Outfoxed Rupert Murdochs War On Journalism Essays

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In the world of 24-hour cable news channels, journalism has transformed
into a “faith-based initiative.” Based on the premise that journalism
is now a matter of faith, and faith is the unquestioning belief in the
universality of a particular worldview, I seek to critically analyze
the redefinition of journalistic “objectivity” on cable news channels
in the United States.

It has been argued by many media critics that the growing power and
rising popularity of faith-based reporting on cable television news
channels is a direct result of Fox News Channel's conscious strategy to
ignore journalistic principle of “objectivity” which has been the
bedrock of news media in the United States for centuries.[1]

However, my criticism of Fox News is not that it ignores media critics'
concerns about being “objective” in its news coverage. Rather, what is
more troubling–and perhaps most insidious–about Fox News is the
systematic way in which it has redefined “objectivity” in the world of
24-hour cable television news. It has done so, I argue, by
strategically recasting the ethical principles and philosophical ideals
of American journalism in populist terms that appeal to Fox News
Channel's target audience of political conservatives and evangelical
Christians in the United States.

In the historical traditions of journalism in the United States,
adherence to the principle of “objectivity” has always been considered
the ultimate goal for professionals in the news media. In the world of
24-hour cable news, however, Fox News has emerged as the dominant
channel by redefining journalistic “objectivity” as only a path toward
a greater goal (which is defined in terms of a populist desire to
acknowledge the dominance of conservative political principles and
evangelical Christian traditions in the United States).

Thus, to many journalists on competing cable networks like CNN and
broadcast networks like ABC, CBS and NBC (all of which proclaim their
faith in more traditional theories and practices of “objectivity”), the
coverage on Fox news seems “unethical” and “unprincipled” in many ways.[2]

On the other hand, many journalists on Fox News hold that the
traditional definition of “objectivity” has a liberal bias, and
therefore journalists on other networks have no legitimacy in
criticizing Fox for its “conservative” bias. For instance, Bill
O'Reilly argues, “If Fox News is a conservative channel–and I'm
going to use the word 'if'–so what? …. You've got 50 other media
that are blatantly left. Now, I don't think Fox is a conservative
channel. I think it's a traditional channel. There's a difference. We
are willing to hear points of view that you'll never hear on ABC, CBS
or NBC.”[3]

The way in which Bill O'Reilly characterizes Fox News as being more
faithful to the “traditional” principles of American journalism than
all other news networks reveals how definitions of “objectivity” are
inherently political in nature, and a journalist's claim to being
“objective” is always implicated in ideological discourses of
nationalism, liberalism, conservativism and so on.

In his historical analysis of the evolution of mass media in the United
States, James Cary argues that the quest for “objectivity” in American
journalism has always been based on an ethnocentric conceit:

“It pretended to discover Universal Truth, to proclaim Universal Laws,
and to describe a Universal Man. Upon inspection it appeared however,
that its Universal Man resembled a type found around Cambridge,
Massachusetts, or Cambridge, England; its Universal Laws resembled
those felt to be useful by Congress and Parliament; and its Universal
Truth bore English and American accents”.[4]

Given such historical biases, are we to assume that media professionals
who claim to report “'Truth” are blissfully unaware of the ubiquitous
and pervasive ways in which their ethnocentrism frames the way they
think, and behave? Is the “'Rashomon” effect unavoidable in the world
of 24-hour cable news channels where journalists from different
networks look at the same event through different ideological lenses?
Are journalists critically inclined or even capable of looking beyond
their own ethnocentric biases and ideological lenses to seek and find
an “objective” reality?

Denis Chase hits the nail on the head when he says, “The problems of
journalism are, at base, philosophical problems. They involve questions
of definition and function: What is news? What is truth? How can one
know Truth?”[5]
Chase is of the view that most journalists are largely aphilosophical
in that they passively accept the dominant cultural philosophies which
govern their profession at any given time. Chase is not alone in this
argument. Edward Jay Epstein goes to the extent of questioning the
ability of journalists to seek after truth, while John C. Merrill says
that journalists speak of objectivity “while reflecting the world
through a prism.”[6]

In such a scenario, any attempt to arrive at a broad definition of
“objectivity” which can be uniformly applied as a standard for
criticism against news coverage on CNN, Fox and MSNBC may be futile.
Instead, I would argue that media critics must focus attention on the
ways in which Fox News has re-defined the traditional notions of
“objectivity” by recasting the ethical principles and the philosophical
underpinnings of American journalism in more populist terms that
resonate with political conservatives and evangelical Christians in the
United States.

As Jim Rutenberg points out, the Fox formula of reporting news about
the war in Iraq and the so-called War on Terror with an “America-first
flair” has been a huge ratings hit, and network executives and
journalists at CNN and MSNBC have been forced to make similar changes
to their own programming and scheduling strategies. As a result,
Rutenberg argues, there is now a “Fox Effect” in cable news channels
where a “new sort of TV journalism” has gained prominence by casting
aside traditional notions of “objectivity” which have been at the core
of mainstream journalism in the United States.[7]
When Fox News arrived in 1996, it brought with it the theories and
practices of “faith-based” journalism which were often incongruent with
many of the philosophical ideals and ethical principles of
“objectivity” in American news media. When confronted with ethical
dilemmas on political issues of race, class, gender and philosophical
concepts like freedom, truth, and social justice, many journalists on
Fox News have placed their faith in “conservative” principles of
American politics (which were deemed to be congruent with the
evangelical Christian worldview of the television viewers that Fox News
cleverly targeted by catering to their perceived sense of
marginalization in the mainstream).

However, to sustain their credibility as professionals in the
discipline of journalism, news anchors, reporters and commentators on
Fox News continually proclaim their unwavering faith in the more
traditional definition of journalistic “objectivity”–as evidenced by
the network's oft-repeated slogans “Fair and Balanced” and “We Report,
You Decide.”

Roger Ailes, the Head of Fox News, was clearly aware of the power of
“objectivity” as an ideal in American journalism, when he declared at a
news conference in 1996 that one of the reasons for launching Fox News
Channel was to “restore objectivity” to the world of television news.
In other words, from the very beginning the professed goal at Fox News
has been to rescue “objectivity” from the so-called liberal bias and
recast it in more conservative terms.

A key strategy used by Fox News for recasting “objectivity” in more
conservative terms has been the slogan “Fair and Balanced” that the
network has used effectively to set itself apart from other cable news
channels. For instance, the concept of “fairness” in the Fox News
slogan–“Fair and Balanced” clearly does not refer to the principle of
being open to all viewpoints. Instead it refers to the need for being
open to the views of political conservatives and evangelical Christians
that Fox News claims have been unfairly marginalized in public
discourse due to the so-called liberal bias of the mainstream media. As
Fred Barnes, the host of “Beltway Boys” and a frequent analyst on other
Fox News shows puts it, to “balance” the news is to offer coverage
“that's quite candidly conservative” as a way to counter “the more
liberal tendencies of the other networks.”[8]

The notion of “balance” has, of course, always been a crucial element
in definitions of “objectivity” in American journalism. Balance is an
ideal that journalists must strive to attain through the ethical
application of what philosophers have called the Aristotelian principle
of the mean. For Aristotle, the mean is an appropriate location between
two extremes. In the context of journalism, finding a “balance” between
two extremes is considered a worthy goal for journalists as a way to
achieve “objectivity” in news reporting.

Although every news story has more than two sides to it, the
Aristotelian principle of the mean has been enthusiastically embraced
by journalists as a way to convey a sense of “objectivity” in covering
a news story. Its power and popularity can gleaned from the sheer
number of times television journalists like Wolf Blitzer on CNN, Bill
O'Reilly on Fox News and Chris Matthews on MSNBC have proudly
proclaimed their desire to cover “both sides” of a story, provide equal
time to the two sides and attain the “balance” that is deemed necessary
for journalistic objectivity.

It is important to note though that for Aristotle, the mean does not
refer to an ideal midpoint between two ideologically extreme positions
(in other words, covering “both sides” does not automatically translate
into balance for Aristotle). The “mean” is not a mathematical average
between two equidistant points either (that is, giving “equal time” to
both sides is not the way to attain balance in the Aristotelian sense).
Aristotelians only talk about “relative means” which depend on the
particularities of a situation. If a news story is about the relative
values of boastfulness and bashfulness, then an Aristotelian journalist
would posit modesty as the golden mean. If the question of the day is
about finding a balance between stinginess and wastefulness, the
Aristotelian mean would be located in the virtue of generosity.

However, in the context of Fox News Channel's slogan of “Fair and
Balanced,” the principle of “balance” does not seem to refer to the
Aristotelian principle of a relative mean that is always
context-sensitive. Instead, the sense of “balance” that Fox News claims
to provide is ideological in that one of two sides in every story is
always a “conservative” position (which is then opposed to a
non-conservative position that is often conflated with the “liberal”
position).

Although not “objective” by any stretch of imagination, Fox News
Channel's “Fair and Balanced” approach has served the network extremely
well in the ratings war among the three major 24-hour cable news
channels. Not surprisingly, then, the Fox formula of defining “balance”
as an ideological battle between a “conservative” position and a
“liberal” position has been embraced by other news channels like CNN
and MSNBC in their quest to play catch up in the ratings game.
Therefore, my critique of Fox News is not that the network has
discarded the principle of “objectivity” in its news coverage. Rather,
my critique of Fox News focuses on the ways in which it has changed the
definition of “objectivity” from ethical principles and philosophical
ideals of “fairness” and “balance” to an ideological battle between
conservatives and liberals in the world of 24-hour cable news channels.

Endnotes
[1] See for instance, “The Most Biased Name in News: Fox News Channel's Extraordinary Rightwing Tilt”, and the critically-acclaimed documentary, Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism (2004)

[2] See for instance, “FOX chairman Ailes defended his network as 'fair and balanced'; Media Matters disagrees” and “Fox News: the Inside Story”.

[3] As quoted in Mark Memmott, “Fox newspeople say allegations of bias unfounded”.

[4] James W. Carey, Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989.

[5] As quoted in Herbert J. Altschull, From Milton to McLuhan: The Ideas Behind American Journalism, New York: Longman, 1990.

[6] As quoted in Herbert J. Altschull, From Milton to McLuhan: The Ideas Behind American Journalism, New York: Longman, 1990.

[7] Jim Rutenberg, “Cable's War Coverage Suggests a New 'Fox Effect' on Television,”New York Times, April 16, 2003.

[8] As quoted in Neil Hickey, “Is Fox News Fair?”Columbia Journalism Review, March-April 1998.

Image Credits:

1. Fox News Channel

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Home > Resources for Students > Tools for Leaders > Programs in a Box > Journalism Movie Night

Journalism Movie Night
Introduction | Journalism Movies From A to Z | Downloadable Resources


Introduction

If your chapter is worn out on all the professional skill building, resume critiquing and service projects, maybe it's time for some good, plain fun. Try out the J-Movies Night. We've got everything here for you in our little box of tricks, including fliers you can customize and a long list of movies having something to do with the profession we all love. The only thing we can't do? Pop the popcorn. Enjoy!


Journalism Movies From A to Z
Download as PDF [103 KB]

This is a partial list of movies that feature journalism, journalists or values important to journalists, such as the freedom of expression. All are available on DVD.

Absence of Malice (1981) drama, PG, 116 minutes. Paul Newman and Sally Field. The adult son of a gangster gets back at the local newspaper after a reporter crosses an ethical line to write an article that damages his reputation.

Ace in the Hole (1951) drama, not rated, B&W, 111 minutes. Kirk Douglas and Jan Sterling. Hard-boiled reporter Chuck Tatum finds himself stuck at a small-time newspaper when he gets a chance at a huge story, but only if he tosses his ethics aside.

All The President’s Men (1976) drama, PG, 139 minutes. Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman and Jason Robards. This is the true story of Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as they researched and reported on the Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon and several aides. Robards won an Oscar for best supporting actor.

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) comedy, PG-13, 94 minutes. Will Ferrell and Christina Applegate. Smarmy TV anchorman Ron Burgundy and his pals have to deal with a new co-worker, a — gasp — woman, in 1970s San Diego.

Broadcast News (1987) comedy/romance, R, 132 minutes. William Hurt, Albert Brooks and Holly Hunter. This is a classic movie about television news, the characters behind and in front of the camera and the ethical dilemmas journalists face every day.

Capote (2005) drama, R, 114 minutes. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener. Writer Truman Capote contributes (creates?) “new journalism” with his nonfiction novel “In Cold Blood,” the story of the murder of a family in rural Kansas. Hoffman won the best actor Oscar for his portrayal of Capote.

The China Syndrome (1979) drama, PG, 122 minutes. Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon and Michael Douglas. A TV reporter and her cameraman investigate the possibility that there is a cover-up of safety hazards at a nuclear power plant.

Citizen Kane (1941) drama, not rated, B&W, 119 minutes. Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton. Considered by some movie critics as one of the best movies ever, this film follows the life of newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane in a story that mirrors the real-life biography of William Randolph Hearst.

Control Room (2004) documentary, not rated, 86 minutes. This film examines how satellite television has changed war reporting.

Deadline (1987) drama, R, 100 minutes, also titled “Witness in the War Zone.” Christopher Walken. Reporter Don Stevens begins digging deep to find the truth after he is duped into interviewing a fake PLO official.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) drama, R, 118 minutes. Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro. Based on a Hunter S. Thompson book, this film is about a journalist and a lawyer as they travel to Las Vegas for bizarre, drug-fueled adventures.

Foreign Correspondent (1940) thriller, not rated, B&W, 120 minutes. Joel McCrae and Laraine Day. This Alfred Hitchcock film sends an American reporter to London to uncover enemy agents as World War II begins.

The Front Page (1931) comedy, not rated, B&W, 101 minutes. Pat O’Brien and Adolphe Menjou. A newspaper reporter plans to quit journalism and get married, but his editor continues to pull him back into the hectic business by keeping him on a hot story about an escaped prisoner.

The Front Page (1974) comedy, PG, 105 minutes. Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. This is a remake of the 1931 film in which a newspaper reporter plans to quit journalism and get married, but his editor continues to pull him back into the hectic business by keeping him on a hot story about an escaped prisoner.

Frost/Nixon (2008) drama, R, 123 minutes. Frank Langella and Michael Sheen. After President Richard Nixon resigns in shame, English TV personality David Frost risks a lot of money, and, perhaps his career, to try to get to the truth in a series of interviews with the politically savvy and evasive Nixon.

Good Night, and Good Luck (2005) drama, PG, B&W, 93 minutes. David Strathairn and George Clooney. Broadcast legend Edward R. Murrow takes on powerful Sen. Joseph McCarthy during the 1953 anti-communist hearings.

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (2008) documentary, R, 120 minutes. Hunter S. Thompson and Johnny Depp. This film provides a look back at the life and work of Thompson, who popularized gonzo journalism, a form that puts the journalist at the heart of a story.

Guilty By Suspicion (1991) drama, PG-13, 105 minutes. Robert DeNiro and Annette Bening. An examination of the Hollywood blacklist era, DeNiro plays a movie director who is pressured to testify against his friends.

Infamous (2006) drama, R, 110 minutes. Toby Jones, Sandra Bullock and Daniel Craig. Similar to the story told in “Capote,” this film focuses more on writer Truman Capote’s relationship with two men who murdered a Kansas family.

The Insider (1999) drama, R, 158 minutes. Al Pacino, Russell Crowe and Christopher Plummer. In a retelling of a true story, a former tobacco executive becomes a consultant for a 60 Minutes segment about the tobacco industry, but 60 Minutes executives find the story too controversial.

The Killing Fields (1984) drama, R, 141 minutes. Sam Waterston and Dr. Haing S. Ngor. This is based on the true story of New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg and his relationship with his aide in Cambodia as the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh in 1975 and began a murderous reign that resulted in the death of some three million. In reality, Ngor had endured the Khmer Rouge atrocities, and he won an Oscar for best supporting actor even though he was not a trained actor.

Live From Baghdad (2003) drama, not rated, 108 minutes. Michael Keaton and Helena Bonham Carter. In this HBO film based on true events, CNN producer Robert Wiener and producing partner Ingrid Formanek risk their lives to report from Baghdad as a war begins.

Network (1976) drama, R, 121 minutes. Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch and Robert Duvall. This film, with its iconic line “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore,” focuses on how far television executives will go for popularity and ratings. Three actors in the film won Oscars: Peter Finch, best actor; Faye Dunaway, best actress; and Beatrice Straight, best supporting actress.

Nothing But the Truth (2008) drama, R, 107 minutes. Kate Beckinsale, Matt Dillon, Alan Alda and Vera Farmiga. Inspired by the famous (or infamous) case in which NYT reporter Judith Miller spent time in jail for refusing to reveal a source, this film features Beckinsale as a reporter who — although she works for a major newspaper — seems to know little about media law when she is subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury to disclose the name of a source. Famed First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams plays a significant role as a judge in the film.

Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism (2004) documentary, not rated, 78 minutes. Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes. This is an examination of Fox News Channel’s claim to be “fair and balanced.”

The Paper (1994) comedy/drama, R, 112 minutes. Michael Keaton, Glenn Close, Randy Quaid and Robert Duvall. This film focuses on the craziness at a big-city newspaper as a reporter covers a high-profile murder.

The Pelican Brief (1993) drama, PG-13, 141 minutes. Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts. A law student and a journalist work together to find out who assassinated two U.S. Supreme Court justices.

The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996) drama, R, 130 minutes. Woody Harrelson, Courtney Love and Edward Norton. This bio about Hustler magazine Publisher Larry Flynt includes his famous legal battle with the Rev. Jerry Fallwell. The case demonstrates just how far the First Amendment goes to protect offensive speech.

Resurrecting the Champ (2007) drama, PG-13, 112 minutes. Samuel L. Jackson and Josh Hartnett. A sports reporter befriends a homeless man whom he believes to be a former boxing champion.

Salvador (1985) drama, R, 123 minutes. James Woods and Jim Belushi. Photojournalist Richard Boyle tries to get his career started in El Salvador as a brutal civil war begins in the early 1980s.

Shattered Glass (2003) drama, PG-13, 94 minutes. Hayden Christensen and Peter Sarsgaard. In this true story, Stephen Glass is a young up-and-comer in the magazine industry until a competing publication begins checking the facts of one of his stories. The fallout threatens the magazine and the reputations of all of its writers.

The Soloist (2009) drama, PG-13, 116 minutes. Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx. A Los Angeles newspaper reporter befriends a street musician and the friendship changes both of their lives.

State of Play (2009) drama, PG-13, 127 minutes. Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams and Ben Affleck. Two Washington newspaper reporters work to solve the mysteries surrounding two deaths that appear to be unrelated.

Talk Radio (1988) drama, R, 109 minutes. Eric Bogosian and Alec Baldwin. A Dallas radio talk-show host who likes to shock and enrage his listeners finds out just how dangerous words can be.

Under Fire (1983) drama/romance, R, 1289 minutes. Nick Nolte, Ed Harris and Joanna Cassidy. Journalists uncover political intrigue in Nicaragua as the Somoza regime is toppled in a revolution in 1979.

Veronica Guerin (2003) drama, R, 98 minutes. Cate Blanchett. This is the true story of a woman reporter in 1990s Dublin who won public acclaim as she searched for the truth about some very dangerous people and eventually paid the ultimate price.

Wag The Dog (1997) comedy, R, 96 minutes. Dustin Hoffman and Robert DeNiro. Public relations experts use technology and trickery to create a phony war to distract the public from a sex scandal involving the president of the United States.

War and Truth (2007) documentary, not rated, 74 mintes. Joe Galloway and Helen Thomas. War correspondents talk about their experiences in the Iraq war and the value of truthful reporting during wartime. It has a lot of graphic images.

War Photographer (2001) documentary, not rated, 96 minutes. James Nachtwey. This film follows famous war photographer James Nachtwey as he works. It includes interviews with the soft-spoken Nachtwey and some of his editors.

Where the Buffalo Roam (1980) comedy, R, 96 minutes. Bill Murray and Peter Boyle. Based on a Hunter S. Thompson adventure, this film sends a reporter and his crazed attorney friend on the road to cover the Super Bowl and the 1972 presidential election.

The Wire, season five (2008) drama, not rated, 630 minutes. Dominic West and Clark Johnson. OK, this is not a movie, but the 10 episodes of this critically acclaimed HBO series reveal the relationships that exist among journalists, politicians and law enforcement.

The Year of Living Dangerously (1982) drama/romance, PG, 115 minutes. Mel Gibson, Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hunt. Based in Indonesia in 1965, this film focuses on an Australian reporter as he tries to cover civil unrest. Hunt plays a male photographer in role that won her an Oscar for best supporting actress.

Zodiac (2007) drama, R, 157 minutes, Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr. Based on a true story about the search for a serial killer, this film focuses on a newspaper cartoonist, a reporter and a police detective.

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