It is no secret that Rupert Murdoch’s “News Corporation” is in some pretty serious trouble in the United Kingdom but could those problems spread to this side of the pond? It seems likely and it begs the question just what might we learn about News Corporation and, in particular, Murdoch’s FOX News Channel. The U.K.’s GUARDIAN is reporting that Mark Lewis the lawyer who has been at the forefront of efforts to expose the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, is poised to bring the battle for legal redress across the Atlantic and to the doorstep of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.
Lewis will arrive in the US on Saturday and next week will begin legal discussions in New York, just a stone’s throw away from News Corporation’s global headquarters on Sixth Avenue. His arrival constitutes a major escalation in the legal ramifications of the hacking scandal for Murdoch, who has tried desperately to keep it away from the American core of his multi-billion-dollar media holdings. Details remain sketchy about precisely what Lewis intends to do in the US, but the Guardian has learned that he will be having legal discussions that could lead to several lawsuits being lodged with the New York courts. The direct involvement of the US judicial system in allegations of illegal activity by News Corp employees would bring the scandal dramatically closer to Murdoch’s adopted home.
It is not yet known how many lawsuits could result. Lewis will be in discussions with his New York-based legal partner, Norman Siegel, former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, over the details of US law as it applies to phone hacking. The cases they will be exploring are understood to relate mainly to celebrities who have come to the US and had their phones hacked while they were in the country. That could constitute a violation of US telecommunications and privacy laws. It is also understood that a US citizen had his or her phone hacked while in America as a result of hacking into the transatlantic conversation of a foreign-based celebrity who was a friend of the victim.
Jude Law has been one of the celebrities believed to have had their phones hackedwhile in the US, in this case while he was at JFK airport in New York. However, the Guardian understands that Law is not one of the cases that is currently being explored by Lewis and Siegel. So far, the US component of the hacking scandal has been confined to an FBI and department of justice investigation under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act that forbids corporations headquartered in the US, as News Corporation is, from indulging in acts of bribery or corruption abroad. Any lawsuit that flows from Lewis’s US activities would take the scandal to another level by becoming the first legal action to arise domestically within the US.
Lewis has been a crucial figure in the exposure of the billowing phone-hacking saga. He represents the family of Milly Dowler, the missing teenager whose phone was hacked by the News of the World. He also represented Gordon Taylor, head of the Professional Footballers’ Association, who received more than $1m from News International, the UK newspaper arm of News Corporation, in a settlement over the hacking of his phone. Lewis’s involvement with the scandal has also been deeply personal: he was himself put under surveillance by the News of the World before it was shut down by Murdoch. The paper hired a specialist private investigator to covertly surveil him and his family.
Lewis will be attending a symposium on investigative journalism at UC Berkeley this weekend where he will be speaking on a paneltitled: “The Murdoch Effect: The News At Any Price?” An irony of the arrival of Lewis in the US is that it comes soon after James Murdoch, Rupert’s youngest son, relocated from the UK to New York partially, it is thought, in a move to try and distance him from the phone-hacking scandal. James Murdoch announced that he was stepping downas nonexecutive chairman of the broadcaster BskyB last week, but Lewis’s deliberations over possible legal action in the New York courts brings the nightmare back to haunt him.
What other nightmares might be haunting the Murdoch’s? What might come out in judicial proceedings in the United States. Liberals loathe FOX News as a mouthpiece for conservatives and the Republican Party. Check this out. Asked what most viewers and observers of Fox News would be surprised to learn about the controversial cable channel, a former insider from the world of Rupert Murdoch was quick with a response: “I don’t think people would believe it’s as concocted as it is; that stuff is just made up.”
Eric Boehlert wrote for Media Matters last year that a former Fox News employee who recently agreed to talk with Media Matters confirmed what critics have been saying for years about Murdoch’s cable channel. Namely, that Fox News is run as a purely partisan operation, virtually every news story is actively spun by the staff, its primary goal is to prop up Republicans and knock down Democrats, and that staffers at Fox News routinely operate without the slightest regard for fairness or fact checking. “It is their M.O. to undermine the administration and to undermine Democrats,” says the source. “They’re a propaganda outfit but they call themselves news.” And that’s the word from inside Fox News.
Note the story here isn’t that Fox News leans right. Everyone knows the channel pushes a conservative-friendly version of the news. Everyone who’s been paying attention has known that since the channel’s inception more than a decade ago. The real story, and the real danger posed by the cable outlet, is that over time Fox News stopped simply leaning to the right and instead became an openand active political player, sort of one-part character assassin and one-part propagandist, depending on which party was in power. And that the operation thrives on fabrications and falsehoods.
“They say one thing and do another. They insist on maintaining this charade, this façade, that they’re balanced or that they’re not right-wing extreme propagandist,” says the source. But it’s all a well-orchestrated lie, according this former insider. It’s a lie that permeates the entire Fox News culture and one that staffers and producers have to learn quickly in order to survive professionally. “You have to work there for a while to understand the nods and the winks,” says the source. “And God help you if you don’t because sooner or later you’re going to get burned.”
The source explains:
“Like any news channel there’s lot of room for non-news content. The content that wasn’t ‘news,’ they didn’t care what we did with as long as it was amusing or quirky or entertaining; as along as it brought in eyeballs. But anything—anything–that was a news story you had to understand what the spin should be on it. If it was a big enough story it was explained to you in the morning [editorial] meeting. If it wasn’t explained, it was up to you to know the conservative take on it. There’s a conservative take on every story no matter what it is. So you either get told what it is or you better intuitively know what it is.” What if Fox News staffers aren’t instinctively conservative or don’t have an intuitive feeling for what the spin on a story should be? “My internal compass was to think like an intolerant meathead,” the source explains. “You could never error on the side of not being intolerant enough.”
The source recalls how Fox News changed over time:
“When I first got there back in the day, and I don’t know how they indoctrinate people now, but back in the day when they were “training” you, as it were, they would say, ‘Here’s how we’re different.’ They’d say if there is an execution of a condemned man at midnight and there are all the live truck outside the prison and all the lives shots. CNN would go, ‘Yes, tonight John Jackson, 25 of Mississippi, is going to die by lethal injection for the murder of two girls.’ MSNBC would say the same thing.
“We would come out and say, ‘Tonight, John Jackson who kidnapped an innocent two year old, raped her, sawed her head off and threw it in the school yard, is going to get the punishment that a jury of his peers thought he should get.’ And they say that’s the way we do it here. And you’re going , alright, it’s a bit of an extreme example but it’s something to think about. It’s not unreasonable. “When you first get in they tell you we’re a bit of a counterpart to the screaming left wing lib media. So automatically you have to buy into the idea that the other media is howling left-wing. Don’t even start arguing that or you won’t even last your first day.
“For the first few years it was let’s take the conservative take on things. And then after a few years it evolved into, well it’s not just the conservative take on things, we’re going to take the Republican take on things which is not necessarily in lock step with the conservative point of view. “And then two, three, five years into that it was, we’re taking the Bush line on things, which was different than the GOP. We were a Stalin-esque mouthpiece. It was just what Bush says goes on our channel. And by that point it was just totally dangerous. Hopefully most people understand how dangerous it is for a media outfit to be a straight, unfiltered mouthpiece for an unchecked president.”
It’s worth noting that Fox News employees, either current or former, rarely speak to the press, even anonymously. And it’s even rarer for Fox News sources to bad mouth Murdoch’s channel. That’s partly because of strict non-disclosure agreements that most exiting employees sign and which forbid them from discussing their former employer. But it also stems from a pervasive us-vs.-them attitude that permeates Fox News. It’s a siege mentality that network boss Roger Ailes encourages, and one that colors the coverage his team produces.
“It was a kick ass mentality too,” says the former Fox News insider. “It was relentless and it never went away. If one controversy faded, goddamn it they would find another one. They were in search of these points of friction real or imagined. And most of them were imagined or fabricated. You always have to seem to be under siege. You always have to seem like your values are under attack. The brain trust just knew instinctively which stories to do, like the War on Christmas.”
According to the insider, Ailes is obsessed with presenting a unified Fox News front to the outside world; an obsession that may explain Ailes’ refusal to publically criticize or even critique his own team regardless of how outlandish their on-air behavior. “There may be internal squabbles. But what [Ailes] continually preaches is never piss outside the tent,” says the source. “When he gets really crazy is when stuff leaks out the door. He goes mental on that. He can’t stand that. He says in a dynamic enterprise like a network newsroom there’s going to be in fighting and ego, but he says keep it in the house.”
It’s clear that Fox News has become a misleading, partisan outlet. But here’s what the source stresses: Fox News is designed to mislead its viewers and designed to engage in a purely political enterprise. In 2010, all sorts of evidence tumbled out to confirm that fact, like the recently leaked emails from inside Fox News, in which a top editor instructed his newsroom staffers (not just the opinion show hosts) to slant the news when reporting on key stories such as climate change and health care reform.
Meanwhile, Media Matters revealed that during the 2009-2010 election cycle, dozens of Fox News personalities endorsed, raised money, or campaigned for Republican candidates or organizations in more than 600 instances. And in terms of free TV airtime that Fox News handed over to GOP hopefuls, Media Matters calculated the channel essentially donated $55 million worth of airtime to Republican presidential hopefuls last year who also collect Fox News paychecks. And of course, that’s when Murdoch wasn’t writing $1 million checks in the hopes of electing more Republican politicians. So, Fox News as a legitimate news outlet? The source laughs at the suggestion, and thinks much of the public, along with the Beltway press corps, has been duped by Murdoch’s marketing campaign over the years. “People assume you need a license to call yourself a news channel. You don’t. So because they call themselves Fox News, people probably give them a pass on a lot of things,” says the source.
The source continues: “I don’t think people understand that it’s an organization that’s built and functions by intimidation and bullying, and its goal is to prop up and support Republicans and the GOP and to knock down Democrats. People tend think that stuff that’s on TV is real, especially under the guise of news. You’d think that people would wise up, but they don’t.” As for the press, the former Fox News employee gives reporters and pundits low grades for refusing, over the years, to call out Fox News for being the propaganda outlet that it so clearly is. The source suggests there are a variety of reasons for the newsroom timidity.
“They don’t have enough staff or enough balls or don’t have enough money or don’t have enough interest to spend the time it takes to expose Fox News. Or it’s not worth the trouble. If you take on Fox, they’ll kick you in the ass,” says the source. “I’m sure most [journalists] know that. It’s not worth being Swift Boated for your effort,” a reference to how Fox News traditionally attacks journalistswho write, or are perceived to have written, anything negativethings about the channel. The former insider admits to being perplexed in late 2009 when the Obama White House called out Murdoch’s operation as not being a legitimate news source, only to have major Beltway media playersrush to the aidof Fox News and admonish the White House for daring to criticizethe cable channel. “That blew me away,” says the source, who stresses the White House’s critique of Fox News “happens to be true.”
Recently a “mole” from inside FOX News has been blogging on the Gawker. Check this out: I always intended to keep my mouth shut. The plan was simple: get hired, keep my head down and my views to myself, work for a few months, build my resume, then eventually hop to a new job that didn’t make me cringe every morning when I looked in the mirror. That was years ago. My cringe muscles have turned into crow’s feet. The ten resumes a month I was sending out dwindled into five, then two, then one, then zero. No one wants me. I’m blacklisted. I work at Fox News Channel.
The final straw for me came last year. Oddly, it wasn’t anything on TV that turned me rogue, though plenty of things on our air had pushed me in that direction over the years. But what finally broke me was a story on The Fox Nation. If you’re not a frequenter of Fox Nation (and if you’re reading Gawker, it’s a pretty safe bet you’re not) I can describe it for you — it’s like an unholy mashup of the Drudge Report, the Huffington Post and a Klan meeting. Word around the office is that the site was actually the brainchild of Bill O’Reilly’s chief stalker (and Gawker pal) Jesse Watters.
The Nation aggregates news stories, gives them provocative headlines, and invites commenters to weigh in. The comments are fascinating actually, if you can detach yourself enough to view them as sort of the id of the conservative movement. Of course, if you can’t detach yourself, then you’re going to come away with a diminished view of human decency, because HOLY MOLY THESE PEOPLE DO NOT LIKE THE BLACK PRESIDENT. I’m not saying they dislike him BECAUSE he’s black, but a lot of the comments, unprompted, mention the fact that he is black, so what would you say, Dr. Freud?
The Fox Nation moderators, realizing that they had a problem on their hands, did the absolute bare minimum, hiring one or two college kids to comb the comments for the most egregiously racist postings, and putting in automatic text filters that blocked various key words. Of course the intrepid commenters quickly found ways around these filters using letter substitutions and spacings, which is why many comments complain about our “n@gger president” and the “M u s l i m in the White House.”
So the site has become the seedy underbelly of the Fox News online empire. It’s surprising that we even have an online empire, considering that our fan base is mostly septuagenarian technophobes.
The post that broke the camel’s back might be familiar to some of you, because it garnered a lot of attention and (well-deserved) ridicule when it hit last August. The item was aggregating several news sources that were reporting innocuously on President Obama’s 50th birthday party, which was attended by the usual mix of White House staffers, DC politicos and Dem-friendly celebs. The Fox Nation, naturally, chose to illustrate the story with a photo montage of Obama, Charles Barkley, Chris Rock, and Jay Z, and the headline “Obama’s Hip Hop BBQ Didn’t Create Jobs.”
The post neatly summed up everything that had been troubling me about my employer: Non sequitur, ad hominem attacks on the president; gleeful race baiting; a willful disregard for facts; and so on. It came close on the heels of the Common controversy, which exhibited a lot of the same ugly traits. (See also: terrorist fist jabs; Fox & Friends madrassa accusations; etc.) The worst thing about the Hip Hop BBQ incident is that we didn’t back away from it. Bill Shine, who is a rather important guy—sort of Roger Ailes’ main hatchet man, and the go-between for Ailes and most of the top talent—bafflingly doubled down and defended it. The story still exists on the Fox Nation site, headline and photo montage intact, to this very day.
That was it for me. It wasn’t that the one incident was so bad, in and of itself. But it was so galvanizing, and on top of so many other little incidents, that I guess it just finally pushed me over the edge. So here I am. And I come bearing gifts. The video above is of Mitt Romney and Sean Hannity bantering before the taping of an interview for the “Hannity Vegas Forum” in February. Of note: Romney professes his and his wife Ann’s well-known love of horseriding, praising the qualities of the “Austrian Warmbloods” that his wife rides—the are “dressage” horses, he notes—while maintaining his own preference for the “smoother gait” of his own “Missouri foxtrotter.”
Now there’s nothing wrong with Mitt and his wife loving horseback riding. But remember this video next time Romney attacks Obama for golfing. The inherent elitism and snootiness of golf is NOTHING compared to competitive horseback riding. And I think Mitt loses points with the GOP base for his correct pronunciation of dressage. To GOP-voter ears it sounds not only gay, but even worse, French. Elsewhere in the video you will see the two men discussing the possibility that this very footage may one day be leaked, as they warn one another against primping too carefully. “You don’t want to have John Edwards moment,” Hannity says. “Did you see that?” Romney replies: “Oh, yeah I saw that. It’s one thing to do it for a second. It’s another thing to do it for an hour.” (And it’s quite another for Newt Gingrich’s wife to groom him like a circus walrus.)
Later, Hannity’s producers ask him to change his necktie mid-interview. Here’s a little TV trick for you: The show was splitting the Q-and-A over two nights, and they wanted to make the second night look like a fresh, new encounter rather than a rehash from last night. So they made sure to change Hannity’s tie lest eagle-eyed viewers spot the repeat. Romney, to his credit, refuses to play along. Offered a pink tie, he says, “I’m not going all Donald Trump today.” That day, Trump had announced his endorsement of Romney. In the portion of the interview that was broadcast, Romney said he was grateful for Trump’s support, and that “he is a man who’se created a lot of jobs, and he shares my concern about China.”
“So why not just leave Fox News?” you might ask. Good question! I’ve asked myself that same thing many times. And I am leaving. Sooner rather than later, I’m guessing. But I can’t just leave quietly, can I? Where’s the fun in that? So I’m John McClane-ing this shit. I’m inside the building, crawling through the air vents, gathering intel, and passing it along to Carl Winslow. (Note: Please don’t misunderstand, and take my Die Hard metaphor as a threat of violence. Like most left-wingers I abhor actual violence, but am still hopelessly enthralled by the Hollywood machine that glorifies it. Also, that was a 20th Century Fox movie. Synergy!)
The Fox News employee hired by Gawker to write about his experience inside the network has revealed himself as an associate producer on “The O’Reilly Factor.” Joe Muto, who joined Fox News in 2004, says he has been suspended, with pay and was escorted out of Fox News headquarters today by “two nice gentlemen from security.” You can consider the source if you wish. The “mole” is as admitted “lefty” and there is little doubt that other “leftists” have secretly landed at FOX News and are now telling what they know through an arguably tainted lens. Truthfully, I am surprised FOX News is not under more attack from the left than it is, after all, it is the nation’s only right wing cable network. That being said, more Americans get their news from a source other than FOX. The combined ratings of CNN, NBC, CBS, MSNBC and the rest blow Hannity and FOX out of the water but still the hacking scandal and made up news are noteworthy…don’t you think?