Just how sordid is Fox News? According to NPR media reporter David Folkenflik’s new book, Murdoch’s World, sleazy enough to plant a false story in order to discredit a reporter who was writing an unfavorable (but totally true) story about Fox News. They pulled a sweet little con on Crain media reporter Matthew Flamm all because Flamm had the audacity to write about CNN beating Fox News in the ratings.
In 2008, Matthew Flamm sought to write a story about the fact that CNN had beaten the news network in the 18-54 demo during February of an election year, a ratings fact that Fox News found embarrassing. While Flamm was able to get quotes from CNN and MSNBC on the story, Fox News refused to go on record. However, Flamm did receive an email from a Hotmail account claiming to be from a Fox News producer. Here’s what the email said, via The Washington Post:
I work at Fox but I heard from a friend at CNN that you were doing a story on them beating us in February ratings. Thought I’d pass along a tip for you. Fox execs had a meeting yesterday and decided that Bill O’Reilly will anchor our texas and ohio primary coverage on Tuesday night. They want to copy the success that MSNBC has had with Olbermann and Matthews anchoring their coverage.
Don’t think they want it out there since we’ll catch too much heat between now and Tuesday especially in light of O’Reilly’s recent lynching remarks. And FOX PR reps would never confirm this, at least not on the record. But O’Reilly, not Brit Hume, will be in the anchor chair Tuesday night. I feel it’s worth you knowing that we’re going to have an opnion monger anchor what’s always been our hard news election coverage.
After Flamm engaged with the “producer,” he received this tip:
There was a meeting with execs where the decision was made. It was then relayed on to me and others. I’m a producer here so you can identify me as a producer.
Brit will serve in a senior analyst role and handle the exit polls since Megyn Kelly will be on her honeymoon
This was huge news, as The Washington Post observed, because Fox News has always sought to separate the biased coverage of its pundits from its “unbiased” coverage of its anchors like Brit Hume, who handled election-night duties. Though Flamm had no other source on the story, he was so eager for a scoop, he ran with it anyway.
The result? Fox News threw Flamm under the bus, releasing a statement to TV Newser saying that the notion that O’Reilly would replace Hume on election night was laughable. As Folkenflick writes in his book, Murdoch’s World:
What the hell had happened? Flamm called the producer at Fox who had given him the errant tip. She was incredulous when he finally reached her. Who are you? she asked him coldly. I have no idea what you’re talking about. Panicked, the reporter sent an email to the Hotmail account from which he had received the original scoop. It bounced back. The account had been shut down. As Flamm and his editors conceded to associates, they should have treated the email as a tip rather than a confirmation. A former Fox News staffer knowledgeable about the incident confirmed to me they had been set up
After the Post ran the story yesterday, Flamm also came forward and confirmed it, adding an ugly bookend to the whole affair:
It’s hard to be sure about a lot of things. The same day the booby-trapped tip exploded, a conservative website friendly to Fox ran a photo-shopped photograph of me (along with a post that was like an unhinged version of the one in TV Newser).
A similarly photo-shopped headshot of former New York Times media reporter Jacques Steinberg would air on Fox News later in the year, following a story he wrote that the channel didn’t like. Accusations arose that the picture was an anti-Semitic caricature. I don’t know if it was.
Sometime that spring, one of my daughters, browsing the Web with a friend, stumbled on the portrait of me—with rat’s eyes and teeth, a vampire’s ears, and what some might consider a bloated Faganesgue nose. (Yes, that’s the photo-shopped portrait.)
She was 16 and, having led a relatively sheltered New York City life, had never experienced anti-Semitism. But she took one glance and decided this was what it looked like.
UGH. Was it a bad call on Flamm’s behalf to post the story? Of course. Flamm readily admits as much. Nevertheless, it’s disgraceful that Fox News would go to THOSE lengths in order to discredit a reporter who had only wanted to write a story reporting the facts: That Fox News had lost in the ratings during one month among one particular demographic.
That is messed up.