Money is the driving power in media. Fox is driven by money but their drive is more visible because they stand alone on the right side of the spectrum. This article is less about the documentary, Outfoxed, than a commentary about modern media and politics.
Bear with me as I’ve written a ton of soft features lately. Here’s something to wake up the politicos.
Somewhere, towards the end perhaps, this will be relevant to public relations.
Outfoxed, a 2004 documentary by Robert Greenwald, tries to show the dangers of corporate control over the media by citing commonly right-of-center news source, Fox. Greenwald and a group of volunteers monitored Fox News Channel 24 hours per day for several months looking for “conservative bias” in its news reporting. The resulting film shows that Fox is indeed a conservative-leaning media outlet and corporately controlled
This is breaking news?
Taglines and advertisements label Outfoxed as an attempt to prove that Fox is conservative and republican leaning. Did Greenwald think that he was decoding some great mystery of the world? Everyone knows Fox is conservative. Everyone knows The New York Times and CNN are liberal media sources.
I need to approach this from a common sense perspective. Fox is a conservatively biased media source. Their anchors show these traits with a degree of obviousness. Outfoxed gives several arguments to prove its case. First and foremost, the film demonstrates that Fox owner Rupert Murdoch and president Roger Ailes are both ideologically conservative. The film claims that reporters are praised for positively covering conservative issues and reprimanded for concentrating on liberal ones.
Both of the above facts may be true. Yes Murdoch and Ailes are conservatives. It is possible that news reporters are being encouraged to follow a more conservative agenda. What I fail to understand is where the harm is in promoting a conservative agenda when the vast majority of media outlets promote a liberal agenda? I don’t completely agree with either agenda, but we are bombarded with both consistently.
In fact, the 2004 presidential election and subsequent exit polls showed that the values held dearest by the majority of Americans are traditionally held as conservative ideals. They reelected a very conservative Republican president and gave Republicans a clear majority (read: mandate) in both houses. In New England and parts of California, we forget that in most other places in the United States, faith-based governance and lax gun control replace gay rights and abortion.
2006 will not change that, and Democrats (liberals) will not take back both the House and the Senate.
Now this brings us to the second argument. Fox is conservative; conservatism is contrary to the bulk of the mainstream media, but is an agenda of conservatism bad? Is any? Should all journalists be objective? Are any?
Fox is Murdoch’s candy store. Does he have the right to convey whatever image he wants with his proprietary media networks? Is it fair that the “haves” can spread their beliefs on all simply because they can afford to?
The conservative point is conceded as Fox clearly leans towards the right. Outfoxed, however, says that Fox News uses sensationalism and brute scare tactics to convey its point. The goal being to force the viewer to stay tuned.
The film goes as far as to say that the real goal here is to scare viewers into adopting conservative views.
I don’t believe that for a second.
Fox may sensationalize many of its stories. They often use dramatic theme music to call attention to breaking news. They create new, customized dramatic theme music for certain pressing events. But here’s what you won’t see in Outfoxed: Fox, and many other cable news networks, also break to commercials before, during and after key points in a news story. Of course Fox tries to keep their viewers watching, all television stations do.
I simply do not, however believe that Fox sensationalizes its stories in order to recruit for the right wing. Why sensationalize?
It’s that simple, and it is not the first time I’ve said it. Fox, like every other news source, adds a level of drama to their news reporting to attract more viewers to attract more advertisers.
I am not a Republican or a card carrying conservative. Neither were any of the expert contributors to Outfoxed. The contributors to the film include Jeff Cohen of FAIR, Bob McChesney of Free Press, Chellie Pingree of Common Cause, Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy and David Brock of Media Matters. These are all liberal media personalities from liberal organizations. Of course they would love to be in a documentary criticizing Fox; Fox is conservatively biased!
In July 2005, Fox released a statement denying that the channel had ever employed two of the Outfoxed contributors, who claimed to be former Fox News Channel employees. Fox later claimed that the producers of Outfoxed exaggerated interviewees’ positions and titles.
I reserve judgment as to whether or not hyper-sensationalizing news stories in the media for the purposes of attracting viewers is wrong or not, but it seems to me that if sensationalization was a true taboo in journalism, we wouldn’t need headlines.
Here’s an equally credible accusation: Outfoxed is liberally biased. The film’s official website contains quotes from supporters of the movie. It lists people as journalists, employees of the New York Times, Democraticunderground.com, etc. But when the list gets to a criticism from Fox personality Bill O’Reilly, he is cited as:
-Bill O’Reilly, pathological liar
This is to say that all of the data published on Democraticunderground.com, and everything ever printed in The Times is true and factual. This is the image that the PR campaign Outfoxed tries to get across. It is wrong to be a conservative, wronger to preach those views, and wrongest to be a conservative and work in journalism.
I don’t agree with most of what O’Reilly says, but he’s not a pathological liar; he’s someone I don’t agree with.
This is the problem with the Democratic Party. They have no pride and no identity; only hatred for the other side. They’re like Red Sox fans, circa October, 2003.
Every time I get a letter from a Democratic senator telling me “how we’re going to beat the Republicans,” I cringe. I’m not hearing or reading or seeing anything that sells me on liberal politics. Nobody is standing on a podium shouting for stem cell research, equal rights for someone or another or maybe an actual for ending the war. It is great to be anti-war if that’s what you believe in, but you don’t just press the Staples Easy Button and turn it off. No Democrat has come up with a viable plan to do anything about the war in Iraq.
What you do hear plenty of from the Democrats is how the Republicans are corrupt warmongers against individual rights. So what? Prove that the Democrats are better and liberals will vote. Give liberals something to be proud of and maybe a liberal will be president in 2008.
But it’s not looking quite that way just yet.
The Democrats will not survive on a pure campaign against the Republicans. The question liberals are asking themselves is not why shouldn’t I vote for Republicans. The question is why SHOULD I vote for Democrats?
No one has answered that yet. John Kerry didn’t do it. Al Gore didn’t do it. Whoever does should be the next Democratic presidential nominee. Whoever does it well will be the next president.