Last year, an anonymous Fox News employee started writing for the news and gossip website, Gawker. The pen-named Fox Mole was associate producer Joe Muto of the O’Reilly Factor. Bob talks with Muto about his years with the network. Muto has written a book about the experience, An Atheist in the FOXhole: A Liberal's Eight-Year Odyssey Inside the Heart of the Right-Wing Media.
BOB GARFIELD: Last year, an anonymous Fox News channel employee started writing for the news and gossip website Gawker. The pen-named FOX Mole was associate producer Joe Muto of the O'Reilly Factor. At least, he was for the 36 hours [LAUGHS] before he got caught. Before that, Muto leaked photos of a bathroom stall draped in toilet paper and pre-interview video footage that made a couple of conservative pundits - look ridiculous. The first was a so-called “secret video” of Newt Gingrich being groomed by his wife Callista and ribbed by Bill O'Reilly.
BILL O’REILLY: Tell Callista that you – a little more spray on the back.
NEWT GINGRICH: Don’t encourage her, Bill.
BILL O’REILLY: Mrs. Speaker, if, if she moves the front down a little bit, then you got the Justin Bieber thing goin’ on.
BOB GARFIELD: Then came Mitt Romney chatting with Sean Hannity about show horse dressage.
MITT ROMNEY: I have a Missouri Fox Trotter. It moves very fast, and doesn’t tire, and is easy to ride, meaning it’s not boom-boom-boom.
SEAN HANNITY: Right, right.
MITT ROMNEY: It’s a just smooth –
SEAN HANNITY: A little smoother?
MITT ROMNEY: Very smooth.
BOB GARFIELD: What Muto didn't manage to post online from the inside, he's just published in his book, An Atheist in The FOXhole: A Liberal’s Eight-Year Odyssey Inside the Heart Of The Right-Wing Media. Joe, welcome to On the Media.
JOE MUTO: Thanks for having me, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: Okay, you were a mole for 36 hours, but you weren’t a mole during the entirety of your eight years there. You were there for reasons that had nothing to do with leaking anything.
JOE MUTO: You know, I was there as an employee for years and years and years, and this never entered my mind to even do this until very late in the game.
BOB GARFIELD: All right, what’s the most appalling thing you saw in your tenure there?
JOE MUTO: That video of Newt Gingrich getting groomed by his wife.
That was horrifying. Oh man, it – it wasn’t any one thing. I mean, the – the, the final straw for me, I guess was not even on our air was that it was, it was an item on the Fox Nation website, sort of the Drudge Report style offshoot of foxnews.com. And it – it still boggles my mind how the network can operate a, a site like that, and there's a lot of what I would consider race baiting going on there. And, and the, the post that really did me in was this one that said, Obama's hip-hop barbecue didn't create any jobs, [LAUGHS] just ‘cause Obama had Charles Barkley and Jay-Z to his birthday party. So, obviously, it's a hip-hop birthday party and, and, you know, he, he should never do anything at all, except for, you know, sit in his office and think really hard about how to create jobs; he’s not allowed to do anything else. That was in late 2011, and I saw myself lookin’ down the barrel of facing another election year inside the walls at Fox, and I was like, I can't do this. I’m gonna, you know, jump out the window and splatter myself on Sixth Avenue.
It was a spur-of-the-moment thing. I reached out to Gawker and, you know, said, I work at Fox, I’m leaving here in a few weeks. I’d like to come maybe work for you after I leave. And –
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] And they said, how about we suggest a Plan B. [LAUGHS]
JOE MUTO: Almost verbatim, that’s – that’s what happened. And, of course, my dumb ego kicks in and I go, that – oh, great idea. Of course, why wouldn't people want to hear my anonymous dispatches from inside Fox? And they’ll never catch me, I’m a genius, you know. [LAUGHS] And, and, of course it, it – it blew up in my face.
BOB GARFIELD: You were sort of a spy in the midst of your employer's operation. You’re a criminal.
JOE MUTO: I have pled guilty to two misdemeanor charges, that is correct. I have a record. Let’s just say I – I want to tell your listeners that it – it was not a well thought out plan.
BOB GARFIELD: So one is obliged to ask, how do you get it in your head, as a liberal, to go work for Fox News Channel, an explicitly right-wing enterprise?
JOE MUTO: In, in 2004, I found myself about to graduate college, and I just found myself desperate to get to New York City. And so, I started sending out a flurry of resumes. Fox was one of the ones that responded. I went for an interview. I thought I had blown it, and two weeks later they called and offered me the job. There was some foreboding on my part. I was a little worried, you know, they’d – I’d have to, you know, goose step or something down the hallways once, once I got there. But I told myself I’d give it a shot, and if I didn't like it, I’d – I’d leave in two or three months and, and find something else. And I blinked my eyes and it was, it was eight years later.
BOB GARFIELD: Along the way, you observed a number of things that now, sure, seem comical in a kind of dark way about the quirks of this news organization, if it is, in fact, a news organization. Is Fox News Channel a news organization?
JOE MUTO: Well, let me – let me put it this way: We all knew, from the liberals to the most conservative producer in the building, that “fair and balanced” was a sham. We were not there to report the news in a fair and balanced way. We were there to report the news and put our own spin on it and sort of gin up our viewers. We used to call it “stirring up the crazies” because the angrier they were, the more they would watch. But not everyone there is fully committed to slanting the news. There's a lot of people there who are journalists.
BOB GARFIELD: You talk about Sarah Palin, and you seem impressed by how monumentally ill-prepared she was for every air appearance, practically playing a caricature of herself.
JOE MUTO: It was shocking to me that she could take this money from Fox and do even less than the absolute bare minimum. And they weren’t asking a lot of her. They were asking her to come in, do four minutes of TV and, and dash off a few good lines, and she couldn't even be bothered to learn the topic we were talking about.
O'Reilly really wanted to help her. He always thought she got a raw deal from the liberal media. It was like, help me help you. And, and she just wouldn’t, and then she was being very difficult. And eventually, he just washed his hands of her and said, I can’t have this woman on the show anymore.
BOB GARFIELD: What you write about O’Reilly in the, in the book, and you say you – you kind of like the guy, suggest he’s – he’s very smart, really understands TV and has a volcanic temper about not just important things, but about everything.
JOE MUTO: Yeah. As you can imagine, this will come as a surprise to no one who has ever seen his show.
BOB GARFIELD: You sucked it up for eight years?
JOE MUTO: Bill is such a larger-than-life character that when you work for him, your every waking moment is devoted to pleasing him. My part, for example, was to just give Bill correct information. And I, I did that. I never - I never gave him incorrect information. I never, you know, tried to sabotage the show from within, partially because he would have [LAUGHS] murdered me on the spot, but also because I – you know, I, I took pride in my work. I, I wanted to do the best job I could, and I wanted to sort of keep him honest.
BOB GARFIELD: Yeah, how did that work out?
JOE MUTO: Well [LAUGHS], it was hard to keep him honest because once he gets a fact or figure in his head, it doesn't matter if that fact or figure is wrong. The most recent example I can think of is that he reported that the IRS had met with Obama at the White House 157 times. It turns out, I think, it was something like 11 times. He hasn't corrected the record yet. You can’t dissuade him. You can show him all the evidence in the world. He – he’s stubborn like that. It, it hurts him. His, his staffers are afraid to correct him, but it’s hard to hundred percent dislike the guy. He's a very – he is charismatic in, in – in small bursts, and I think it's fair to say he's sort of a genius at his profession. I mean, he’s been number one for 13 years now, I think it's been?
This is so weird to say, and I’m gonna sound like a crazy person but - I still have dreams about him, about working for him. I compare it to those old dreams where you're in math class and you’ve forgotten to study, except I’m in a pitch meeting with O'Reilly and I have no pitches to give him. And there's just this sense of, you know, low-level panic. He – but he, he’s such a pervasive larger-than-life character that it does – I don’t want to say it’s haunting me, but that's kind of [LAUGHS] kind of what’s going on. It’s kind of haunting me!
BOB GARFIELD: Joe, good luck with the book. Thank you very much.
JOE MUTO: Thanks so much for having me.
BOB GARFIELD: Joe Muto is author of, An Atheist In The FOXhole: A Liberal’s Eight-Year Odyssey Inside the Heart Of The Right-Wing Media.
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Full disclosure here. On a few occasions, Papa Bear has singled out our program to hate on, but once in 2011 he kinda liked us.
BILL O’REILLY: There’s a guy named Bob Garfield, no relation to the cat –
BILL O’REILLY: - who does a - co-hosts the On the Media NPR program. Here’s what he said, go.
BOB GARFIELD: You and I both know that if you were to somehow poll the political orientation of everybody in the NPR news organization and at all of the member stations, you would find an overwhelmingly progressive liberal crowd, not uniformly but overwhelmingly.
BILL O’REILLY: Well, at least Garfield’s honest.