The Grievance Culture At Fox News

NYT's David Carr shines a light on its PR tricks

Fox News people like to think other journalists don’t like them because of politics but maybe it’s because they act like jerks.

David Carr’s The Media Equation column this week in the New York Times business section prompts this speculation. The “Fox and Friends” morning show prompted Carr’s report with its fourth-grade-style doctoring of pictures of Times media reporter Jacque Steinberg and his editor Steven V. Reddicliffe—because of a straight-up story Steinberg wrote two weeks ago documenting CNN’s and MSNBC’s recent rise in the ratings.

The Photoshopping stunt was bush league. And what this spokeswoman says is baloney.

A spokeswoman said the executive in charge of “Fox and Friends” is on vacation and not available for comment but added that altering photos for humorous effect is a common practice on cable news stations.)

Actually, it’s not common. Who puts the heads of reporters on dogs, as those gaping clowns did? But those aren’t the photos anyone is talking about, anyway. It’s the headshots subtly altered to make the journalists like hairy, yellow-toothed apes that everyone is talking about.

No cable news network doctors standard headshots. Just Fox.

But let’s leave aside those photo stunts and look at the cheesy PR maneuvers Carr documents.

We’ve dealt with plenty of corporations and PR people over the years, and only the rankest use tools designed, not to put forward their side of the story, but to ward off fact-gathering and chill scrutiny—that is, journalism—altogether. These tactics from Fox News include “sometimes threatening” emails, anonymous trashing on the blogs, and “the specter of my ungainly headshot appearing on one of Fox News’s shows along with some stern copy about what an idiot I am,” Carr writes.

Any beat reporter needs to balance aggressive reporting and access, and Fox knows it. And while it’s a judgment call, blackballing a reporter is allowed, we suppose, but only in extreme circumstances. A news organization blackballing another reporter ought to be rarer still. But Carr found reporters from the “Associated Press, several large newspapers and various trade publications” that have been completely shut out by Fox for all sorts of lame reasons.

Worse than blackballing would be blackmailing. Carr also knows of a Times reporter whom Fox News planted negative info about on the Web after warning him not to write a negative story. Fox denied it.

That comes as a surprise to reporters I talked to who say they have received e-mail messages from Fox News public relations staff that contained doctored photos, anonymous quotes and nasty items about competitors. And two former Fox employees said that they had participated in precisely those kinds of activities but had signed confidentiality agreements and could not say so on the record.

And then to freak out over a straight ratings story is classless.

If Fox News wants respect, it should show some.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.