Sunday, February 11, 2007

Fairly Unbalanced

My wife says I get crabby when I watch documentaries about what's wrong with the world. WTF! I am not crabby! It's perfectly rational to shout expletives at an inanimate object and fume about what I'm seeing on television and sulk for the rest of the evening! Ok, maybe she's right. Dammat!

Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism blasts Fox News for its calculated distribution of misinformation. I suppose the film should be filed under "P" for "preaching to the choir": the kind of person who sees it isn't likely to be a Fox News viewer, and from the title and the opening sequence of the film, it makes no apology for its portrayal of the network as a wrongheaded, polemical institution. But I think that's a shame. If the filmmakers had tempered their own approach with more analysis and dropped the alarmist commentators and cartoonish transitions, Outfoxed might have reached a wider audience and had a greater impact.

Despite its shortcomings, this film has a must-see sequence. It depicts the Jerry Springer-like way in which an interview spirals out of hand, and the fallout from that interview. I must confess that in my first draft about this sequence, I fell into hyperbole: I wanted to cite the interview and its aftermath as one of the worst examples of journalism ever. But that goes too far. Labeling a shouting match as political discourse overflows with stupidity, but to do so is hardly new. So what is this Case Study? The O'Reilly Factor, circa March 2003.

Now I know Bill O'Reilly's shtick: make up "facts" to support his point of view and shout down anyone who dares to defy him, all in order to dominate the opinions expressed on his program. Some might question his overweening desire for total control. But it's political theater for the sake of ratings: a tawdry morality play in which he casts himself as the angry voice of the people, supposedly arguing on behalf of the common man.

This guest was different, however. He was a young man, not a politician or a professional pundit. Jeremy Glick is a victim of September 11th; his father worked for the Port Authority, and was killed in the attacks. Jeremy had signed a statement against going to war in Iraq, and Bill O'Reilly could not accept that. So he invited him to be on his show; clearly he wanted to make an example out of this kid. How dare Glick have a political opinion that did not match O'Reilly's own conception of what a 9/11 victim should think and believe?

O'Reilly got more than he bargained for. Glick short-circuited the interview by rehearsing the points he wanted to make and then sticking to his message. As they spoke, O'Reilly repeatedly put words into Glick's mouth, trying to paint him as a fringe lunatic. While this tactic muddled Glick's argument, O'Reilly himself became unglued, unable to cope with a guest prepared for his usual vitriol.

Glick recounted the event and added some colorful details, such as that the producers ushered him out of the building after the interview for fear that O'Reilly would be arrested for assaulting him. In the days, weeks, and even months after the interview, O'Reilly began a campaign of wildly misrepresenting Glick's positions to his viewers. In fact, Glick wondered whether he could sue O'Reilly for slander. His lawyer acknowledged the falsehoods, but told him that it was very difficult to prove that someone is intentionally lying. O'Reilly had convinced himself to believe his own lies.

In this part of the film, Fox News's philosophy is laid bare. Their news is not just infotainment crafted in a cynical grab for television ratings. Dissent must be destroyed, political difference must be silenced. Facts have no place in an argument, because facts cannot be disputed rationally. One must cut off the discussion in order to hide from the offending information. But make no mistake: In the eyes of Fox, an angry bombast bullying a fatherless son is great entertainment.


ladieslovetk said...

Dude. What about that loud-mouthed jackass on KTLK? Jason Lewis. He sure likes to use big words. Like today he said that the effects of second hand smoke are "de minimis". Not just "minimal". He had to throw the latin in there to remind us of his intellectual superiority I guess. Although to be fair, the people on Air America aren't much better. I stopped listening to them after the hosts went off on a half hour rant about how Condoleeza Rice is ugly.

Knight of Nothing said...

You wouldn't believe how much I agonized over this silly post. It's a damn film review - write it and move on!

I tried to keep the focus of the post on the film. Trying to pull in other right-wing media would have made the whole bloated thing collapse like a souffle in an earthquake.

I can't bear talk radio, THAT really does make me crabby. I see Lewis's billboard every day on my busride home and I want to puke. So he's an educated man on top of the rest? Now I really do hate him.

I didn't know that the wonks on Air America were dissin on Condi about her looks! Sheesh! I'm vaklempt. What a disappointment. There's so much to take her to task for, why the cheap shots? Bastids. That's Ann Coulter territory.

If they wanted to talk ugly, they should have rolled with Cheney.