In an exposé nearly two years ago on Fox News’s legendary PR operation, the prolific Jim Romenesko wheeled out a compelling quote from then-Fox News executive Brian Lewis: “We have a solid relationship with the New York Times. I think that surprises people.”
Apparently not solid enough to help the New York Times in reporting on Lewis’s acrimonious summertime split from Fox News. Lewis was an executive vice president at Fox News, a position in which he led often over-the-top campaigns to secure positive coverage for the network. He was shown the door in July. True to its cutthroat reputation, Fox News issued a statement accusing him of “issues relating to financial irregularities, as well as for multiple, material and significant breaches of his employment contract.”
That pleasantry triggered a response from Lewis’s lawyer, Judd Burstein, who declared that Fox News chief Roger Ailes and News Corp., the network’s parent company, “have a lot more to fear from Brian Lewis telling the truth about them than Brian Lewis has to fear from Roger Ailes and his toadies telling lies about Brian Lewis.”
Since then, things have been quiet, and for a reason. Bill Carter of the New York Times reported yesterday that Fox News had given Lewis hush money, or, as the story called it, “a sizable sum to remain quiet about whatever he knows about operations at the notoriously secretive company.” Key detail: Carter apparently found out about the settlement a couple of weeks ago from a “current worker at the channel”; the story recounts the extraordinary efforts Carter has made in the interim to confirm the information.
No one would say a word.
The glory of such accounts always resides in the details. Note that Carter hinges his reporting on a “worker” at Fox News. Not a producer or staffer. “Worker” provides less specificity and more cover.
Fox News, however, isn’t immune from the laws of nature. As Carter demonstrates, the place is efficient at keeping secrets. It prevents folks from speaking out, and it punishes those who do — witness the treatment of former Fox Mole and “O’Reilly Factor” producer Joe Muto. Yet any organization, even one with such diligent gatekeepers as Fox News, can maintain an airtight seal on their operational dirt for only so long. As the months and years wear on, the network’s secrets will spill out, somehow.