One of my optional university units this semester is about the media, detailing how it works and its role in society. This week the topic was the media’s relationship with power structures and other institutions, like political and corporate powers. While the modules mostly focussed on Chomsky and Herman’s book Manufacturing Consent, which I actually read three years ago (and was my introduction to Chomsky), there was a link to a documentary called Outfoxed, which wasn’t necessary to watch but I ended up looking at it anyway. It is, as the name suggests, about Fox News in the US, and despite being made in 2004 is still a relevant analysis of how the “news” organisation functions.
It has always struck me as odd that Fox News, and all the other Murdoch owned press around the world, has managed to retain the right to refer to themselves as news. When people say they watch Fox News, or Sky News in Australia, as a way to ‘hear both sides of the story’, one cannot help but either laugh or be dumbfounded. I have watched and read very little Murdoch press coverage because it is by no means a credible source for information, nor reliable in its analysis and reporting.
Outfoxed goes through a list of various techniques and tricks that Fox in America has taken onboard in order to generate what is essentially propaganda for the Republican Party. The main take away I got from it, however, other than an even deeper scorn for Murdoch’s media empire, was the sheer hypocrisy of the whole enterprise. Every single device they used to peddle a specific point of view was tailored for a specific situation, and the very next day they could reverse the tactic when reporting on a different scenario.
One of the examples in the documentary was coverage on the Bush-Kerry election, the winner of which was Bush, for a second term. Fox has, for decades, pushed a narrative to provoke extreme fear in the minds of its viewers, a consistent enemy and distrust of the hot topic ‘other’. In 2003, this was most certainly terrorism acted out by Muslims, and the invasion of Iraq was the patriotic war to defeat the enemy after 9/11. 16 years later, what has changed?
Fear was the emotion Fox wanted from viewers. A fearful populace looks to the government to protect them (ironic given Republicans attempt to pride themselves on being ‘smaller government’). But when it came to reporting on Kerry, they accused the Democrats of causing fear in elderly people over some issue or another. Similarly, reporting on the economy took an equally biased and factually untrue slant. Whenever the economy, job stats, stock market, etc. was positive, it was a glowing review of the Bush presidency. Whenever it took a dive, the mysterious ‘market’ was reacting out of fear of a potential Kerry victory. Again, 15 years later with another Republican president, what has changed?
Fox called themselves “fair and balanced”, said “we report, you decide”, and repeated the phrase “some people say”. The first is blatantly false, as was proven in the documentary. Rarely did any ‘liberal’ commentator get air time, and when anyone, like Jeremy Glick, gets invited on and tries to confront the host and call them out, they are quickly shut down and demonised in follow up segments. In Glick’s case, his father had died in 9/11 and he was attempting to promote anti-war messages and tried to speak the truth by saying the terrorists who plagued them were initially trained by the US government. Bill O’Reilly simultaneously tried to take the moral high ground of sympathising with the killed US citizens and their families’ while intimidating one of said families by taunting him with his parent’s.
In future occasions when talking about the altercation that followed (O’Reilly ordered Glick out of the building and other staff feared for the man’s life), O’Reilly warped what Glick had said so tragically that it made a genuine person seem like a conspiracy nutcase, when the reality was a long series of obvious lies spouting out of the unhinged Fox host. And all of them are the same, even today.
The “we report, you decide” slogan is also misleading, as very little reporting appears to be done – you don’t need to watch the documentary to realise this. Hand in hand with the “some people say” line, actual sources and evidence are not required to prove a point in Fox programs. Generalisations and opinion are espoused as legitimate arguments when there is the perception of widespread agreement, even if that perception is false.
Outfoxed is definitely worth watching – even Bernie Sanders, who only really came to ‘fame’ in 2016, made an appearance, and in true Sanders’ style, he is as consistent in his views as ever. But I would like to end this by saying that while “news” is hardly the word I would use to describe Fox, that does not mean the rest of the media should get a pass. Here in Australia, Sunrise’s David Koch (on Channel 7) recently lambasted Pauline Hanson in the wake of the Christchurch attack. While most people agree with the sentiment, the hypocrisy of all commercial media, not just Fox, is evident.
Sunrise has had Hanson appear a number of times on their show and have always been passive, never too confrontational. They, along with other media shows and papers, gave her the platform that sparked these divisions. For them to turn around and suddenly grow a backbone overnight screams hypocrisy. It was ok to softly criticise her, while incidentally propping up her views, because the outrage brought in ratings. Now that the consequences of this careless handling have dawned on them, the outrage towards her is what brings in the ratings and views. US media outlets gave Trump north of $6 billion in ‘free’ advertising with the amount of coverage they gave him in 2016. I wonder what the amount is for media coverage given to One Nation here in Australia is.
If there is one lesson to learn here, it is to always question authority, and in turn to always question those who claim to question authority. The media is a double-edged sword, and we must all take care that we don’t become complacent with its power.
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