Monday, July 19, 2004


This documentary is now shown in selected theaters across the country. It's an exploration of the conservative bias in Fox News, not whether it exists or not, that's a given, but how it actually seeps into the way news are presented. Robert Greenwald, the documentary's creator, spent days videotaping the broadcasts of Fox News. This helped him to divide the current conservative bias into three major categories: "the questioning of the patriotism of liberals, the relentlessly upbeat reports on Iraq and the belligerent hosts who scream at noncompliant guests". Greenwald then had volunteers watch assigned time segments of Fox News and record any news that reflected one or more of these categories.

The documentary uses all this data as well as interviews with several Fox employees. But the most interesting source material comes from thirty or so memos sent by John Moody, Fox News' senior vice president for news and editorials. The memos are seen as setting the agenda for how events will be covered.

I read through all these memos (via Wonkette), and created my own classification system for conservative bias: news attacking anything that might hurt Bush, news about abortion and news about Kerry and other liberals. This overlaps with Greenwald's system and is only selected because I don't have the rest of the material he used for the documentary.

Here are some examples from each of these three groups, all gleaned from the Moody memos:

1. News Attacking Anything That Might Hurt Bush

Iraq and the war on terrorism

"Bush's G-8 trip is actually less important than his fledgling efforts to knock together the Israeli and Palestinian PMs' heads. Let's keep in mind that the G-8 contains the most obstreperous dissidents against the war on terror." 5-29-2003

"The president is doing something that few of his predecessors dared undertake: putting the US case for mideast peace to an Arab summit. It's a distinctly skeptical crowd that Bush faces. His political courage and tactical cunning are worth noting in our reporting through the day" 6/3/2003

"Terrorism is international, and the United States is the leader of the coalition to stamp it out. That's the tone we want to impart throughout the day." 3/12/2004

"Spain's neighbor, the ever-superior France, had its own spate of railway terrorist warnings last week, though it's not clear that those were in any way related to the Madrid bombings."3/12/2004

"Into Fallujah: It's called Operation Vigilant Resolve and it began Monday morning (NY time) with the US and Iraqi military surrounding Fallujah. We will cover this hour by hour today, explaining repeatedly why it is happening. It won't be long before some people start to decry the use of "excessive force." We won't be among that group.

The continuing carnage in Iraq -- mostly the deaths of seven US troops in Sadr City -- is leaving the American military little choice but to punish perpetrators. When this happens, we should be ready to put in context the events that led to it. More than 600 US military dead, attacks on the UN headquarters last year, assassination of Irai officials who work with the coalition, the deaths of Spanish troops last fall, the outrage in Fallujah: whatever happens, it is richly deserved"

"The events in Iraq Tuesday are going to be the top story, unless and until something else (or worse) happens. Err on the side of doing too much Iraq rather than not enough. Do not fall into the easy trap of mourning the loss of US lives and asking out loud why are we there? The US is in Iraq to help a country brutalized for 30 years protect the gains made by Operation Iraqi Freedom and set it on the path to democracy. Some people in Iraq don't want that to happen. That is why American GIs are dying. And what we should remind our viewers." 4/6/2004

"More serious and more important is the US military's end of waiting game for Fallujah. If, as promised, the coalition decides to take Fallujah back by force, it will not be for lack of opportunities for terrorists holed up there to negotiate. Let's not get lost in breast-beating about the sadness of the loss of life. They had a chance." 4/22/2004

On the 9/11 Commission:

"The so-called 9/11 commission has already been meeting. In fact, this is the eighth session. The fact that former Clinton and both frmer and current Bush administration officials are testifying gives it a certain tension, but this is not "what did he know and when did he know it" stuff. Do not turn this into Watergate. Remember the fleeting sense of national unity that emerged from this tragedy. Let's not desecrate that." 3/23/2004

2. News About Abortion

"Let's spend a good deal of time on the battle over judicial nominations, which the President will address this morning. Nominees who both sides admit are qualified are being held up because of their POSSIBLE, not demonstrated, views on one issue -- abortion. This should be a trademark issue for FNC today and in the days to come." 5/9/2003

"The LAci and Conner Act passed the Senate and the Prez will sign it. What does this mean for law enforcement and what does it say about the status of the unborn?" 3/26/2004

"The National Education Association -- the NEA -- is supposedly neutral on the topic of abortion. Why then is it a co sponsor of Saturday's pro choice march in DC. Herridge has lives." 4/22/2004

3. News about Kerry and Other Liberals

"John Kerry may wish he'd taken off his microphone before trashing the GOP. Though he insists he meant republican "attack squads," his coarse description of his opponents has cast a lurid glow over the campaign." 3/12/2004

"Kerry, starting to feel the heat for his flip-flop voting record, is in West Virginia" 3/16/2004

"For everyone's information, the hotel where our Baghdad bureau is housed was hit by some kind of explosive device overnight. ALL FOX PERSONNEL ARE OK. The incident is a reminder of the danger our colleagues in Baghdad face, day in and day out. Please offer a prayer of thanks for their safety to whatever God you revere (and let the ACLU stick it where the sun don't shine)." 3/24/2004

"Air America, featuring Al Franken and other liberals, got on the air last week, but at what cost? Well, in New York, it took the place of an ethnic show. In LA, it knocked off a Korean program. And in CHicago,a spanish language broadcast was replaced. None of these people are happy" 4/5/2004

There are no snippets with the opposite bias for me to post. I went through the posts several times to verify that. There are a few cases where Moody insists on equal time for the speeches that Bush and Kerry were giving on the same day, but not a single case of negative news about anything Republican and certainly not about Bush.

I haven't seen the documentary Outfoxed yet, but I'm going to if I get a chance. This is not so obvious, given the possibility that Fox News might take some kind of legal action to stop its showing or to curtail it in some ways. Greenwald mentions the legal difficulties in using material obtained in this way: it should fall under the "Fair Use" part of the legal rules of copyright law as Greenwald is clearly only quoting to criticize. But legal experts are uncertain how the case might actually be decided if Fox decided to sue.

It is also most fascinating that many others in media refused to let Greenwald use their material in the documentary:

Then there was the fact that several major news organizations were unexpectedly refusing to license their clips. (Such licensing is ordinarily pro forma.) CBS wouldn't sell Greenwald the clip of Richard Clarke's appearance on ''60 Minutes,'' explaining that it didn't want to be associated with a controversial documentary about Murdoch. WGBH, the Boston PBS station, wouldn't let Greenwald use excerpts from ''Frontline'' for fear of looking too ''political,'' it said.

Hilarious, isn't it? CBS is too scared of Murdoch and PBS too scared of looking 'political'! As if refusing to give Greenwald the permission he asked for isn't political. So whatever the merits of the documentary might be, I'm going to make a very serious effort to see it. Just to show that I'm not afraid of either Rupert or coming across as too political. Sheesh.