October 25, 2013

On his MSNBC show “All In” last night, host Chris Hayes addressed the bizarre episode in which reporter Matthew Flamm of Crain’s New York Business fielded a fake tip after pursuing a story about how Fox News had been beaten in the ratings by CNN. Flamm had been set up by Fox News to release a bogus story, according to “Murdoch’s World,” NPR media reporter David Folkenflik’s new book. After Flamm published the “scoop,” Fox News mocked him, displacing attention from the fact that CNN had won the ratings. Folkenflik also includes details on how Fox News PR agents used “aliases” in comments sections to take the fight to the network’s Internet critics.

All of which prompted Hayes to ask, “Does this sort of paranoia and ruthlessness — is that part of the institutional culture over there?” Joe Muto, a former Fox News producer, the former “Fox Mole” and author of “An Atheist in the Foxhole,” responded, “Absolutely, there’s a weird thin-skinness to everyone who works there, and every criticism must be answered with strong force, and there were times when people would seem like they had to feed stories — opposition research, basically — to outside media outlets, like Drudge Report or the Daily Caller…”

Folkenflik cited the Flamm instance as reflective of Fox News’s penchant for intimidation: “It’s a warning to people who also cover the network. Very clear: You do this, you could be in peril as well,” said the author. It’s almost as if the network has to manipulate and scheme and plot favorable coverage because the product doesn’t speak well for itself.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.