Robert Greenwald's visionary approach to documentary making will be highlighted in Madison Friday night, with the Wisconsin premiere of his most-acclaimed project yet, "Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism."
What makes Greenwald such a groundbreaking figure in the rapidly evolving documentary genre is his determination to live in the political moment, to take on issues as they develop and, above all, to try to fill in the knowledge gaps created by media that no longer cover politics or policy seriously.
Greenwald's production company has been involved with four documentary projects since 2001. In addition to "Outfoxed," the critically acclaimed challenge to the Fox News network's claim that it is "fair and balanced," he's been a key player in the development of what Greenwald refers to as "the Un series":
• "Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election," an examination of the unresolved scandals relating to the assigning of Florida's electoral votes to George W. Bush.
• "Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War," which details the Bush administration's manipulation and lies prior to the launch of the Iraq War.
• "Unconstitutional," a new film that exposes the way in which the Bush administration has exploited the 9/11 tragedy to undermine civil liberties and limit dissent.
Greenwald, a successful Hollywood filmmaker who does not need to make documentaries, is blunt about his motivations. He believes the news media in the United States have failed to seriously examine fundamental issues of election fraud, war and peace and the erosion of civil liberties, and he is determined to fill the void.
I first came into contact with Greenwald when he was backing the "Unprecedented" project, which was produced and directed by Joan Sekler and Richard R. Perez. I'd done a book on the Florida fiasco ("Jews for Buchanan") and provided some commentary for that documentary.
But I really got to know Greenwald when he was working on "Outfoxed." What struck me was that he was interested not merely in exposing problems but in proposing solutions.
One of the most appealing aspects of "Outfoxed" is that, after going through the problems with Fox, it ends with a call to action - not to attack Fox, per se, but to support efforts to reform the media systems that Fox's boss, Rupert Murdoch, has so ably manipulated.
The "Outfoxed" Web site (www.outfoxed.org) encourages visitors to get involved with media reform initiatives at the congressional and local levels, and contains a message from Greenwald: "My most passionate wish is that you will see the film and then decide which groups to work with, support or start your own, in order to effect change. We must change the media, to get the country we want."
Greenwald is not merely interested in complaining, he's interested in change. And he is using the documentary genre, with remarkable success, to get others involved in making the change.
John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times.The Capital Times and the Madison-based Progressive magazine are joining The Nation, The American Prospect and Mother Jones to sponsor the Wisconsin premiere of "Outfoxed" at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Orpheum Theater, 216 State St. Wellstone Action, the Minnesota-based organization developed by backers of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone, is co-sponsoring the showing, as is WTDY-Madison's Progressive Talk radio station.
Copyright 2004 The Capital Times