By Rob Blackwelder
The most scrupulous, most focused, most thorough, and arguably most important of 2004's wave of activist documentaries, "Outfoxed" exposes in detail the relentless partisanship and repetitive propaganda at Rupert Murdoch's Fox News by using the network's own program footage (and former employees) to corroborate its every assertion.
Director Robert Greenwald sets the stage with a primer on Murdoch's iron grip on his worldwide media empire, and the tycoon's hiring of a Nixon/Reagan/Bush media strategist to run his news network. Then the film introduces internal memos instructing anchors on how to put a pro-Bush spin on each day's events, and provides interviews with reporters and newsroom managers who quit rather than compromise their journalistic integrity -- some of whom clearly fear retaliation.
And that's just in the first six minutes.
"Outfoxed" is a far more unimpeachable documentary than "Fahrenheit 9/11," the Karl Rove exposé "Bush's Brain" and even Greenwald's own "Uncovered: The War On Iraq" because it lacks anything that could be dismissed as supposition or hyperbole. The director mostly lets Fox's own on-air personalities prove themselves insolent and biased beyond a reasonable doubt in clip after clip after clip.
The film dissects the network's ingrained techniques for slanting news: anchors parroting White House talking points, repeating fear-mongering phraseology and espousing unattributed "some people say..." reporting. It scrutinizes how polite, low-profile liberal panelists are constantly and deliberately overmatched against attack-dog "name" conservatives; it exposes how reporters have been pulled from Republican beats for asking tough questions; and it demonstrates the frequency with which talk show guests are denied their say, often by interrupting or telling them to "shut up," but sometimes by flat-out turning off their microphones.
The biggest bombshell of "Outfoxed" is a shocking demonstration of conflict-of-interest: pre-interview footage, from the cutting room floor, of the network's senior reporter on the 2000 campaign speaking warmly with Bush about the reporter's wife -- one of the candidate's major fund-raisers.
Greenwald captures all this yellow journalism with evident frustration, but the film does not have a palpable liberal slant. "Outfoxed" simply makes it clear as a bell how Fox viewers have become -- according to a highly respected University of Maryland/Program on International Policy Attitudes study that asked viewers simple questions with undisputed answers -- the most misinformed in the nation.
**** out of ****
(107m | NR)
DVD RATING: **
Unfortunately, the accompanying 30-minute making-of featurette does the film a huge disservice by over-praising the partisan MoveOn.org and introducing the transparently, stereotypically lefty volunteers who accumulated all the hours of Fox News broadcasts used in the film. Pulling back this curtain cannot change the facts of "Outfoxed," but it could provide corollary ammunition for naysayers.