Kansas City Star TV critic Aaron Barnhart got an e-mail from Fox News last week that he thought was funny, and posted about it on Twitter. Fox News flacks said the network never sent the e-mail. They lied.
TV critics get thousands of promotional e-mails every day, and when Fox News sent one to Barnhart last week trying to generate excitement over Glenn Beck's batshit conspiracies about the swine flu vaccine, he thought it was kind of funny. So he posted this to Twitter:
Fox News PR just emailed to let me know Glenn Beck will be raising fears tonight on his TV show. No poop, Poirot.
It's funny because it's true. Fox's unabashed fearmongering—indeed, it's proud promotion of fearmongering as such—tickled Keith Olbermann, who mentioned the e-mail on his show.
But then something strange happened: On Monday, the Huffington Post's Danny Shea posted a story calling bullshit on Barnhart and Olbermann. Shea quoted an anonymous Fox News spokesperson saying the network never sent any such e-mail:
"We never sent anything to Barnhart and he refused to respond to us when directly asked who he received that from," a Fox News spokesperson said.
The distinction is important, as e-mails from the PR department can be perceived as on-the-record and thus legitimized as the network's official position on a subject.
Yes, what a vitally important distinction! Barnhart sadly—and stupidly—deleted the e-mail immediately after he wrote about it on Twitter, so he was left defenseless after Fox denied it and implied that he's a liar who makes up fake mean Tweets about Fox's upstanding public relations professionals. He searched far and wide for a copy of the errant fear-raising publicity blast to prove that he's not, but to no avail. He wrote a mild blog post saying he could have sworn he got that e-mail, but in the face of such a strong denial from Fox, it didn't amount to much.
Then Barnhart remembered his GMail account and—lo and behold!—found the e-mail that Fox said it did not send him:
The e-mail, as you can see, was a "Fox Fan Scoop"—a newsletter sent out by the network to people stupid or lonely enough to describe themselves as "Fox fans." It's an important distinction, because Fox Fan Scoops can be perceived as on-the-record and thus legitimized as the network's official position on the subject of how the swine flu vaccine "scares the heck" out of Glenn Beck.
So when the anonymous Fox spokesperson said "we" never sent such an e-mail to Barnhart, was she talking about "we" the Fox News PR department, or "we" the network that the PR department actually represents?
"'We' as in the Fox News PR department," says Fox News spokeswoman Irena Briganti. "And Barnhart's blog post confirms that it did not come from the Fox News PR department." No, it just came from the part of Fox News that relates to the public by sending out e-mails to promote it's television shows. Again, it's an important distinction. Anyway, Aaron Barnhart—whom, by way of full disclosure, we know and like—is not a liar, and the anonymous Fox News flack who told the Huffington Post that "we" never sent the e-mail is.