`Outfoxed' filmmaker takes aim at Fox News

Channel is said to lean to the right

July 13, 2004|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN STAFF

A new documentary, paid for by liberal advocacy groups, is stirring the media pot by contending that the Fox News Channel is not only conservative but explicitly slanted in favor of Republicans.

Called Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism, the film, which was unveiled yesterday at a New York news conference, is intended as a direct assault on the credibility of Fox News. The network has blended reporting and high-decibel political talk shows to become the nation's highest-rated cable news station.

"It's fine to have news organizations with points of views," says Robert Greenwald, the director and producer of Outfoxed. "Fox News sells this line that it's `fair and balanced' and they're reporting news on all sides. That's not the case."

Executives at Fox News, created in 1996 as an antidote to what founding CEO and chairman Roger Ailes has characterized as the overwhelmingly liberal mainstream media, dismissed the criticism that their network is conservative. During primetime hours, an average of 1.4 million viewers watch the network.

"We've heard this before," said John Moody, Fox News' senior vice president for news. "We look to cover the two [presidential] candidates approximately the same amount of time over the course of the day. That's standard operating procedure for us."

Greenwald, a veteran producer of television movies, has also produced documentaries that sharply question the handling of the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election and the Bush administration's push to invade Iraq. In this latest project, he has embraced the filmmaker-as-activist stance of Fahrenheit 9/11 director Michael Moore to score points against his target - in this case, a news network rather than a president. "Fox is not a conservative channel - it's a Bush-Republican Party channel," Greenwald said in a telephone interview.

Outfoxed relies upon interviews with former Fox News employees and liberal press critics as well as footage taken from satellite feeds without the network's permission.

It is backed financially by the liberal MoveOn.org, a group that seeks to rally public sentiment against Bush and the invasion of Iraq, as well as the left-of-center Center for American Prog- ress, a think tank led by prominent Democrats. The film will be sold via the Internet, rather than distributed in theaters. On Sunday, MoveOn.org is also sponsoring screenings around the country.

Fox News executives, who were not asked to comment in the documentary itself, said Greenwald is distorting the nature of their internal editorial decisions. "If any news organizations decide to make this an anti-Fox News story, then all of their material becomes fodder immediately for possible out of context and biased documentaries," Fox News said in a statement released yesterday.

Fox News staffers attended yesterday's news conference where they distributed materials noting that two of the former employees who appeared in the documentary worked for WTTG, the Fox-owned Washington channel that is run separately from Fox News, not the network itself. A third former employee was characterized in the Fox leaflet as a "weak field correspondent."

In Outfoxed, Fox News political correspondent Carl Cameron is shown in 2000 footage that never aired chatting amiably with then-presidential candidate George W. Bush about his wife's work on behalf of the Republican's presidential bid. "She's a good soul. She's a really good soul," Bush says.

Anchors are shown on the air blistering leading Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. The film also discloses daily memos sent by Moody, called the "Editorial Note," in which he steers coverage away from criticism of President Bush or prevents coverage from dwelling on the costs of the war in Iraq. Such material demonstrates the clear bent of Fox News, several former staffers said during the documentary.

"You got marching orders, you got talking points, you got what the theme of the day was," said former Fox News commentator Larry Johnson, who had previously served as a CIA agent under President Ronald Reagan and as a State Department counter-terrorism official under President George H.W. Bush. "They would shape the news, and it was being one in a coordinated fashion with the [George W.] Bush administration."

Fox News executives have described the daily memos as an important part of making news judgments, setting the tone for a 24-hour-a-day cable news channel. Some excerpts of Moody's notes published yesterday on the Cablenewser.com did not reflect uniform bias against Democrats.

"We pay [journalists] to think for themselves, but there has to be a unifying theme to our coverage," Moody said. "A network has to look and sound approximately the same to viewers throughout the day."

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