"Outfoxed," showing exclusively at the Avalon, fearlessly outs its own bias with a subtitle, "Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism."
This act of belligerence on the part of the proprietor of Fox Television News and a prominently naturalized Republican apparently offends and alarms producer-director Robert Greenwald. He even finds a participant to recall the bleat of Peter Finch as the demented anchorman of Paddy Chayefsky's "Network," in order to put the right on notice that the filmmaker too is mad as a hornet and doesn't plan to take it any more.
The presidency of George W. Bush seems to have called Mr. Greenwald to the topical-polemical documentary format. "Outfoxed" appears to be the second installment in a trilogy of similarly motivated and like-sounding harangues.
"Unprecedented" was outraged at the results of the Florida balloting in the 2000 presidential election. "Uncovered" will be outraged at the rationales for war in Iraq. All three movies depend on one-sided talking-heads advocacy augmented by excerpts from network news telecasts. Shot in digital video formats, they also circulate to a considerable extent through direct-to-video distribution outlets.
The more anti-Bush polemics you view, the likelier you are to find yourself in an argumentative echo chamber, meeting old friends from earlier titles. In this case, Rep. Bernie Sanders and professor Robert McChesney of "Orwell Turns in His Grave" recycle comments and grievances for Mr. Greenwald in "Outfoxed," which has better novelty value when it showcases former employees of Fox News who want to tattle.
Mr. Greenwald professes to be shocked at the very idea of echo-chamber effects when commentary on the Fox network appears to be in lockstep with administration policies. Evidently, he's oblivious when the competition displays a funny, ongoing tendency to echo Democratic Party cliches and talking points in any given campaign week.
The refusal to recognize that this partiality thrived long before Rupert Murdoch is amazing. Complaints of cronyism between political parties and news magnates are so venerable that it's absurd to pretend you've just caught onto them. George Orwell, to cite a hardheaded example, used to take such biases for granted in the England of the 1930s and 1940s.
On American network television the phenomenon used to reflect a liberal-Democratic Party tilt almost exclusively. Fox had the temerity to put a different bias into the domestic mix, at a time when the established networks were finding it financially expedient to question the autonomy and profitability of their news divisions.
Mr. Murdoch had a certain timing advantage: He didn't need to dismantle an old organization. He could create a new one that suited his politics and notion of showmanship. It's fair to find it wanting in many respects, including impartiality if one is sincerely aggrieved on that point. But the pretense that only a conservative or Republican bias warrants opposition and reform is absurdly hollow.
Fox seems to have been generous to Mr. Greenwald with examples of its miscreancy. Maybe even crazy like a fox. His compilation would be acutely short of documentary diversion without the segments that, for example, dwell on Bill O'Reilly's belligerence; string together repetitions of the blah journalistic phrase "some people say"; and showcase mockery of Sen. John Kerry as a "flip-flopper."
I don't think Mr. Greenwald realizes that his accumulation of Fox "moments" also serves as a rollicking trailer for the network, especially among people who regard it as a perversely provocative fixture of the news scene rather than the source of truth everlasting.
Admittedly, Fox newscasters are as likely to be chuckleheads and stuffed shirts as their counterparts elsewhere. The somewhat bewildering thing about a crusader who purports to be alarmed by their shortcomings is that he declines to notice all those similar, recurrent shortcomings on his own side of the political fence. You'll even find them in many of the people recruited to corroborate each other in "Outfoxed."
RATING: No MPAA Rating (adult subject matter, involving contemporary politics; excerpts from heated arguments on TV news shows)
CREDITS: Produced and directed by Robert Greenwald
RUNNING TIME: About 90 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS