Newspapers Dragged Into Ruckus Over ‘Outfoxed’ Film

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By: Greg Mitchell

It’s a documentary film about a TV network that will be mainly distributed in video stores and viewed via house parties sponsored by a political group. Even so, newspapers have become embroiled in the controversy surrounding it.

The film is “Outfoxed,” by most accounts a Michael Moore-type expose of bias at Fox News, which will be screened in New York this week, and then appear in a few movie theatres and at MoveOn.org events. It’s already causing a stir, with the scent of lawsuits in the air.

The latest shots came today. First, Charlie Reina, who worked at Fox for six years, declared in a letter to the Romenesko site at Poynter.org that the documentary “is, if anything, understated. It’s only the tip of the iceberg.” Fox, he added, had behaved “loutishly.”

Then, this afternoon, Fox News issued a statement accusing The New York Times of cooperating with “illegal copyright infringement actions” and corrupting “the journalistic process.”

The controversy, in our highly partisan times, comes as no surprise, but no one expected that newspapers would stand in the firing line. Indeed, the battle over the movie is being fought in print, not in court (so far).

It all started with a New York Times Magazine story on Sunday (previewed by E&P on Saturday). Writer Robert Boynton, a journalism professor at New York University, apparently had exclusive media access to the film’s director Robert Greenwald, and he revealed some of the content of the film, including excerpts from memos by Fox Senior Vice President John Moody sent to staffers, urging them, among other things, to play down U.S. casualties in Iraq and reports of our military using “excessive force.” The article noted that Fox had declined comment .

Fox spokeswoman Irena Briganti responded by telling The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz that she had complained to an editor at the Times magazine that the paper had only given the network 24 hours to reply. She said the editor, James Ryerson, told her that the magazine had made a “deal” with Greenwald that it would not contact Fox until close to the deadline for the story, possibly fearing the network would try to slap an injunction on the film for unauthorized use of the network’s footage.

Ryerson, however, told Kurtz that the magazine gave Fox “plenty of time.” Boynton told Kurtz, “This was not an ambush.”

When Kurtz’s article appeared this morning, Boynton was not pleased. He sent a note to the Romenesko site complaining that he actually gave Fox 72 hours to respond, had forwarded e-mails proving this to Kurtz, who “only glancingly refers to them in his piece.” Boynton claimed that Fox’s “decision not to get back to me was a result of either bureaucratic incompetence or P.R. calculation.”

Kurtz had interjected himself into the contest earlier, in a Sunday column charging that “Outfoxed” director Greenwald “makes no effort at fairness or balance himself.” Appreciating this, Fox handed out Kurtz’s article to reporters attending a press conference for the film in New York.

Fox was active on other fronts. Staffers showed other memos to USA Today writer Mark Memmott who suggested today that “Outfoxed” focuses only on the memos that uphold its view of rightwing bias at Fox. Other memos, he reported, included instructions to give Sen. John Kerry’s speeches equal weight with those of President George W. Bush, and to not go overboard covering criticism of Kerry by some of his former “swift boat” colleagues.

Stayed tuned. Or rather, don’t take your eyes off the page.

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