Fox News Channel has led the cable news ratings for years. But now a new book claims the network invented many of its most ardent online fans.
PR staffers for Fox News — home of Bill O'Reilly and other combative talk hosts — set up bogus Internet accounts that they then used to lob "pro-Fox rants" in the comments sections of various blogs, according to "Murdoch's World," a new book by NPR journalist David Folkenflik.
Fox News is part of the media empire controlled by the billionaire Rupert Murdoch. In Britain, Murdoch and his News Corp. umbrella company have been attacked for aggressive tactics at newspapers, including illegally hacking voice mailboxes belonging to celebrities and various news subjects.
The new book says that Fox News' PR staff, which has a famously difficult reputation among journalists who cover the TV business, went to great lengths to cover their tracks, even using old laptops and dial-up AOL accounts, thereby avoiding anything that could be traced to the company.
"Fox PR staffers were expected to counter not just negative and even neutral blog postings but the anti-Fox comments beneath them," Folkenflik wrote. "One former staffer recalled using twenty different aliases to post pro-Fox rants. Another had one hundred. Several employees had to acquire a cell phone thumb drive to provide a wireless broadband connection that could not be traced back to a Fox News or News Corp. account."
There have lately been signs of stress in Fox News' formerly impenetrable facade. Former Fox News PR chief Brian Lewis — who oversaw the network's media relations from its 1996 launch — was unceremoniously dumped this year, with the network alleging "financial irregularities." It's unclear whether Lewis' firing was related to the allegations contained in the Folkenflik book.
A Fox News spokeswoman did not return a Showtracker email asking for comment.
What do you think of Fox News and the claim that its PR staff wrote fake blog comments?
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