At this stage of the game – and it does feel an awful lot like a game, doesn’t it? – anyone who honestly believes that the Fox News Channel’s ubiquitous motto of "fair and balanced" accurately summarizes Rupert Murdoch’s right-wing cable bastion is not only fooling themselves but looking mighty dull-witted in the process. It’s one thing to have a slight bias one way or the other (even that venerable and ostensibly objective Grey Lady The New York Times
had a heyday bashing Clinton during both the Whitewater and Monicagate scandals and now takes a barely concealed glee in tormenting the current resident of the White House), but Fox News Channel has refined the art of spin to the point where it often feels as though it's getting its sturm-und-drang news bites directly from the Bush cabinet. To that end of late there’s been much talk (mostly from the lefty 527 MoveOn.org) of taking the channel to court on the ground that its slogan is entirely misleading. That’d be fun to watch, I bet, a sock in the kisser to Murdoch, who controls one of the largest media conglomerates ever to stride the face of popular culture. Director Greenwald (whose career trajectory is nothing if not interesting: He helmed the 1980 Olivia Newton-John/Gene Kelly musical Xanadu
before moving on to the 2000 Abbie Hoffman biopic Steal This Movie
, and later the Bush-bashing Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War
, which is scheduled to open next month in Austin) is clearly incensed by Fox’s wildly conservative slanting of the news, and he’s decided to do something about it – first and foremost by studying the channel’s output for a number of months and then going through the taped material to cull instances of outright bias. To put it mildly, he comes up with fistfuls of evidence supporting his thesis: a sizable number of ex-Fox employees who spill the beans on Murdoch’s ongoing attempt to portray his beloved Republican party as an unassailable force for good, and, most damning of all, a series of interoffice memos direct from Fox HQ in which various right-leaning "talking points" are discussed in regard to the day’s news and the exact tone of the broadcasts. It’s great fun, too, to watch blustery blowhard and liberal-baiter extraordinaire Bill O’Reilly say he’s only uttered the phrase "shut up" a single time and then see Greenwald’s film prove him a liar as a good dozen different clips of the squirmy pundit belching the caustic (and terribly ungentlemanly) phrase over and over and over. This sort of obvious untruth speaks to both the Fox News Channel’s bedrock belief that if you tell a lie often enough and loud enough it will become the truth, and the notion that they believe their audience to be complete idiots. It’s also deeply, despondently un-American, a bizarre hybrid of Stalinist propagandizing and Goebbelsian bullshitery that is very creepy indeed. Greenwald’s doc is pure partisan warfare of the liberal stripe, to be sure, but that doesn’t make it any less disturbing when discussing such a major shaper of public opinion as Fox, whose motto, judging from this film, more accurately should be "You retort, we deride."