By April 2012, Joe Muto could no longer stand working at Fox News. As a producer of The O’Reilly Factor, and in several previous positions with Fox, Muto had hidden his liberal views while telling himself he wasn’t really contributing to the channel’s conservative bias. His stint was supposed to be short — an entry-level gig that would take him from his native Cincinnati to New York, where he’d soon find another job. But eight years later, there he was, unable to jump to another network and increasingly disturbed by the product he was helping to create.
So he decided to go out with a bang. Muto started leaking videos to the media and gossip website Gawker and blogging about his experiences at Fox. Although his leaks were rather tame — videos of Mitt Romney discussing riding his horses and Newt Gingrich being groomed by his wife — it was an embarrassment for Fox. After just two days, Muto was busted, tossed out of the building and eventually brought up on criminal charges. Muto’s book, An Atheist in the FOXhole, recounts his years at Fox and his brief turn as the “Fox Mole.”
CityBeat recently caught up with Muto to discuss his new book, how he hid his liberal lean while furthering the conservative agenda and how people in Cincinnati watch more Fox News than people in New York.
CityBeat: Take us through the day you got caught.
Joe Muto: It was surreal. I didn’t expect my posts to get much attention but suddenly the New York Times, the Today Show, everyone in the Fox News building was talking about them. At about noon [on the second day] a Fox spokesman said that they’d found the mole. My heart stopped. But I thought, “They say they caught me but I’m still here. No one is coming to drag me away.” So after I ditched my iPad with the incriminating text, I thought I was in the clear. About five minutes before the end of the day my boss said some people wanted to talk to me. I knew I was caught.
CB: Explain why you became a mole.
JM: I got progressively disenchanted with Fox. All those things I had been telling myself over the years about working hard, putting my head down and just doing my job ... I realized that I was partially responsible for the things on the channel. The final straw was when The Fox Nation ran “Obama’s Hip-Hop BBQ Didn’t Create Any Jobs.” It was racist and they didn’t apologize for it. They kept it up and defended it.
CB: Was it mandated that every show push a conservative agenda?
JM: It was unspoken to a point. But every now and then a show would cross a line and there would be an angry phone call from the bosses saying, “Get back on the reservation, you’re way out of line.” All the top producers and executives fell in line politically, and that’s another reason I knew my career there would only go so far. As much as I was hiding my liberalism, I could never have passed scrutiny to be an executive producer. I couldn’t fake it enough.
CB: Did [Bill] O’Reilly know you were a liberal?
JM: I never said anything that would have clued him in. He doesn’t care much about what his employees think, so I doubt it.
CB: You describe Bill as intimidating and cheap, but also genuine. You admit that you liked him.
JM: Maybe it was Stockholm syndrome, but he’s not a completely unlikeable person. He definitely has a certain charisma. I’d compare him to your conservative uncle who you argue with at Thanksgiving dinner. You may roll your eyes at what he says, but he’s not completely odious. I respect him because a lot of hosts on Fox —and cable news in general — are disingenuous and say things to be provocative. He says what he thinks.
CB: On the other hand you describe Ann Coulter as a bit of a phony.
JM: Oh yeah, it’s a total act with her. On air she’s no shrinking violet, but off air she is warm and shy, almost meek.
CB: You imply that Fox News is really more about entertainment than ideology anyway.
JM: There is sort of this unspoken pact where everyone knows it’s entertainment and all for show. People who hate each other on the air did a thousand green rooms together, so they’re like old buds. It’s an interesting dynamic.
CB: Although you reveal that Bill had some genuine issues with Sarah Palin.
JM: What her liberal critics say about her is 100 percent true. She was uninformed and thought she could fake her way through appearances with a few memorized catch phrases. Bill hates it when people dance around the questions, and she would do that. So he talked to her very forcefully like he talked to other guests and she took umbrage. Their relationship soured.
CB: You write a lot about Megyn Kelly, who, according to recent reports, will be getting a primetime slot. She got kudos from liberals after an on-air dispute with Erick Erickson and Karl Rove over the role of women as breadwinners.
JM: She’s a very strong arguer and I think a lot of men on the network don’t quite know how to react to that. Our network is full of male anchors who can really put out a strong argument and she’s one of the few female anchors who can be that forceful. She pretends to be very conservative on air but she’s pretty liberal when it comes to social issues, women’s issues in particular.
CB: What kind of pushback did you get from Fox?
JM: When they heard the book was coming out, they knew they couldn’t stop it, so they accused me of stealing the video clips. They were able to persuade the district attorney’s office and I had to plead to a misdemeanor. I’m doing some community service, had to pay a fine. But they haven’t disputed any of the claims I make in the book.
CB: Did you hear from your friends and family in Cincinnati after this broke?
JM: Oh, yeah. [Laughter]. People in Cincinnati watch Fox News unlike people from New York, so this ordeal had a big effect on them. My friends were shocked that I would do something so stupid. But they knew that Fox was never a good fit for me, and they were probably taking bets on how long it would take me to crack. Whoever had eight years in the pool won the money.
For more information onJOE MUTO or to order his book, go to joemuto.com .