‘Outfoxed’ Opens to Packed Bay Area Living Rooms

Tuesday July 20, 2004

Roll out the sofas and living room rugs, but leave the red carpet behind. That was the theme at Bay Area houses as neighbors packed into living rooms to watch the nation-wide premier of Outfoxed—Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism, the newest in the deluge of groundbreaking and hard-hitting left wing political documentaries hitting the American scene this year. 

At Kari Hamerschlag’s North Berkeley house on Sunday, stragglers were left with standing room only. People peered around walls, sat at awkward angles, and humored the friendly but intrusive family puppy as more than 40 people packed in to be part of the event organized by Berkeley’s own MoveOn.org. 

“There was such overwhelming interest,” said Hamerschlag. “Thirty-two people signed up but easily 40 people came.” 

The Bay Area alone hosted 382 parties over the weekend, and nation-wide, organizers expected the movie to be seen in 3,000 houses. On Friday, lines stretched around the block to see the big-screen premiere at San Francisco’s alternative Victoria Theater in the Mission, an event hosted by AlterNet and Media Alliance. 

The movie, directed by Robert Greenwald, is an in-depth examination of the Fox News cable channel owned by the media mogul Rupert Murdoch, which is already well-known for its conservative bent. The movie explores the why and the how of the station’s particular take on the news. Simply put, it tries to smash the station’s motto, “Fair and Balanced.” 

Beyond the message, however, is the movie. Based in large part on clips from Fox, it bends the rules of mainstream cinema-making and established principles of copyright law, which is why it’s been released in living rooms and alternative theaters. But its vice has also been its virtue.  

According to Greenwald, he and a team of legal advisers are still waiting to see how the movie plays out legally. Currently, his attorneys, including Stanford Law School Professor Lawrence Lessig, are preparing for what could be a lawsuit from Fox charging infringement of copyright law for use of the clips. Such a lawsuit might result in an injunction to stop the movie from being shown in commercial movie houses, but it would be more difficult to stop living room showings. At the Victoria, Lessig, who is also chair of the Creative Commons fair use advocacy group, described Greenwald’s legal team as wading through the giant sea of copyright law, hoping to establish themselves on the firm ground of fair use. 

Instead of backing down and waiting to see what happens, the movie has inspired people to take things into their own hands. Instead of just paying money to watch a movie, they’ve been forced to seek a new model for democracy in action.  

And who better to lead the way than MoveOn? Anticipating potential legal restraints, MoveOn organized the home screenings, forcing people to be proactive in order to participate in the event. And with Sunday’s turnout, numbers seem to indicate that it’s been a success. 

According to Greenwald, this new model was the plan all along. Besides the message of the movie, he says he wants it to encourage involvement. One of first links on the movie’s homepage is an activism guide where people can find out what they can do to “fight back against corporate media consolidation.”  

“I think it’s very empowering,” said Hamerschlag. “It shows us all that we can do something about this. If we can stop Fox News, that’s going to have an important impact on other news organizations that otherwise felt that they might need to be more like Fox News. Everybody who saw the movie at my house were very inspired to take action. I think it’s going to be a very successful campaign.”›