Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Mole on Patrol: 'An Atheist in the FOXhole'

by Sunnyjane

There's tremendous power in television news. With a well-positioned negative word ... you can make the most powerful people on earth tremble.         
Bill O'Reilly, from his 2004 novel Those Who Trespass
At twenty-two years old, Joe Muto found himself working at Fox News for the most time-honored reason: he desperately needed a job.  Having beer-kegged his way through the University of Notre Dame via its Department of Film, Television, and Theatre, he graduated with a less than stellar grade point average of 2.8.  It's not terribly surprising then, that his applications to the TV and print media organizations in New York with which he would have been proud to be associated went unanswered.

Muto's book is interesting for its inside look at how television news is produced.  Briefly, the talking head of each show holds a daily pitch meeting with his or her staff of producers whose job it is to suggest stories that are breaking or continuing to be talked about, so long as Fox can report it with their own conservative slant.  

Fox News is not really into breaking news, per se; they leave that up to MSNBC and CNN, their chief ratings rivals.  Since this is Joe Muto's story, I won't bother to provide much commentary, except where I simply cannot help myself!  

The real story to most readers, of course, is likely to be... 

The On-Air Hosts and Other, um, Fox Talent

Absurdly blessed with a $20,000,000 annual salary, the top dog at Fox News is Bill O'Reilly, the moody and ill-tempered host of the 8:00 PM The O'Reilly Factor.  It took less than three years for the liberal-thinking mole to be offered a job on the staff of Papa Bear's now-defunct radio show -- a job Muto took because it was a promotion.  In early 2009, it was back to television as a Factor producer.

Muto shares some of the lessons he learned on how to successfully pitch a story to O'Reilly, including:  Make sure to demonstrate how the host can stoke the fires of outrage in his viewers; establish a villain; and where possible, show him how he can make it about sex.  And so on.

The author writes several examples of funny parodies on how he would have pitched historical and Biblical stories to O'Reilly.  On the Civil Rights Movement of the sixties:  Bill, radical black activists in the South are carrying out a campaign to damage the teeth of police dogs.  Or this on Adam and Eve: Bill, a liberal feminist extremist tricked her husband into consuming drugs, and then told authorities that a talking snake told her to do it.

The most notorious story about holier-than-thou Bill O'Reilly is the sexual harassment suit brought against him in October 2004 by one of his female producers, Andrea Mackris.  In the $60,000,000 law suit, Mackris alleged that Papa Bear had made unwanted sexually explicit phone calls to her, even describing his, um, family jewels to her (big!).  Further, he suggested that she should use a vibrator and told her the sexual fantasies he was having about her.  At one point he must have gotten really hot and bothered by his own words, because in an ignominious twist of the tongue, he began calling the loofah he wanted to rub between her legs falafel.  (Think about it...ewww!)

The suit was settled in less than two weeks.  O'Reilly paid her some money, but the terms of the settlement remain confidential.  The word falafel was never to be used at Fox News headquarters thereafter. 

That Hack, Hannity

Leading the pack as Fox lost its fucking mind after the election of Barack Obama in 2008 was none other than Sean Hannity.  Having rid himself of his liberal partner, Alan Colmes, and getting the prime 9:00 PM slot all to himself, the Hack jumped the new president at every opportunity.  When President Obama went to a burger restaurant in Washington several months into his first term and asked for spicy brown mustard, something like that, or a Dijon mustard, Hannity sneered, I hope you enjoyed that fancy burger, Mr. President!  From that point forward, everything from teleprompters to foreign policy were fodder for Sean Hannity's twisted concept of what constitutes news.

Joe Muto says in his book that he once overheard a discussion between a very conservative producer and a tech: Goddamn, Hannity is completely unwatchable lately while the other responded, You're acting like it was ever watchable in the first place.
As Sirius Left host Richard Bey said recently, I worked at ABC Radio with Sean. He doesn't know anything about history. He knows what they give him on the talking points.  

And, according to Muto, Bill O'Reilly can't stand Hannity, the feeling is mutual, and the two do not speak.

Just Plain Greta

Neither as bombastic as O'Reilly nor as professionally untalented as Hannity, Greta Van Susteren appears almost boring.  Not only does she not fit the good-looks mold as a Fox News female personality, but her On the Record segment at 10:00 PM deals primarily with legal and crime issues.  

Describing what I assume is the unofficial criteria for female talking heads, Muto provides a handy list:*

     -Ability to string two words together
     -Ability to summon outrage and berate a guest at length
     -Conservative views (or the ability to convincingly fake them)
     -Journalistic credentials

While Greta could hardly be thought of as hot and her conservative views might be suspect, she's very intelligent and her's is rated the third most-watched show on Fox News, behind Hannity at #2 and O'Reilly at #1.  Muto actually had little interesting to say about her.

*See She's Hot and She Gets Good Ratings, below.  (Heh)

There's Gotta be a Conspiracy in Here Somewhere!

Even given what Fox News usually considers the dead-zone time slot of 5:00 PM to 6:00 PM, it didn't take Glenn Beck long to start reaching -- and in many cases overtaking -- the ratings of the Big Three, O'Reilly, Hannity, and van Susteren.  O'Reilly decided the best way to handle this was to give Beck a small segment on the Factor.   Van Susteren and Hannity wanted nothing to do with him.  It didn't take long for O'Reilly to get tired of Beck's craziness and he gave up on the idea.

The problem with Beck was that in the beginning, they all thought he was performing on his show.  When they finally realized that he actually believed all that shit he was spouting, alarm bells went off everywhere, even at the Ailes' level.

While there have been differing theories as to why Beck departed Fox News after little more than two years into his three-year contract, Muto contends it was because advertisers were leaving in droves.  If so, that was it: Ratings are good, but advertising makes the news business go round, and Roger Ailes does not endure losing money.

She's Hot and She Gets Good Ratings
Ith Othma...Oblama...Obama sthill the prethident?
Such was the excitement surrounding the entrance of Sarah Palin onto the Fox News stage in January 2010 that the Big Three were falling all over themselves trying to be THE ONE to score the first interview with her.   (Naturally, #1 was awarded that honor and in my opinion, this first interview set the stage for things to come between O'Reilly and Palin.)

She was a perfect fit for the network, writes Muto, beautiful, feisty, and controversial, inspiring utter devotion from her fans and blind outrage from her critics, and, hopefully, the theory went, high ratings for the network.  

Popular opinion on the Second Floor was that all they had heard about Palin's being vacuous, ill-informed, and thin-skinned certainly had to be liberal slander ... How dumb could she be?

It didn't take long for Fox News to see that Palin's critics were right:  Her abilities as a pundit left much to be desired.  She conversed entirely in shallow, empty platitudes, as if she'd just memorized a list of talking points instead of actually boning up on whatever issue was on her plate.

Two more interviews with O'Reilly sealed the deal; he was done with her.  The first was on immigration, during which he kept asking her for opinions on different aspects of the issue and she continually responded with keep it simple and whatever it takes.   The interview on entitlement programs brought it to a screeching halt, where O'Reilly was concerned.  This is where, in an effort to actually have her give rational policy suggestions on entitlement reform, he interrupted her and Palin snapped back at him.

Recently asked by a Twitter follower for his opinion on Fox News rehiring Palin for another stint, Muto tweeted back:

I just can't believe they hired her back. I'd be LESS surprised if they hired ME back.

Author, Author!

By early 2012, Joe Muto had grown weary of Fox News.  Eight years with the network had given him enough experience and insight to understand what it would be like working there during the general election campaign, as the network tried to ensure that President Obama would not win a second term.  A prime example of the kind of crap he predicted was the attack ad against Obama that was so roundly denounced that Fox had to remove it from their website.

He began writing an anonymous column for Gawker as the liberal mole working for Fox News.  He may well have never been caught had he not also provided his handlers with video from the Fox News archives, one of which is an amusing look at Callista Gingrich styling Newt's hair before his on-air interview with Bill O'Reilly.

Muto was a lousy mole; the IT crew at Fox caught him within twenty-four hours.  A permanent job at Gawker did not materialize and he was charged with attempted unlawful duplication of computer material and attempted criminal possession of computer material, to which he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to community service.

His book is good, and it is not as mean-spirited as one might think.  Muto is as hard on himself as he is on the people at Fox News.

End Note

We all knew, from the liberals to the most conservative producer in the building, that 'Fair and Balanced' was a sham ... We used to call it 'stirring up the crazies,' because the angrier they were, the more they would watch.

Joe Muto, in an interview on June 14, 2013

No comments:

Post a Comment