When I first heard there was a mole at Fox News, I was pretty damn excited. For years I have hoped for a popular backlash against not only Fox News, with its blatantly fear-mongering conservative agenda, but all the major American news networks, which consistently embellish, distort, and manipulate facts to boost both network ratings and the political stances they subscribe to. But after a week of behind-the-scenes leaks from “America’s most trusted news network,” I feel little more than disappointment for a lost opportunity to instigate a desperately needed change in the culture of news.
The mole, now unmasked as former O’Reilly Factor producer Joe Muto, has little to show for his popular stunt. Though he was eager to leave Fox News, he has essentially condemned himself to exile from the network news industry, and faces potential legal action for distributing footage to New York media blog Gawker. Not only does Muto’s alleged cash reward of $5,000 seem insignificant in the wake of a lost career, but his footage hardly produced a ripple in the battle to bring reliability and integrity to network news.
Did we really need these videos to learn that presidential candidate Mitt Romney is grotesquely wealthy? Was anyone unsure that Fox News host Sean Hannity is an unabashed right-winger? Muto admirably risked his livelihood to unveil the dirty secrets behind his former employers, but failed to reveal a single moment of substance.
Though I certainly question the ultimate success of his actions, I don’t mean to criticize Muto himself. Perhaps he considered the potential consequences for distributing more classified and condemning material, and felt it was not worth it on a personal level to turn his stunt into a crusade. He has already said he has more insightful information to divulge, claiming he has a “story that needs to be told.” Although I will certainly be listening, it remains to be seen how far he is actually willing to take his quest. If his recent interview with CNN is any indication, network news outlets will confront him with at least mild hostility to ensure the public sees him as a mole working for his own benefits, and not a whistleblower trying to put a stop to the injustices and corruption occurring on a regular basis in the newsroom.
The self-described “traitor,” “weasel,” and “spy” has hardly positioned himself for a defense against the public bashing he is going to take. As a former member of one of these news networks, Muto should have known better than to provide his critics with fodder to slander his name. The CNN anchor Howard Kurtz suggested that Muto is merely angling for a lucrative book deal after being a disgruntled employee with little chance for a promotion.
But even more saddening than the expected pounding Muto will take from certain network media sources, is that he is on his own. Perhaps reacting to the legal ramifications or inconsequential impact of his footage, others with Muto’s perspective have been slow to stand by his side. Several former Fox News employees who left the company and now work in the blogosphere have focused more on Muto’s upcoming struggles with the law and job market than on the issues he raises. Hence, they still fail to highlight the ever-more obvious reality that Fox News is a conservative channel, and MSNBC posits a more liberal perspective.
Neither company strays much from these bases in their news coverage and certainly not in their pointed commentary, which is often mistaken for actual news.
Consequently, I struggle to see this entire “Fox News mole” situation as anything other than a missed opportunity—a botched attempt to shed some light on real controversies within the inner workings of the major news networks. Nevertheless, there is still hope. There are undoubtedly more unhappy liberals (and even unhappy conservatives) working at Fox News who are tired of helping a company that makes money by misinforming Americans. Even Muto could have potentially more incriminating information to pass along than just a brief off-air clip and a few personal gripes about the FoxNation website. Hopefully, we haven’t seen the last of the network news moles, and others will be inspired to continue the fight against this troubling reality in a better coordinated manner.