BROOKE GLADSTONE: Fox News has always inveighed against what it calls “the liberal media.” It’s such an old story that, frankly, we stopped covering it. So we probably wouldn't have noticed when Fox and Friends host Steve Doocy and Brian Killmeade slammed New York Times editor Steven Reddicliffe and reporter Jacques Steinberg for a story about how CNN was catching up to Fox News in this election cycle. [CLIP] STEVE DOOCY: So anyway, radar says he’s had an axe to grind and that’s why he sends his attack dog, Jacques Steinberg, out — that fellow right there, the writer for The New York Times — to do these hit pieces.
So he essentially is his attack dog, his poodle, if you will. [END CLIP] BROOKE GLADSTONE: We wouldn't have noticed it except for the fact that they illustrated the invective with doctored photos of the Times’ men with hairlines pushed back, teeth yellowed, dark circles under their eyes, and, in Steinberg’s case, his nose and ears enlarged in ways reminiscent of something that might have appeared in Der Sturmer in, say, 1940. Was it a joke or revenge?
Media reporters say that just mentioning CNN and Fox News in the same story is considered a cardinal sin by Fox public relations. The New York Times’ David Carr wrote about Fox’s PR operation in his column this week. He says it has a scary reputation. He also says it’s unseemly for a news outlet to act that way. DAVID CARR: I'm in the news business, and when somebody calls me and needs to speak to a reporter at The New York Times, I pick up the phone. Every once in a while do I check with Catherine Mathis, our corporate spokesperson, about whether I'd be seen as speaking for the institution, should I speak up? Sure I do. But we're people who send out reporters on Christmas day after, you know, maybe their child has tragically gone through the ice, and we expect them to come to the door and talk about what happened to their child.
And for a media organization to erect a gigantic apparatus around it which seems to be in the business of not answering questions, I think is the height of hypocrisy. BROOKE GLADSTONE: As you say, this PR mechanism at Fox News is extraordinarily vigilant and aggressive, but you took this occasion to write about it. Was there something about these photos that just was beyond the pale?
DAVID CARR: Part of the reason I stepped up to it was a couple of months ago, a friend of mine was doing a story about — he works at the paper here — about cable news ratings, and he was suggesting that the election had helped CNN creep up on Fox.
And when he called Fox for a comment, he was threatened on deadline. And he wrote this story, and, sure enough, in the blogs the next day there was all manner of personal, private, medical information splashed around every which way.
And I just, I thought it was appalling. I thought, well, this is really hardcore. I've covered politics. I've covered cops. This is really playing it bloody.
And at the time, I called reporters at other news organizations not directly involved, and I said, you know what? This is a huge story that somebody who’s in the business of public relations would be so aggressive in managing information as to smear somebody that was writing about them. I think it’s an extraordinary story.
And they all said, yeah, it’s a great story. I'm not going near it. I don't want these people on my tail. BROOKE GLADSTONE: You began your piece with this sentence. “Like most working journalists, whenever I type seven letters — F-o-x N-e-w-s, a series of alarms begins to whoop in my head: Danger. Warning. Much mayhem ahead.” DAVID CARR: That is describing precisely and exactly what happens to me whenever I type those letters. And there’s other people I could mention where when I type those letters — like if I'm going to write about Harvey Weinstein I always know when I type those letters BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] DAVID CARR: that many things are going to happen afterwards. Some of them will not be pleasant for me. And I think what sets Fox News apart is their relentlessness, and they have no sense of scale. They're as interested in what was in the third to the last paragraph as they are in the lead.
It’s very shortsighted in that I think that if you grow relationships over time, that you would see different stories. You'd see wonderful, great stories about Shepard Smith’s heroic reporting in New Orleans. We'd see that elusive story about Bill O’Reilly’s soft side. I've never seen it, but I'm sure it exists. BROOKE GLADSTONE: You’re saying they're missing out on some good publicity by being so intrusive when it comes to all publicity? DAVID CARR: I do think that there’s been times when it would have been good for me as either a working reporter, beat reporter on media issues or as a columnist, to mention Fox News in passing and I just really haven't wanted to go there. And that’s not nice to say, that’s not good to admit. But if you wobble off course or off message for one little sentence, all of a sudden you'll have flying monkeys all over you. BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] DAVID CARR: And who wants that, after all? I mean, the weird thing is, is I called these guys and I most definitely had an agenda when I called them. And I said - this is what I'm going to say — that you guys are a huge pain in the butt to work with and you drive working reporters crazy and that your aggression is counterproductive. And they worked with me courteously and carefully all through the weekend, and then sent me a nice follow up note. So it’s the sort of asymmetries [LAUGHTER] that keep you guessing. It’s like for them to be depicted as an extremely aggressive outfit that’s willing to go to enormous lengths to protect the interests of the organization, the talent and the people who run it, I don't think is something that bothers them. BROOKE GLADSTONE: It isn't the sort of thing that created, you know, outside the bandwidth responses, like doctored photos or personal information leaked onto blogs. Only stories about CNN catching up to Fox seem to do that. DAVID CARR: Brooke, how long have you been reporting on the media for? BROOKE GLADSTONE: Thirteen years. DAVID CARR: Are they just not the biggest babies there ever were? BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] DAVID CARR: Are they just not the worst? You know, pity us poor fools who stay in the media full time. They're a pack of whiners, I gotta say. BROOKE GLADSTONE: David, all I can say is — word. DAVID CARR: Word!? BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] David Carr is a media reporter and columnist for The New York Times. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] We asked Fox News to respond. They declined and referred us back to their statements in David Carr’s column in The New York Times. BOB GARFIELD: That's it for this week's show. On the Media was produced by Megan Ryan, Jamie York, Mike Vuolo, Mark Phillips, Nazanin Rafsanjani and Nadia Zonis and edited — by Brooke. We had technical direction from Jennifer Munson and more engineering help from Zach Marsh. We also had help from Gina Gasper. Our webmaster is Amy Pearl. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Katya Rogers is our senior producer and John Keefe our executive producer. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. This is On the Media from WNYC. I'm Brooke Gladstone. BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. [MUSIC TAG]