVD.

Robert Greenwald’s opus is the latest entry in ever-growing parade of (mostly lefty) political films. In a summer that has seen the release of “Fahrenheit 9/11,” “The Corporation” and the upcoming “The Hunting of the President,” there seems to be an ever-larger percentage of the U.S. entertainment dollar being spent on documentaries.

Where “Outfoxed” breaks from these is in its distribution. It has been an best seller since its release on July 13, and sells for less than ten dollars. Where the others are looking for bigger and better box office numbers, “Outfoxed” is showing up at house parties and libraries.

Its similarities are more likely to be the big draw for viewers, though. Interview footage damning Fox, including some with former Fox employees, media watchdogs, and even Walter Cronkite are juxtaposed against footage of Bill O’Reilly telling his guests to “shut up,” or simply cutting their mikes. It all adds up to a scathing attack on Fox, and particularly their claims to being “fair and balanced.”

The documentary suggests that Fox hides behind the pervasive myth of objectivity, while all the time manipulating the news into a 24/7 right wing screed. Documents from Fox executives corroborate these assertions. Fox is effectively portrayed as the propaganda arm of the Republican Party.

The lessons are many, but most important is that a free and unbiased media is key to our success as a democracy, and Fox is a detriment to achieving that success.

A partisan media isn’t bad as long as people understand that that is what it is. In most European countries, you know that every paper at the newsstand has a political bend. There are conservative and liberal outlets, and that’s fine because nobody is delusional enough to believe that anything is truly “fair and balanced.”

So, if Fox wants to be the right wing news source, that is great. The point of the documentary is not to argue that, it is to say that disguising Brit Hume, Bill O’Reilly, Neil Cavuto and Sean Hannity as neutral observers – not to mention Murdoch, Roger Ailes and the rest of the Fox management – is like putting a chicken suit on the predator in the hen house. We can pretend all we want, but when the chickens go missing, we already know whodunit.