November 16, 2007  ·  Lessig

So as readers of this site know, I represent Robert Greenwald (pro bono) in a some fair use matters. My first work was on his film Outfoxed. Robert has been continuing the campaign against Fox. His latest is a very clever set of attacks on the “indecency” of Fox News. (The purpose is to push the FCC to unbundle cable channels). Watch the video below and you’ll see the point.

Ok, so here is where things get weird. All of this content is content broadcast on Fox television. All of it thus passes the censors at the FCC. Yet stories about Robert’s latest are now banned on DIGG. And YouTube requires you verify you’re over 18 to see the clip. (At 9pm, the story is #1 on Reddit, on the other hand.)

So it’s ok to broadcast this content to kids for the purpose of driving ratings and ad revenue, but banned for purposes of criticizing the (yet again) hypocritical Fox network. The conspiracy theories abound here. My guess is that some pro-free speech entities (DIGG, YouTube) are just not thinking.

UPDATE: DIGG did the right thing. Read (and digg) Kevin’s correction of their mistake. Bravo.

  • odb

    But wait a second – this is a mash-up right? So the content has been fundamentally changed, right? “All of this content” is NOT Fox News, there is a voice-over and the word ‘porn’ is in the title. I’m not saying I agree with it at all, but there are plenty of reasons why this is not making it past the censors at Youtube and Digg that have nothing to do with conspiracy theories or, as you more sensibly put it, ‘not thinking.’ Perhaps they’re thinking about what the content says now? Perhaps this is a pretty good example of the power of mash-ups? Also, it’s a good thing that people understand that YouTube and Digg censor.

  • lessig

    Indeed, it is a mashup, but my point is the political mashup of Fox broadcast material can’t become “adult content.”

  • Mike Johnson

    It would be interesting to try to get this shown on some techTV channel that the FCC oversees. I catch a whiff of hypocrisy in how Digg and Youtube are approaching this, but it’s hard to get full leverage out of the hypocrisy criticism without the same party holding content up to double standards.

    I think there’s something in odb’s comment, that indecency is thought to be a matter of context, and by putting ‘porn’ in the title, one changes the context. But still, the greater context is one of criticism.

    I’ll look forward to seeing this develop.

  • Atlanta General Civil Litigation

    Wow, guess I’ve been watching the wrong news channel. Good post.

  • Seth Finkelstein

    [This comment deliberately left blank except for this line - it's not worth it :-(]

  • Peter Fletcher

    Good to see Digg has done the “right” thing here.

  • poptones

    So I guess if i mashup some olsen twins movies and put “porn” in the title of my mashup that makes their stuff indecent too?

    The irony there, of course, is that thorne at the time acknowledged the content was “for dads too” and their movies were full of various fetish shots – particularly feet. If the olsens were 13 years old today they couldnt do what they did less than a decade ago – thanks to perverted right wing kooks like FOX and Maury, they could never fly under that wire again. No more baby billionaires springing from the direct video market – if it’s “on the internet” it must be bad.

  • Chad Wellington

    I think Lessig is too quickly dismissing criticism here, and doing so in a fallacious manner. This is dangerous when calling others hypocrites. The statement “the political mashup of Fox broadcast material can’t become “adult content.” ” leaves out two major distinctions.

    First, the video here is more than a collage. It intentionally takes the material and re-contextualizes it into a parodic pornographic advertisement scheme. These clips were not displayed to motivate criticism within the document itself; they were displayed in a manner that emphasizes their ability to titilate. As the evaluation is how to classify the new expression without the critical counterpart, how deep or insightful was FoxNews’ coverage is beside the point. This is where I think it is wrong to say a mashup or other altered form and context “can’t become” a different class of expression.

    Secondly, and entirely separate from the first, is the consideration of what is “adult content.” The clips moved from broadcast news to YouTube. As pernicious or idiotic as the FCC’s decency guidelines may be, they are irrelevant to YouTube’s adult filter, which is free to have its own brain damaged implementation of Protecting the Children. I have never quite understood what content justifies the lockdown, and it seems the moment that anything gets codified, someone comes up with some borderline case that gets locked seemingly for intentionally avoiding the given rules. Thus, one cannot compare the “adult content” label in different contexts that explicitly need not follow the same rules, especially when the “adult content” label comes under the rules that are not a matter of public policy.

  • Roberta McNair

    To Chad Wellington:

    One point I think you’ve left out is that little of the content behind the images culled by Robert Greenwald either A) actually had anything to do with the images, or B) really qualified as news. I’ve seen some of the stories in context (without the “porn” voice overs), and an example is a story on students descending on Florida cities for spring break and causing problems for the residents there. Fox presented no images of kids driving while drunk or behaving badly while at restaurants or other public places, which would probably have been more relevant, but only showed bikini-clad girls dancing on beaches or stages with an occasional cut to a buff guy in a swimsuit or the whooping reactions from guys watching said girls. Perhaps the images they showed actually were from real spring break frolics, but they looked a lot more like the “Girls Gone Wild” commercials I see when I watch late night TV.

    It’s disingenuous to claim “These clips were not displayed to motivate criticism within the document itself; they were displayed in a manner that emphasizes their ability to titilate.” Why do you think they were shown on Fox at all? The titillation factor is the point in Fox’s using these images. Think about it: You’ve got a guy channel surfing and he hits on Fox News and sees nearly naked girls writhing around for his viewing pleasure. He keeps the remote set on Fox News even after that story finishes, because if they showed those first clips, they’ll probably show more. Does the guy care about the commentary from the pundit on screen to the left of the girls? Does he listen to the “issue” presented as the babes dance? I can’t be sure, but it’s pretty likely he doesn’t.

    What he does is keep his TV on Fox News, and he sees the commercials from its advertisers, which, whether he buys the product or not, gives Fox News the ability to claim viewer numbers to its advertisers. Maybe he changes the channel when he gets bored, but Fox News had him for awhile.

    What Greenwald has done is to put a soundtrack to Fox News’ images that points up the cynicism and, yes, hypocrisy that are present in all of Fox News’ programming. The true pornography is in their unadulterated broadcasts with its selective reporting and misrepresentation of fact, not in Greenwald’s video.

  • Steve R.

    Good post. I actually have an O’reilly complaint on this issue. I happened to be watching Fox News when he announced that he would be discussing the Moslem dress code. He brought on some woman from a fashion magazine, she was extremely well dressed. When she walked onto stage, you could initially see in the distance that her dress was very low cut. The camera quickly cut away. From the moment she sat down, her front was “censored” by a title block and virtually all her screen angles were profiles from the back side.

    So here we have an interview where O’Reilly is condemning the restrictiveness of the Moslem dress code while his program is busy “censoring” the visual of their guest speaker!!!!! Quite hypocritical I think.

    To change the focus a bit, the program Fox and Friends has an unprofessional camera angle. The hosts are siting on a couch with a low table, the center host is a woman with a knee length skirt. This is totally unprofessional for a supposed news show.

  • DW

    The following FOX NEWS clip deserves mention because it fits so comically (tragic) with your discussion AND copyright:

    Could it also be that FOX is opposed to Timbaland’s indecent COPYRIGHT position; the implied message being that only thugged out gansta n***ers approve of file-sharing. hahaha! It’s hard to imagine this was the only clip available which supported there issue with indecency. Note to Hannity: It’s Wu-Tang Clan and Timbaland, not We Tang Clan and Timberland…

    This is another segment that needs to be watched. KRS-ONE discussing 9/11 etc. with Hannity

    His treatment of KRS-ONE, or as he calls him, KPR is ridiculous.

  • DW


  • Paul Harrison

    This is not the kind of thing I like to come across while casually browsing YouTube, despite being an adult member of a Western society, and being both trained to be able to and considered responsible for controlling my own urges. I would hope that un-remixed clips from this “FOX news network” of a similar nature would be similarly flagged.

    I also support shielding children from this kind of content. I hope you will agree that parents should at least have the right to do this. It therefore worries me that the authority that regulates content of this kind in your country, this “FCC”, has such lax standards.

  • DW

    I’ve previously commented and posted a few clips that I think add to the discussion about the terrible nature of FOX NEWS. I wanted to comment again and say that I recently watched OUTFOXED. It’s a well made, seemingly low(er) budget film that exposes a serious problem within that network. I recommend it.

    But OUTFOXED misses the bigger picture. As a former Republican, I became aware of and developed dislike for the “liberal” media. And this media has not gone away. So far this discussion has lacked an examination into that issue.

    Ted Turner and CNN cannot be ignored and left out of this discussion. With property ownership (largest individual property portfolio at 1.8 million acres) and intellectual property “ownership,” (once owned Gone with the Wind) and control (CNN, AOL Time Warner, etc.) equal to Murdoch, it would be foolish to ignore that he probably has an agenda, too. See facts in Forbes 2003 article “This Land is My Land” for more information.

    Ted Turner says in the Forbes article that “He who profits most serves the best.” … Mother Theresa who?

    So what, right? Well, I bring up this issue with both FOX and CNN for two reasons. First, CNN’s coverage of the Democratic primary campaigns has been subtly pro-Clinton. Examine: where even an article like “Clinton booed at Iowa forum” is qualified with “The event’s moderator told CNN she believes Clinton was hurt by her distance, more than the substance of her answer…Comments by John Edwards, Dennis Kucinich, Chris Dodd and Barack Obama – who were present -were received with loud applause.” Nevermind what was actually said. I won’t belabor the point of how poorly CNN treats Barrack Obama, If Obama loses, I I’ll probably blame the Clinton News Network.
    Remember James Carville? Now really, is he much different than O’Reilly?

    Why this might be is my second point. We have FOX and CNN and others, but the common characteristic of both stations and media 1.0 in general are corporate ownership and political agenda. So it follows that CNN, Ted Turner, AOL Time Warner needs a party and a representative that it can purchase, too. That party is the Democratic Party and their representative (of many) is Hillary Clinton. See the NY TImes article above. [It's a fantastic article, really.]

    I’ll end with something I thought about while engaged in another documentary I recommend called “Why We Fight” (examining the rise of military-industrial complex, since Ike coined the term). If we replace Bush with Clinton, or FOX with CNN, or O’Reilly with Carville but still have the same underlying corporate owned profit driven media system and political representatives, what will really change? Nothing.



  • DW

    I know this blog has died, but for the record:

    CNN is going with sex, too. They show naked Paris Hilton, painted in gold, and had to have shown her at least a dozen times AND they showed a clip of her tape (i think). I mean, they were on the subject so why not also bring up Pam Anderson for a few breast shots and the beginning of her sex tape.

    Not only that, but the CNN host was like…”Great point, but we’re running out of time and I have to get to this next add…”

    Too bad this post is dead, it was a fun one. I’ll check back,though, and see if anyone responds…

  • B

    Yeah I agree. I mean I hate FoX as much as any other intelligent human being. But taking cheap shots on them like this is just lame. So they report on some crap like springbrakes and PETA models.