America knows Fox News as the country’s highest-rated cable news network. It regularly trounces not-really-rivals CNN and MSNBC in the ratings.
But Fox News employees know Fox News as a clampdown operation. Defined as a “severe or concerted attempt to suppress something,” “clampdown” describes just how Fox treats the sharing of information about its operations with the outside world.
Doesn’t happen, can’t happen, shall not happen. . . .
That’s why the debut Tuesday of a new Gawker column, titled the Fox Mole, was so astonishing. The gossip Web site had wrangled a Fox News employee to spill state secrets from within the tent, including, in the Mole’s first installment, some insiderish Fox footage taken during a break in an interview featuring Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. A second posting hit the site Wednesday morning, about bathroom conditions at Fox News.
The two pieces had two things in common: Neither produced anything groundbreaking; both were highly unauthorized.
The Fox Mole column debuted at 3:11 Tuesday afternoon. At 12:38 Wednesday afternoon, Mediaite.com reported that Fox News had identified the Fox Mole. Which means that the Fox clampdown leaders had apparently finished up their work by lunchtime.
Here’s the Fox statement that Mediaite published: “We found the person and we’re exploring legal options at this time.”
That, right there, beats any Bill O’Reilly interview, any Sean Hannity rant, any madness on “The Five”: If Fox is tough on its enemies in the public realm, it is ruthless against in-house detractors. Whatever the cable ratings say, Fox News works best as an intelligence agency, preventing leaks and snuffing them out once they sprout.
In 2004, an unflattering documentary titled “Outfoxed” hit the streets, complete with negative testimony from former employees of Fox and Fox affiliate stations. How did Fox respond? In a way that would make former staffers do an extensive cost-benefit analysis before sliming their former employer. In at least one case, Fox pulled out negative info from a former staffer’s personnel file and plopped it onto the public record. Now that’s preemptive counterintelligence for you.
Not long after Fox claimed to have found its quarry, the leaker sprang forth again on the Gawker site: “If Fox has smoked me out, it’s news to me. I’m still here. Back to work,” wrote the alleged mole.
Was Fox bluffing? Or did it just want its leaker to sweat through the palms for the balance of the afternoon?
In light of Gawker’s all-clear post from the Mole, Mediaite checked back with Fox News PR and received this reply: “We know who it is.”
The network, as always, had good internal sources. Just hours after that headstrong confirmation, Gawker posted another item from the Mole. Or the Former Mole.
“In the end, it was the digital trail that gave me away,” wrote Joe Muto, who identified himself as an associate producer for “The O’Reilly Factor.”
“They nailed me,” he wrote.
That’s my Fox!