Last week, Fox News aired nasty Photoshopped pictures of two Times journalists responsible for a story about Fox losing ground among younger viewers. But it sounds like the cable network may have done much worse to another Times reporter, Tim Arango, who wrote a similar article in March. In his column for tomorrow's paper, Times media columnist David Carr recounts tales of Fox's dirty-politics-style PR tactics against journalists from his paper, the Wall Street Journal, the Associated Press and others. One story, in particular, stands out:
Earlier this year, a colleague of mine said, he was writing a story about CNN's gains in the ratings and was told on deadline by a Fox News public relations executive that if he persisted, "they" would go after him. Within a day, "they" did, smearing him around the blogs, he said. (I did not ask him for a comment because the information was of a private nature.)
Carr never names the colleague in question, but we hear it is media reporter Tim Arango. The facts line up: For the March 5 edition, Arango wrote a story about CNN gaining on Fox News among young viewers thanks to the Democratic presidential primary.
The day the story appeared, Jossip reported rumors that Arango "just returned to the Times after two months of 'medical leave,' which many allege may have been a stint in rehab."
Jossip also alleged that Arango had written flattering articles about CNBC in an attempt to secure a job with the financial news network, and hinted his CNN article was an attempt to do the same.
Fox PR, it seems, delivered the revenge they promised Arango, and in a particularly personal form — all for basic journalistic coverage of their ratings dip. Arango once worked at the Post, and as a former member of the News Corp. tribe may have been targeted for especially harsh treatment. But the smear against him would clearly have been meant to send a message to all journalists covering Fox News, or at least those clued in enough to know what was happening, such as Arango's colleagues at the Times: any attempt at fair and balanced coverage of the network itself would be severely punished.
Fox News chief Roger Ailes, like his former boss Richard Nixon, has been running a down-and-dirty campaign against opponents who, due to self-imposed ethical constraints, feel unable to respond in kind. As more of his tactics are exposed, the question becomes whether Ailes will be pressured to rein in his PR machine, or whether his self-created enemies, like the Times, will start throwing some mud of their own.
As Carr noted in his column:
Part of me - the Irish, tribal part - admires Fox News's ferocious defense of its guys. I work at a place where editors can make easy sport of teasing apart your flawed copy until it collapses in a steaming pile, but Lord help those outsiders who make an unwarranted or unfounded attack on me or my work. Our tactics may be different, but we, too, are strong for our posse.
A Times "posse??" Please let it involve leather chaps and boots with spurs on them, and also an alliance with a bandana-wearing Keith Olbermann.