This is another documentary I found on Youtube. It’s about the massively biased reporting and complete lack of any kind of journalistic integrity on Fox News, the American news channel owned by Rupert Murdoch. Amongst the speakers are journalists, free press activists, politicians and ordinary people, who were interviewed by Murdoch’s hacks. The documentary sets the tone in the very first minutes by comparing Fox news and its management to a scene in the Godfather. Murdoch and his cronies are the gangsters of television journalism.
Among the programme’s revelations is the fact that the executives at Fox News sent memos to their staff every morning laying out what the stories they wanted covered that day, and how they wanted it presented and slanted. The journalists themselves were spied on and punished, if they did not follow the party line. Murdoch himself when he was negotiating to take over the channel, assured the federal authorities that he would bring ‘diversity’ to news broadcasting.
He didn’t. In fact, he did anything but. He was always a supporter of the Republican party, and fervently admired Reagan. As a result, Fox News acted as an arm of the Repugs, broadcasting press releases from the Bush’s administration almost unedited and without any kind of factual analysis.
This could get awkward for the journalists themselves, as they were expected to present the actions of Murdoch’s political heroes as those of heroic grandeur, even when nothing impressive or remotely grand was happening. One journalist talks about the problems he had doing this for Dubya, on days when Dubya wasn’t acting heroically. Another journo talks about the grief he was given by the studio executives for not giving a sufficiently grand and impressive image of the celebrations of Reagan’s birthday. There were a couple of schools there at the Ronald Reagan Memorial Library to valorise the old brute, but nothing much was actually going on. The hack did his best, trying to present the crowds there as far larger and the celebrations more impressive than they actually were. But you can’t make up what isn’t there, and the hack’s attempts to do so were judged inadequate and insufficient by Murdoch’s minions.
The speakers on the documentary go on to describe the subtle bias in the selection of guests or opposing speakers on the News. When covering political conferences or gathering, Fox News made sure they showed the big, well-known Republican politicians. When it came to the Democrats, they gave airtime only to the unknown, obscure figures in the party. The Channel also made sure that Republicans were on there commenting on the news fives times more than Democrats.
Those Democrats that were invited on were very carefully selected. One of the former Fox journalists describes them as ‘Faux Democrats’. They had a liberal façade, but were actually Conservatives. They were chosen because they didn’t really disagree with the Conservative line the network was taking. They even extended this bias down to the personal appearance of two of Fox’s anchors, Hannity and Colmes. Sean Hannity, the Conservative, was big, good-looking bloke. His liberal partner on the programme, Colmes, was described as ‘weaselly’. It’s harsh and ad hominem, but the comment’s a fair one in a society and industry where celebrities and politicians are carefully chosen and judged on their physical attractiveness.
And then there’s Bill O’Reilly. O’Reilly is one of their main anchors, with a highly confrontational manner and an absolute disregard for anything like objective truth. He’s been caught out recently lying about his early career in journalism, when he claimed to have covered the Falklands War, Northern Ireland and El Salvador from the combat zones. In reality, he wasn’t anywhere near the fighting. The man lies so often that he’s collected the nickname, Bill O’Liely. There’s even a video around of Fred Phelps, the pastor of the notorious Westboro Baptist Church, denouncing O’ Reilly as a liar. How much of a skunk do you have to be, when even a monomaniac, pathological bigot like Phelps looks down on you?
O’Reilly is shown trying to rebut his reputation for telling his guests to shut up. This happened only once, a few years ago, he tells the audience at a news convention. Wrong! And the documentary gleefully shows O’Liely exploding over and over again, telling everyone to shut up.
They also interview a young man, Jonathan Glick, who managed to hold his own while being interviewed by the old bully. This so infuriated O’Reilly that Glick had to be rushed out of the building before O’Reilly turned violent. And for months afterwards, O’Reilly returned to the interview to lie and twist what Glick had actually said.
Glick’s father was one of the victims of the 9/11 Twin Towers attack. Glick himself was one of those, who signed a letter against the invasion of Afghanistan. When questions about this by O’Reilly, by Glick states calmly that the people of Afghanistan didn’t carry out the attack. It was a group of mujahideen, who had been funded and equipped by the US.
This is absolutely true, but not something that O’Reilly wanted to here. He started shouting at Glick to shut up, and tried to invoke Glick’s father and respect for the other victims of the atrocity. Glick calmly stated that he loves and respects his father, and is following his father’s views, and criticises O’Reilly for invoking the victims’ memory in support of his own views. This was all too much for O’Reilly, who angrily ended the interview.
Glick was told to get out of O’Reilly’s sight for his own safety by a couple of producers. He then went up to the green room, and was then urged to leave the building by another couple of staff, who were afraid that if he stayed around, O’Reilly would be hit with a legal writ.
Over the next four months or so, O’Reilly began lying about the interview in subsequent broadcasts. He claimed that Glick was some kind of far-left Communist, and a Troofer. Glick was neither. He contacted one of the media monitoring groups, and told them he was thinking of suing O’Reilly for lying. The group’s lawyer told him that it would be difficult to get a conviction, as he’d need to prove that O’Reilly knew he was lying. And as O’Reilly was such an inveterate liar, he may well have been pathological and actually believed what he said.
Going on to political campaigns, the documentary describes how Fox uses the headlines and small, running snippets of news presented in the text at the bottom of the screen to frame the bias for the rest of the news. They were also less interested in important issues like health, education and welfare, which lacked the emotional impact that would appeal to right-wing groups. They preferred to concentrate on highly controversial, ‘hot-button’ topics, like abortion and gay rights, that would generate and provoke right-wing attention and support.
The issue of gay marriage actually proved more difficult for the Channel to manipulate than it thought. Rather than the outrageously costumed, theatrical sexuality of gay pride parades, which Fox was used to covering, most of the gay men and women, who came forward to get married were middle aged and looked severely normal. Fox couldn’t get any mileage out of presenting them as sources of outrage and a major threat to American society, so they ditched the issue and concentrated on religion instead.
When it came to individual politicians, they took every opportunity to denigrate the Democrats. When Bill Clinton was in office, they consistently attacked him, only to reverse their bias against the president when their boy, George Dubya, won. When it came to John Kerry, they concentrated on the issue of whether or not he had thrown away his medals after serving in Vietnam. If there was a downturn in the economy, it was because the markets were worried about Kerry. In fact, there were a number of issues that would have effected the markets, but the line Murdoch wanted pushed was that it was all down to Kerry, who would be a disaster for America.
Unlike the disaster for American, and global journalism, that is Rupert Murdoch.
And the network was responsible for extremely biased reporting when it came to the Bush’s election. At the time Fox made the announcement that Bush had won, the actual stats were still unclear and it was undecided. The ethical response from traditional, mainstream journalists would be to admit that. Fox didn’t. They declared Bush the winner. And within minutes, this was parroted by the other channels, who clearly hadn’t done their own, independent research.
The documentary makes it clear that this one of the most pernicious effects of Fox News: it’s corrupting the other networks, from MSNBC to CNN as they attempt to copy its style and political bias. And this is alarmingly destroying journalistic standards in America. The documentary gives the stats showing that Fox viewers actually know less about the world, and believe that their government’s actions are right, far more than other Americans. The journalists commenting on this state that for other channels, this would be a source of shame and an indication of failure.
It also has had an effect in making the number of journalists and presenters from ethnic minorities coming into television much smaller. A Black journalist in the documentary describes how this has effected not just Blacks, but also Hispanics, Native Americans and Asians. Their numbers have declined, as Fox has centralised its broadcasting, and cut down on local stations.
One of the positive things that has come out of Fox News, however, is that more people are aware of media bias. The producers warn of the dangers of television journalism being concentrated in the hands of five or so networks. They urge viewers and listeners to write and contact their local stations demanding that they report the news better and more objectively. They also report a few cases where communities have set up their own radio stations out of dissatisfaction with the bias of the existing broadcaster.
It’s a fascinating expose of Murdoch’s corrupt journalism. Several times in the show they describe Murdoch’s channel as like Soviet propaganda under Stalin. Unlike Stalin’s media, Fox News is far more pernicious. In the Soviet Union, it was clear the news was bias. In the West, the news claims to be independent, and so its bias is far more hidden. Especially on a channel that keeps boasting that about it’s ‘fair and accurate journalism’.
This is a show that’s clearly more relevant to Americans. But it’s also important over here. Murdoch would like to see the BBC sold off, so he could purchase it, or expand to fill the vacuum left by its demise. At the moment we have legislation prohibiting biased reporting. So did the Americans until the 1980s, when Reagan repealed the ‘fairness doctrine’.
A few weeks ago the Radio Times carried an article by one of its journos arguing that British broadcasters should similarly be able to abandon any pretence of objectivity, and so create the kind of vigorous material that has supposedly rejuvenated American journalism with Fox. This documentary shows the reality: a horrendously biased network, that keeps the public ignorant while celebrating the actions of the Right.
And it hasn’t rejuvenated American journalism. The average age of the Fox viewer is 68, and the network has been described as less of a broadcaster, and more of a retirement community.
Whatever Fox is, it shouldn’t be the future of journalism, either here or in America.