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Fox News And The Outfoxed Effect: Seven Years Later

Reported by Ellen - August 9, 2011 -

As one of the researchers for Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism, I’m proud of the impact the film has had on the public’s perception of Fox News. Before Outfoxed, few people paid much attention to what the network was up to. Now, it’s a regular topic of political conversation and even mockery by The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Other than from a Fox News employee, when was the last time you heard someone arguing that the network doesn’t have a conservative/Republican bias? I think we can thank Outfoxed for exploding that "fair and balanced" myth to smithereens. And yet, while we can call that particular mission “accomplished,” there is still plenty more work to be done. I hope you'll join Outfoxed's producer/director Robert Greenwald tonight at 8 PM ET as he holds an online discussion about the seventh anniversary of Outfoxed. There will be special commentary from a variety of people including myself.

As the film’s subtitle suggests, bias is not and never has been the root of the Fox News problem. It’s the way the network works hand-in-hand with the Republicans to refashion propaganda into something it passes off as news – while accusing all other news outlets of doing the propagandizing. Yes, Fox News is fighting a war on Democrats, the Great Society, affirmative action and just about every other “liberal” value in mainstream America but it's doing all that via a war on journalism.

It’s nothing less than an assault on journalism when you have a managing editor admitting he didn’t really believe his own on-air accusations that Barack Obama is a socialist. But Fox’s Bill Sammon remains the network’s vice president and Washington managing editor even after that startling admission was publicized. Maybe that’s because Fox News chief Roger Ailes recently revealed he thinks Obama IS a socialist. A socialist is defined by Merriam Webster online dictionary as someone advocating collective ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods, or a system abolishing private property, or a society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state. No real journalist looking at President Obama’s record would call him a socialist. But it’s a routine accusation on Fox.

But Fox is not just anti-Obama, it fixes the facts to make them more favorable to Republicans and conservatives. Just last night, “objective” White House correspondent Ed Henry (while still casting an ill light on Obama) understated and distorted S&P’s very strong criticisms of the “political brinksmanship” and intransigence of Republicans and instead complained that Obama was “pointing his finger at Republicans by touting the section of the Standard & Poor’s report that put some blame on the contentious debt ceiling debate.” Yes, S&P cited a contentious debt debate but S&P pointed its finger squarely at Republicans. It's hard to believe Henry wouldn't know that.

As the old saying goes, you’re entitled to your own opinion but not to your own facts. Yet Fox habitually blurs the distinction. Just ask ACORN – defunded and disbanded in the wake of thoroughly discredited videos relentlessly promoted on Fox by Andrew Breitbart, he of Shirley Sherrod infamy. In fact, Breitbart admitted on Fox that Sherrod was little more than collateral damage in his war on the NAACP. Breitbart hasn’t suffered for any of his journalistic malpractice any more than Sammon. In fact, Sean Hannity recently introduced Breitbart by gushing that he “helped usher in a new era of conservative investigative journalism.”

Nothing exemplifies Fox’s journalistic chicanery like its sudden, wholesale adoption of Donald Trump’s birtherism. Two fact-checking organizations had exhaustively investigated and debunked that particular conspiracy theory in 2008 without a peep of objection from Fox. But the “we report, you decide” network found sudden inspiration and credibility from Trump's questions about President Obama’s birth certificate. Right around the time Trump was talking about running for president. Even Fox News host Judge Jeanine Pirro - someone you’d think was capable of rising above politics to make an independent review and evaluation of evidence – joined the network's birther brigade.

If Obama’s American citizenship really was an open question in Fox’s eyes, you have to wonder – or at least they should have explained - how they missed it in 2008 when it could have affected the election. I never heard anyone ask, much less answer that question on the air. And now that Trump’s accusations have been completely discredited? No biggie. Trump got a lengthy segment on Fox last night where he offered his insights about the economy with nary a question about the results of that big investigation he supposedly launched in Hawaii about the birth certificate.

This kind of "news" doesn't merely rally anti-Obama or pro-Republican sentiment. It has real-life effects on our democracy. In Trump’s case, it prompted a Democratic president to bow to the pressure and produce a birth certificate. Outfoxed took a look at how that kind of “journalism” could help a president eager to promote a case for war against Iraq.

Unfortunately, criticisms against Fox News are often dismissed as partisan disagreement with its slant. Even a recent Huffington Post article painted Outfoxed director/producer Robert Greenwald in a he said/she said framework that began, “Director Robert Greenwald and Fox News do not like each other very much.”

This isn’t to dismiss or diminish righteous outrage over the shameless bias and relentless drumbeat that serves to promote FNC’s conservative, right-wing agenda. Any self-respecting Democrat or liberal should be alarmed by that alone. But to stop there is to miss an even greater, more pernicious threat.

News Corp’s phone hacking scandals have raised a curtain – not just on the unsavory tactics of a tabloid paper – but on the unsettlingly cozy relationship between News Corp., Prime Minister David Cameron and Scotland Yard. It's still an open question but there are good reasons to worry that News Corp. hacking occurred here. What’s not in doubt is the revolving door between Fox News and the GOP. Two declared presidential candidates, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, were Fox News contributors in between their politician gigs. Karl Rove, GOP insider extraordinaire, is currently on the payroll. Sarah Palin stays in the news largely because of her Fox platform. Republican speechwriter David Frum said last year, “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us and now we’re discovering we work for Fox.”

So now that the “fair and balanced” charade has been so thoroughly exposed, it’s time to look further and think deeper about the ramifications of these kinds of media powerplays, what kind of democracy we want and what we are willing to fight for.

A good place to start is the online discussion about all this tonight at 8 PM ET.

Hope to "see" you there!

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