An Atheist in the Foxhole

An Atheist in the FoxholeI just read Joe Muto’s An Atheist in the Foxhole. What a great book! The guy can write. I just tweeted to him that he ought to write a novel. The story he tells in Foxhole is not all that interesting. But his telling of it is constantly exciting and often laugh out loud funny. I also found it personally fascinating because when I was his age, I too felt similarly cocky and similarly learned that it is usually best to tread lightly with one’s political passions.

For those who do not know, Muto was Gawker‘s famous “Fox News Mole.” Sadly, he was outed in only 36 hours. At the time, many of us thought that this was due to the fact that he had gone to Gawker instead of a more reasonable outlet. After reading the book, I feel even more convinced of this. If Gawker really wanted a mole, why even publish the videos? He had little to offer in that regard anyway. A few months of dispatches would have been great fun. Gawker didn’t manage a really good opportunity. And then after it was all over, they abandoned Muto. I think Muto’s biggest act of stupidity was turning to Gawker. Slate or Salon (where he now freelances) would have been better choices that would likely have served him better.

The book offers a great look inside the Fox News operation. The most shocking thing is just how low tech the place was and probably still is. You may remember the great scene in Broadcast News where Joan Cusack as a production assistant has to run through the office to get a tape on time to the live control room. Here it is; it’s a great scene:

The first job that Moto gets at Fox News is delivering the on air scripts to the set of the live broadcast. This is often done at the last minute requiring the production assistants to run through the halls to get them to the anchors. I wondered: why don’t they just have the pages printed directly to the studio? Regardless, all the money seems to go to Bill O’Reilly and company and little is left over for technology. Or staff salaries.

A good example of this is that Muto was hired for $12 per hour as a contractor. After six months, he gets taken on a regular employee. That means he gets benefits, so that’s all good. But they raise his salary to—Wait for it!—$12.74. That’s not a mistype; they raised his wage 74¢. That’s a 6.2% raise. Before he gets “promoted” to regular employee, a vice-president tells him he should be dressing better:

“Right, well, you should buy a couple [suits]. I mean, we pay you enough that you…” He glanced down at the paper on his desk, searching for the correct number. He grimaced when he found it. “Oh, well… you can at least to to Mean’s Wearhouse, right?”

That strikes me as entirely typical of conservatives: they always assume everyone must be well paid and if they aren’t, well, soon they will be. Liberals take it for granted that most employers screw their employees as much as they can. The outrage I hear from people about specific examples of this kind of stuff comes from conservatives. They are the ones who have this fairy tale idea that “almost all” bosses are Milton Hershey.

Most of the book is not an attack on Fox News. It’s just a memoir that I think even conservatives would enjoy.[1] But at the very end of the book, he gets serious. I want to leave you with an extended quote from the book that sums up what is really like to work at Fox News. I took the time to enter it myself, so read it!

About a month after I left, Fox & Friends played a video on their show. Four minutes long, it was a slickly produced package featuring sound bites and graphics, and absolutely throwing the kitchen sink at President Obama—hitting him on everything from the debt to unemployment, to food stamps, to gas prices. It played like an attack ad that had been created by the Republican National Committee. There was a massive uproar after the video aired, with repeated cries that Fox News had finally shed its last vestige of objectivity.

For the first few hours after it aired, Fox seemed poised to stand behind the video, featuring it prominently on the Fox Nation website. Then they reversed course and disavowed it, with an opaque statement that read, in part: “The package that aired on Fox & Friends was created by an associate producer and was not authorized at the senior executive level of the network.”

The associate producer in question was a guy named Chris, a guy who I came up with, a guy who started as a production assistant on the overnights around the same time I did. A good producer, and an honest one. And Fox was letting him twist in the wind, with a statement that left the door open to the interpretation that he had been acting alone when he put the piece together.

But that’s not how Fox operates. Something that long and elaborate would have taken at least three or four long days in the edit room to put together, days when a producer would be unable to do any other work. So unless Fox & Friends changed their operating procedures drastically in the month or so that I had been gone from the network at that point, I believe that Chris’ work on the package had to have been authorized by a senior—or even the executive—producer of the show. Someone had pulled Chris off his regular duties, and said, “Spend all your time the next few days making this tape and we’ll air it when you’re done.” I believe there’s no way that he was acting alone, but that became the narrative: the rogue Fox News producer who created an Obama hit piece! Reports surfaced that CNN—the high-paying promised land we’d all fantasized about as young PAs—had offered Chris a job shortly before the incident, but rescinded the offer following the controversy.

An Atheist in the Foxhole is not profound, but it is a quick and fun read. It’s probably better than most novels for vacation reading. And it answer the burning question, “What is Bill O’Reilly really like?” The answer: exactly what you think.


[1] The publisher must think this too. I noted many occasions when clarifying text was thrown in that I thought wasn’t necessary and burdened the flow. I assume these were editor added.

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