OUTFOXED: RUPERT MURDOCH'S WAR ON JOURNALISM
directed by Robert Greenwald
UNCOVERED: THE WAR IN IRAQ
directed by Robert Greenwald
by Walter Chaw A poll was recently conducted: 20,000 people were asked what news show they rely upon for their campaign information, and then they were asked six questions about the respective campaign platforms of each candidate. The sector of the population scoring the lowest (also the sector, according to the Nielsens, least likely to have attended college) consisted of people who watch insane person Bill O'Reilly's "The O'Reilly Factor" over on Fox News, while the population scoring the highest (and most likely to have been to college--something like a 3:1 ratio compared to O'Reilly's audience) preferred Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart". Tied in with that stat--the revelation of which is only surprising to the GED nation flocking to Fox, 80% of whom still believe that Iraq was directly involved in the 9/11 attacks--is an article in the sharp THE ONION that described liberals in a state of "outrage fatigue." See, satire is a difficult concept, but once grasped it's the quickest, truest way to get at the heart of any absurd situation. Without satire and irony, the issues of the day become reductive and deadening.
I've got outrage fatigue bad. I'm sick to my soul over the things that led us to Iraq and the bald-faced lies told to keep us fat and happy while our soldiers get slaughtered in an impossible situation. There is a consensus on both sides of the aisle that although there may be disagreement regarding the viability of our rationale for engaging solo in a foreign war, there is no disagreement that the subsequent rebuilding/exit strategy (if there was one) has been a disaster by every definable criterion. But there's only so much more I can take on the subject, because, alas, short of voting with my conscience in a month or so, there's nothing I can do to change what's done. A recent article in THE ATLANTIC covers the "lost year" in Bush's administration, where at the beginning of 2002 the nation was united, our allies were on board and loaded for bear, our budget was relatively balanced, our military was rested and ready--and how, in the span of less than twelve months, our nation found itself as divided as it's been since Vietnam, with one major ally left in the world who's about to be voted out of office himself, an appalling and accumulating debt, and a stretched and over-taxed military. I'm fed up with hearing about the mistakes, the fundamentalist God-stroking and the nepotism, and I'm most tired of looking at the polls and seeing that approximately half of my fellow Americans want to stick with the administration that's responsible for our downward spiral even though 80% of them believe that our nation is headed in the wrong direction. Hint: it's the same one that uses 9/11 as a moment of triumph.
Fanning the dying embers of outrage is Robert Greenwald's Outfoxed, an exposé of exactly how unbalanced and unfair is the news channel that claims "Fair and Balanced" as their motto. The highlight of the piece is a vignette in which O'Reilly shouts down Jeremy Glick, the son of a 9/11 victim, for suggesting that it's our Middle East policy that has resulted in Middle East tensions with the Middle East. Not a tough concept to decipher, it's anathema to anyone who's bought into the Bush-ian idea that Arabs hate us for our "freedom." I think they hate us more for shitting on their carpet. On the list of mass-murderer Osama Bin Laden's kooky demands, after all, our getting the hell out of their holy land and rethinking our unwavering support of Israel's militantism take the pole position ahead of our affection for porn and mini-skirts. Yet O'Reilly equates civil disobedience with treason (something that our founding fathers, revolutionaries and almost as civilly disobedient as it's possible to be, would have found disquietingly authoritarian), and so he threatens to kill Glick while ordering his microphone shut off and the man escorted off the premises.
O'Reilly has a bad habit of telling people to shut up in lieu of engaging them in a debate. I've had arguments with bullies and morons like that before: when all else fails, scream--the loudest talking head wins. Say what you will about Chris Matthews or, better yet, Tim Russert, but they do their homework, and I've never seen them turn off someone's microphone right when an interesting exchange of opposing ideas is about to erupt. Oh, right--the film: Outfoxed is a clip-collection and a polemic; it's not about anything except the lead-balloon revelation that Fox feeds rage and fuels disinformation with questionable journalistic tactics. I'd say that Fox News was America's equivalent of Al Jazeera, except that Al Jazeera actually seems more "fair and balanced," at least if Jehane Noujaim's Control Room is to be believed. Ultimately, what dispirits about Fox isn't that it does what it does, but that it has a large audience and has entered into the debate. Shame on us, is what I mean--Fox doesn't exist without divisive idiots and, by extension, neither would Outfoxed. I'd like to say that the film is just discussing the blueness of the sky, but I don't know.
Greenwald's back with Uncovered: The War on Iraq, the centrepiece of which is a point-by-point dissection and refutation of Colin Powell's presentation for war and what seems like genuine wonder at what's happened to Powell, once one of our most respected military leaders but now a lapdog outsider. Parading a line of Republican officials, ex-intelligence officers, and other various, credible pundits to discuss the policy of misinformation that has marked this administration (and probably all, I hasten to qualify, though few with this kind of human consequence), the picture hits home more often than it misses. It's on-point more than it meanders, and likewise seems to present experts with more on their resumés than a broadcast degree from Somewhere U. If at the end we find ourselves in the same boat as Michael Douglas's character at the end of Falling Down (pitching into the drink with a squirt-gun clutched in our impotent mitt), at least we do so with the knowledge that we were right to be paranoid. The tragedy of the well-edited and sharply presented Uncovered is that for all its acumen, it's really just a glorified "get out the vote" campaign--though should the unthinkable happen and W. get re-elected, at least it puts us on record for the rest of the world that there were a few fifth-columnists raging, however futilely, against the machine and the rising tides of ignorance, fear, and hate that wrestled us from the ideological embrace of the red, white, and blue. Originally published: October 6, 2004.