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Remember When Fox News Wasn’t a Right-wing News Channel? Neither Do I

2:24 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Greenwald

A dozen years ago, as the U.S. was pulled into war in Iraq by President George W. Bush, Fox News was not just any television network. It proudly blared the White House’s lies coming with singular warmongering fervor. Remember? The terrorists had ties to Iraq. Saddam wanted the bomb. Saddam had the bomb. He could hit us in 45 minutes.

Cover of Outfoxed documentary.

10 years later, Fox News still serves a damaging far-right agenda.

Fox even overshadowed the pro-war New York Times where with the help of Judith Miller, the paper spewed distortions, launched partisan attacks and slammed Bush’s critics as naïve, unpatriotic traitors. Other media, and even members of Congress, followed Fox’s lead. They all assumed that Fox was a legitimate news organization. It wasn’t. Yet that mistake about Fox’s power and impact was wreaking terrible consequences for our democracy and the media.

I felt that Fox had to be exposed with facts and broadcast clips for what it was: a partisan propaganda shop masquerading as news network. Other media and the public had to be educated that Fox was acting as the media arm of the America’s political right wing. It was anything but “fair and balanced.”

I knew what I wanted to do. I had made dozens of movies for TV, cable and feature films. We had to investigate Fox and expose it for what it was to real journalists. We could use new tools—crowd-sourced investigations, digital video recorders, and editing software. We could distribute it using the Internet, online DVD sales and social media. In March 2003, America invaded Iraq. The following year was a presidential election. We had to move quickly and couldn’t rely on traditional movie theaters or TV. We didn’t.

In July 2004, we released our documentary film, Outfoxed, which relies on Fox News’ own words and methods to let people see Fox for what it was. Today, a decade later, we are re-releasing the film with a new section adding context. It’s worth reflecting on what we did, the impact the film had, and what’s left to do—why it’s still very relevant today.

As Texas’s Tea Party Sen. Ted Cruz said in a June New Yorker magazine profile, “In both law and politics, I think the essential battle is the meta-battle of framing the narrative.” That perfectly describes Fox’s mission: recast news from a right wing perspective, only support Republican prescriptions, and attack the opposition. In Outfoxed, we showed how Fox does that so that Americans could understand how partisan propaganda works.

We began by assembling a team that started watching Fox seven days a week. Our team, mostly volunteers recruited by MoveOn.org, followed shows and commentators. We taped everything, such as when Bill O’Reilly said we were winning in Iraq or when he stammered out vicious attacks on anti-war activists. We noted their rhetoric, tone, presentation, techniques and noticed something above all else: Fox’s unattributed accusations. When Fox wanted to assert a right wing talking point or use a guest as a prop to launch an attack, their hosts would say, again and again, “Some people say…” It’s a clever ruse. The “some people” was Fox CEO Roger Ailes and his Republican friends. What they “say” was indistinguishable from political attack ads and smears.

I remember seeing that for the first time in the editing room and almost fell off my chair. I was surprised at how often they did it. We also had sources inside Fox’s newsroom who had grown weary of Fox’s journalistic pretensions. They gave us dozens of memos from senior Fox editors. For the first time, we had written proof of Fox telling its reporters what to say and how to say it. Never say sniper in a script, the memos said, always say sharpshooter. Never mourn a soldier’s death, its writers and analysts were told. They were the shock troops in a right wing propaganda war.

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Charles Koch + Roger Ailes = Ohio University?

1:37 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Greenwald

Why would the esteemed Ohio University host a talk by the likes of Roger Ailes? Maybe we should ask one of the talk’s patrons, Charles Koch.

Protesters with sign 'Things Go Better Without Koch'

Photo by Sue Peacock

Ailes, of Fox News fame, is giving his talk today. The guy who invited him says the point was to get “perhaps the most influential newsman in America” to spark a discussion about “free speech and the media,” particularly given OU’s “first-rate school of journalism.” But Roger Ailes isn’t a newsman and doesn’t do journalism. He does political advocacy that’s (very) thinly disguised as journalism. As Eric Boehlert of Media Matters says, “places of higher learning shouldn’t help perpetuate the Fox myth while turning a blind eye to the lasting damage Ailes’s enterprise is doing to journalism and to our national discourse.”

Might this act of selling out have something to do with the fact that the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation serves as an underwriter of the George Washington Forum, which is the OU group hosting the speech? As detailed in my film Koch Brothers Exposed, Charles Koch is a billionaire industrialist and one of the leading financiers of the American Right. He is known to meddle in educational institutions, infamously attaching strings to university donations by insisting he be able to veto a school’s hiring decisions. Students and faculty at schools like Florida State University are fighting this corruption valiantly, but the encroachment on academic integrity and freedom remains a threat.

In the case of Ohio University, the full extent of Koch’s donations to the George Washington Forum isn’t known. But we do know that Koch specifically underwrote a talk the Forum hosted by John Yoo, author of the Bush torture memos (belying Charles and his brother David’s claims that their ideological activism is restricted to economic issues). We also know that through the Forum, the Charles Koch Foundation awards grants to students “interested in studying free market ideas” under an OU professor who researches conservative politics and economics. Students applying for the grant in the past have had to write an essay about a book by libertarian Henry Hazlitt. Is it just me, or does it look like Charles Koch is paying the university to spread his right-wing ideology?

Not that Koch is the only problem. Indeed, Ailes himself is a big donor to (and alum of) Ohio University. If an institution of higher learning is willing to take money from an anti-journalist like Ailes for its communications programs, it will inevitably spread his message to students, one way or another.

Today, as Ailes takes the mic at OU, those who believe in education should redouble our efforts to stop the slow erosion of academic integrity. This erosion is reflected in the influence wielded by wealthy ideologues like Charles Koch and his political bullhorn, Roger Ailes.

Are the Koch Brothers Funding Rush Limbaugh?

2:07 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Greenwald

By Robert Greenwald and Jesse Lava

Just in time for the release of Brave New Foundation’s new film, Koch Brothers Exposed, Rush Limbaugh has thrown in with Charles and David Koch in their letter war with Obama campaign manager Jim Messina. No surprise there; Rush has made his fortune defending the rich and powerful against the 99%. But does Rush actually have a vested interest in the Koch brothers’ success?

The letter war started when Messina sent a fundraising letter saying the billionaire brothers bankroll “Tea Party extremism” and manipulate oil prices to buttress their energy business. The Kochs responded that Obama was treading on their “right to free speech.” (To them, I guess, being criticized by the president is tantamount to being arrested for sedition.) Team Obama shot back again, and here we are.

Rush has taken to the airwaves and lauded the Kochs. “This is how you do it,” he says. And on the surface, the reason for Rush’s apologetics is straightforward enough: he’s a man of the Right, and so are the Koch brothers. But below the surface of this defense lies a much more complex and insidious truth. The fact is that Rush needs the Kochs,and the Kochs need Rush.

Limbaugh is, fundamentally, a mouthpiece for conservative propaganda. He’s not a researcher. He’s not a grassroots organizer. He’s a mouthpiece. And where would he be without propaganda to spout? He has to get his ideas from somewhere. He can’t feed the right-wing echo chamber that’s hijacking our democracy if someone isn’t feeding him first. That’s where the Kochs come in.

The video we made with Sen. Bernie Sanders reveals the Kochs’ general method, whether Limbaugh is involved or not: fund an army of right-wing organizations so that politicians and pundits know exactly what to say:

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Murdoch’s Web of Corruption Continues To Demand An Independent Investigation

12:29 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Greenwald

The story of News Corps ever unraveling corruption is still far from over. This week’s revelations in the News Corp drama highlights the lies in the Murdochs’ prior testimony to parliament, and demands that more questions be answered regarding who knew what and did what. At this point the level of criminal activity and cover-up exceeds anything seen in recent history. And all signs continue to point to a need to replace Joel Klein with an independent entity that can conduct a thorough and unbiased internal investigation.

Let’s review the latest. There’s Clive Goodman letter from 2007, in which he made clear that high level News International executives were aware of the use of wire tapping. As Goodman wrote, “This practice was widely discussed in the daily editorial conference, until explicit reference to it was banned by the editor.”

And then there’s the fact that, directly after Goodman sent this letter to News Corp, following his release from prison, News International paid him nearly a quarter of a million pounds. This payout being strikingly larger than what was previously claimed by the company.

On top of all of this, one of the Murdochs’ hired law firms, Harbottle & Lewis, has come out and claimed that some of the evidence the Murdochs presented was “hard to credit”, “self-serving” and “inaccurate and misleading”. When your own lawyers come out against you, you know you have a serious problem.

While all this news was breaking, it was also learned that Rupert’s daughter, Elisabeth, has been given $214-million plus in payment for the sale of her company to her father’s company.

And then, as I write this, news comes in that another News of the World reporter has been arrested. James Desborough was arrested today on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications. What’s particularly significant is that after the hacking incident the British police suspect him of, he moved to the US to continue to work for the company out of Los Angeles. This raises the question of whether he continued hacking practices while in the US, and, if so, how widespread this practice was among other News of the World journalists’ in the US.

All of this new documentation was released this week by either British law enforcement or by the Commons culture, media and sport select committee, and it should have a devastating impact upon the Murdoch investigation.

The Murdochs, without question, should be forced to reappear in front of the committee to account for the lies they presented in their last appearance, and to address this new information.

But more than that, all this new information coming from outside investigations highlights how inadequate it is to have Joel Klein continue to lead the internal News Corp investigation. There is clearly a lot of details of corruption that remain to be exposed, and Klein as a hired inside guy is by no means the person able to do that. It is important that the outside investigations continue to shine a light on the facts of the scandal, but the internal investigation must also have at least some potential for true accountability. By which, I mean accountability to the truth, and not to providing further protection to Murdoch. Joel Klein must be replaced.

As Outfoxed exposed seven years ago, the Murdochs run a company based on conglomerate control, corruption and a full lack of ethics. Rigorous investigation into their history and present practices needs to continue. The Murdochs must be called forward to answer for their crimes. Father and son both need to resign. And Joel Klein needs to be replaced. The only way to move forward from such a web of corruption is to cut off the sources of it, and to create true accountability for our journalistic structures.

News Corp: a study in the failure of corporate self-regulation

2:51 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Greenwald

This post was originally published by the Guardian.

What is the main lesson learned in the Murdoch scandal?

That corporate conglomerate power run unregulated causes great public harm and lacks the checks and balances required for there to be any accountability. Given this, what would be the best way to investigate the criminal wrongdoings of such a conglomerate?

News Corp would have you believe that the answer to that question is: have the guilty and obscuring conglomerate examine itself and then report to the rest of the world the level of information it chooses to publish.

Let me be blunt: this is the definition of insanity.

Former New York City school Chancellor Joel Klein, now News Corp’s executive vice president, has been tapped to lead the investigation of the company that pays him $4.5 million a year and gives him stock awards. What could potentially be a conflict of interest around that?

And who does Klein report to? Viet Dinh. Viet Dinh’s prior work experience? Authoring the USA Patriot Act, a law that greatly increased the government’s use of wiretapping and other forms of eavesdropping on citizens.

We also have already seen how such internal News Corps investigations turn out. There is the precedent of Les Hinton’s prior internal investigation, which revealed no phone hacking beyond the “bad apple” who had already gone to prison. Eventually, that failed investigation caught up with Hinton, who resigned from his post as chief executive of Dow Jones, publisher of the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal. But this example further highlights the point: there is no incentive for a senior executive to do anything other than minimize the issue they are investigating.

This act of News Corp supposedly investigating itself is a clear and raging sign of why consolidated power cannot be left in complete and unchecked control — particularly of their own investigation. As my 2004 documentary Outfoxed highlighted, in examining the unethical behavior of Fox News, the News Corp problem of distorting the truth has long existed. As a company, News Corp, with Fox often leading the way, has led an imaginary war in which it sees itself as “against the world.” Nothing from its corporate practices suggests that a self-investigation would reveal actual information.

This is not how things have to be. News Corp could follow the lead from dozens of prior companies and hire outside legal counsel to oversee the investigation. What News Corp is doing, once more, goes beyond standard practice and refuses to cede any control, presumably fearing that it might stop it from doing whatever it is it wants to do. Charles M. Elson, an expert on corporate governance at the University of Delaware, was recently quoted in The New York Times on this matter, saying clearly, “You cannot be seen as objective if you are inside.”

Let me summarize what has been learned by this whole parade of corruption. Corporate conglomerates run without regulation, do not work in the service of society, and run reckless and unchecked whenever possible. Self-investigation of such malfeasance is not the standard, and should not be the situation in this case. This whole phone-hacking story has been nothing but an absurd example of how power run unchecked responds by claiming more power when attempted to be reined in.

News Corp should not be allowed to continue this charade of a self-investigation. Meanwhile, the United States Senate and the department of justice should use all the power they have to push for a complete and thorough investigation into News Corp’s US dealings. We all deserve real answers to how much criminal activity occurred, and where the related responsibility and accountability failed.

Those answers will never come from News Corp itself.

Inside the Koch Brothers’ Expensive Echo Chamber

11:17 am in Uncategorized by Robert Greenwald

March 12, 2011

March 12, 2011 by Sue Peacock

Documents and interviews unearthed in recent months by Brave New Foundation researchers illustrate a $28.4 million Koch business that has manufactured 297 commentaries, 200 reports, 56 studies and six books distorting Social Security’s effectiveness and purpose.

Together, the publications reveal a vast cottage industry comprised of Koch brothers’ spokespeople, front groups, think tanks, academics and elected officials, which have built a self-sustaining echo chamber to transform fringe ideas into popular mainstream public policy arguments.

The Koch brothers’ echo chamber has successfully written the messaging for the AARP, a traditional defender of Social Security for all generations, which recently opened the door to cutting benefits.

The Koch echo chamber begins with think tanks like the Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation and Mercatus Center at George Mason University and the Reason Foundation, which owe their founding and achievements to Koch backing. These think tanks take their $28.4 million in Koch funding and produce hundreds of position papers distorting the long-term health of Social Security.

The authors of these hundreds of self-described policy studies, newsletters, commentaries and books are then paraded through television, print and online news media. Their distorted message is amplified through shows like Hannity, with its 3.3 million viewers per episode, or CNBC’s Kudlow Report and its roughly 300,000 viewers per episode night after night after night.

Eventually, elected officials react to the Koch echo chamber and typically shift their position for reelection or the next campaign.

The investigation revealed Koch-supported policy fixes, and specific language repeated across each document, such as raising the retirement age or eliminating cost of living adjustments for Social Security dependents and beneficiaries.

These Koch ideas percolate through the echo chamber and into the mainstream. The frequency and repetition of the arguments supplant more popular policy recommendations like scrapping the Social Security tax cap, which would free individuals earning more than $106,800 annually to pay taxes on all of their wages, like everyone else.

“The Koch brothers job is to do everything they can to dismember government in general,” Sen. Bernie Sanders says in this video. “If you can destroy Social Security, you will have gone a long way forward in that effort.”

The Koch echo chamber has been so effective that AARP, a traditional advocate and defender of Social Security, has repositioned its policy to open the door to cut Social Security benefits for dependents and beneficiaries.

Counter the Koch billions and protect social security. Create an echo chamber of truth and share this video with your friends and family.

The echo chamber, coupled with AARP’s shift toward cutting Social Security, pushes the argument further toward the Koch brothers’ goals. Influential opinion-shapers in venerable news outlets will react and have already begun to referee disputes on new ‘middle ground’ that has, over time and through the actions of AARP and the Koch echo chamber, grown tolerant of the Koch brothers’ talking points.

“The Koch brothers fund organizations, and you have economists and political scientists working there and they are very, very good at getting on television,” Sanders said. “They are very effective in getting their positions out into the media.”

That’s further personified by the Koch brothers’ lobbying. Koch Industries spent $857,000 on lobbyists in 2004, one year before George W. Bush tried and failed to privatize Social Security. They also donated $104,660 to his campaign. The attacks on Social Security needed more time to stew in the echo chamber before they could be mainstream, and given the increase in lobbyists, they have risen dramatically. AARP’s shift is more proof of the Kochs’ achievements.

In the first two years of the Obama administration, the brothers have spent $20 million on lobbying, according to the Center for Public Integrity. And they’ve diversified their donations to a slew of Republican opinion leaders and strategic Democrats who oppose revenue increases like Sen. Ben Nelson and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. And, with AARP’s action, the Koch echo chamber has broken ground on a new political terrain favorable to their ideological and financial goals.

Almost overnight, a historic and popular service, like Social Security, faces extinction. But behind this outcome, the Koch echo chamber has been churning for years.