Fox News Channel's latest act of war on a perceived enemy - this one using touched-up photos as the weapons of choice - is getting a lot of play. So, too, is the article it apparently led David Carr of The New York Times to write about FNC's infamous public relations attack dogs.
I wish Carr had called me first. I could have told him a few things about those lovely people that might have surprised even him.
I've taken a few low blows from the Fox spokes-assassins myself, but the vitriol they have leveled at others, including at least one FNC producer who still works there, is so vile that it would have gagged Jeffrey Dahmer.
For me, being slimed by Fox has been a good thing -- an honor, almost; something to put in my resume. I'll never forget my first time. It was a few months after I had walked out on Fox in a dispute with its vice president in charge of staff scheduling, Sharri Berg. That initial slime job came from the still-bristling Berg in response to a letter I had written to a widely read media web site about FNC's political bias.
In the letter, based on events I had witnessed during my six years as a producer at the "fair and balanced" network, I argued that Fox's partisan news slant comes directly from the network's management, headed by long-time Republican Party spin-doctor Roger Ailes. I also exposed what would come to be known as the Moody Memos. These daily missives, sent electronically by News V-P John Moody to the FNC staff, often serve as guidelines on how to slant the day's news in favor of the Republican, or Bush administration, positions.
Berg's response, posted on Poynter the next day, was more than I could have hoped for. Rather than challenging or even addressing the specific charges that I had made, Berg attacked me personally and with such transparent dishonesty that she actually made my case. Comment after comment to Romenesko and other web sites that picked up the story offered the same observation, that if there had been any doubts that Fox News Channel was indeed biased, those doubts no longer existed.
Berg began the diatribe with her own, contorted version of the standard corporate comeback, dismissing my charges as those of a "former disgruntled employee." (At least she didn't call me a red little riding hood.) After that, she managed to insult about half the network's employees, quoting an anonymous FNC staffer as saying, "(Reina) worked out of some space on the 17th or 18th floor reserved for overpaid feature producers on career life support."
Then, still quoting the anonymous staffer, came a description of me as "one of any number of clueless feature producers who would call the desk at random and ask, 'Do we have ...' The kind of calls where after you hang up you say to the phone, 'go f--k yourself.'" I almost fell down laughing at that. Have you ever seen the word "f--k" - even with the "u-c" deleted -- in an official corporate statement?
But it was this quote, from the same staffer, that said the most about Fox and the people who speak for it: "Charlie actually NEVER (Berg's emphasis) had a job in the newsroom." Not only was that not true, it was Berg herself who had assigned me to the twice-weekly newsroom copy-editing job I held (in addition to producing two weekly shows) for the last year of my employment at FNC. In other words, Berg has no problem passing along information she knows to be false, as long as it's in someone else's words.
This is what passes for a news executive at Fox.
I mean, at the National Enquirer, sure. But at a supposedly respectable news organization? Come on.
Then again, what can you expect from a network that slanders people (Democrats, liberals, "secular progressives," etc.) every day, notably but not exclusively with misleading graphics that end with question-marks?
If anything about Berg's statement surprised me (other than the "f--k"), it was that Fox let her compose it. After all, the channel's crack PR department would have skewered me a lot less messily - and in a manner more damaging to me than to Fox. Take these other examples. Please.
One, about which I've written before, involves former FNC spokesman Rob Zimmerman. It was a few months after 9/11. Zimmerman was quoted in a newspaper article about Ashleigh Banfield, the then-popular MSNBC reporter. Banfield, he said, was "a lightweight ... the Anna Kournikova of television news." I bumped into Zimmerman a few hours after the article appeared and asked if he had been quoted out of context, or if he had intended the nasty remark to stay off the record. "Hell no," he said. "We propelled ... we GENERATED this (the Banfield smear campaign). We're out to get her."
The other incident involved Fox's premature-by-a-day announcement of Pope John Paul's death on April 1, 2005. Within minutes of the erroneous report, delivered on-air by Shepard Smith, mediabistro.com ran an item in which an "e-mailer" from Fox blamed the screw-up on a newsroom producer, and then identified the producer by name!
Though the source was not identified, he or she clearly was someone with enough authority to speak for Fox, since the e-mail went on to assert that the producer ("an amateur") would "never be allowed anywhere near" so big a story again. Add to this the fact that FNC's PR people, including the oft-quoted Irena Briganti, are on record as saying one of their top priorities is protecting the on-air talent from criticism, and it's obvious which office sent the malicious e-mail.
By the way, the outed producer had merely passed along information from Fox's people at the Vatican, which was her job. That the information was erroneous was no more the producer's fault than it was Shepard Smith's. Yet, without hesitation, Fox trashed this young woman's name and reputation to save its own.
Even for Fox News Channel, that - not the altered photos that inspired Mr. Carr's article - is about as low as it gets.