In a new book titled “Murdoch’s World,” author David Folkenflik alleges that Fox News employed a media PR campaign to silence or bury media stories (and even comments by users) that did not portray the media empire in a positive light. While the initial sources I was easily able to find (other than his book) were a blog from MediaMatters.org and a link from Gawker.com, it is well within the realm of possibilities that these allegations are rooted in fact.
In an interview aired yesterday on NPR, Folkenflik stated:
At the same time, there’s a cruelty to his journalism. There’s a desire to be punitive at times to people who are critics or people who are political opponents. When I talked to reporters who work for Murdoch, they almost uniformly said it was an exciting, exhilarating, giddy time; and at the same time, many of them recoil as they look back at what they did and what those papers did on behalf of Rupert Murdoch.
When you run a media empire that makes its money peddling half-truths and outright falsehoods, it is entirely plausible to make the conclusion that Fox News employees did indeed go to the Internet to try to silence criticism of News Corp. If your employees are willing to attempt to hack the voicemails of the Royal Family or even erase the voicemails of a missing teenager to keep people thinking she was still alive, going to the Internet to drown out comments that are against your company is nothing in comparison.
This is the same Fox News that kept telling its viewers that Mitt Romney was headed to an easy victory in 2012. So much so that it may have even caused his staff to accidentally send his transition website live shortly after the polls closed, left Fox News pundits in disbelief when the results were announced and gave birth to the name “Bullshit Mountain” as coined by Jon Stewart.
If Fox is willing to hack the phones of murder victims to prolong a story and ignore every poll that didn’t fit the narrative that Mitt Romney was cruising to victory (to prolong a story), it’s fair to assume that astroturfing the Internet with pro-Fox comments wasn’t on their list of unethical things to avoid doing.
It’s not just Fox that engages in these tactics. There are a number of organizations out there that will do whatever it takes to silence critics. A few years back, I wrote a review on Yelp that was critical of my experience at a national business chain. Within 12 hours, I was contacted by someone from their PR department who tried to convince me to take it down. When I refused to do so, it was promptly buried by a bunch of positive reviews that were all suspiciously similar in their glowing praises of a business that provides a mediocre product with poor service at a ridiculous price. I have even written articles critical of others on the left side of the political spectrum and received mass reports as well as hacking attempts against my page and email accounts in retaliation.
It’s safe to say that the accusations against Fox are very likely rooted in fact, but they aren’t the only ones who do it. They are not the only organization that uses an unethical form of “reputation management,” but they are certainly the most prominent one accused of it. Whether it is the Tea Party handing out talking points, or liberal outlets doing the same – astroturfing does happen, and you shouldn’t be surprised if your favorite news organization does it as well.
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