Last week, Fox and Friends aired digitally-altered images of New York Times reporter Jacques Steinberg and editor Steven Reddicliffe after the paper reported that Fox News’ ratings are beginning to tank. A Fox spokeswoman responded by claiming that “altering photos for humorous effect is a common practice on cable news stations.”
Last week’s incident was not an aberration; it is Fox News’ modus operandi. The New York Times’ media reporter David Carr writes today of the pernicious attack machine that Fox News employs against journalists who dare to write or report a critical word about the network. Carr explains:
At Fox News, media relations is a kind of rolling opposition research operation intended to keep reporters in line by feeding and sometimes maiming them. Shooting the occasional messenger is baked right into the process.
As crude as that sounds, it works. By blacklisting reporters it does not like, planting stories with friendlies at every turn, Fox News has been living a life beyond consequence for years.
Carr cites numerous examples. For instance, David Folkenflik – a former media reporter for the Baltimore Sun – said Fox refused to return his calls for 15 months after he wrote a critical piece about Geraldo Rivera. Also, Fox News ignored Steinberg’s call while he was writing his story on the network’s declining ratings, but “they e-mailed his boss asking why they had not heard from him.” And also this from Carr:
Earlier this year, a colleague of mine said, he was writing a story about CNN’s gains in the ratings and was told on deadline by a Fox News public relations executive that if he persisted, “they” would go after him. Within a day, “they” did, smearing him around the blogs, he said. (I did not ask him for a comment because the information was of a private nature.)
Gawker reports that the colleague in question is NYT reporter Tim Arango. After Arango wrote a story in March about CNN gaining on Fox News, Jossip reported rumors that Arango just returned to the Times after “a stint in rehab” and speculated that he wrote the piece because he was “auditioning for a CNN gig.”
Two former Fox employees told the Times that they participated in similar kinds of smear activities “but had signed confidentiality agreements and could not say so on the record.” Karl Rove must feel right at home.