Fox News, like its president Roger Ailes, is sensitive about its reputation. So sensitive, according to NPR’s David Folkenflik, that in the late aughts, as part of a new, more muscular PR strategy, the channel instructed its staff to write thousands of pro-Fox comments on websites large and small, wherever anything slightly anti-Fox bubbled up. In his new book Murdoch’s World, about the Australian media titan Rupert Murdoch, Folkenflik reports:
Fox PR staffers were expected to counter not just negative and even neutral blog postings but the anti-Fox comments beneath them. One former staffer recalled using twenty different aliases to post pro-Fox rants. Another had one hundred. [...] Old laptops were distributed for these cyber operations.
One of the targeted sites, we are reliably told, was Gawker itself, along with niche industry sites like TVNewser, Inside Cable News, and FishbowlDC. “Even blogs with minor followings were reviewed to ensure no claim went unchecked,” Folkenflik later explains.
The channel’s painstaking management of online criticism tracks closely with its executives’ efforts to clean up their own Internet presences. For example, Irena Briganti, the network’s senior vice president of media relations, hired a shady Google-gaming company in order to bury negative stories about her brutal PR tactics.
We’re curious, though: What were these fake commenters writing, exactly? Under so much pressure to blanket the Internet with pro-Fox propaganda, they couldn’t have been that intelligent or effective. But! If you want to go looking for them, we recommend these Gawker stories of 2007-2010 vintage, when the commenting program took place:
- Ambushing Bill O’Reilly’s Ambusher
- NBC Agrees to Muzzle Journalists Following Fox News Pressure
- Fox News Anchor Asks Internet: ‘Am I Dumb?’
- Fox News Wants To Kill Obama, Too
- Gawker Says 'Hi' to Fox News Stalker; He Drives Away Like a Coward
- Fox News to Fire Itself