Media Reporters: Fox Spokespeople 'Skeptical' And 'Demanding'

››› ››› JOE STRUPP

Covering Fox News can be like covering a national security beat, according to several veteran media reporters. Both require more digging to get the truth, both want to tightly control the message, and both are becoming more restrictive in recent months.

In Fox's case, they are even pitching negative stories about their competition, according to at least two of the longtime media beat writers who spoke with me.

"They are in touch more than anyone else, they call or e-mail me with pitches, ideas, some that are positive about Fox but also negative about other people," said one veteran media reporter who requested anonymity. "Other cable news networks are not like that. That is a hallmark of them; that is a thing they do."

Another veteran media writer provided two e-mails from a Fox staffer that urged a negative story about MSNBC and another citing alleged poor ratings for CNN's John King.

"They are constantly trying to pitch stories about MSNBC," the reporter said. "They always call first because they don't want the e-mails out there, but then they send stuff, usually about ratings."

But it is the increased restrictions that Fox has put on its spokespeople in recent years that media reporters point to, ranging from requiring affiliates to refer reporters to Fox corporate communications more than in the past, as well as spokespeople declining to be quoted on the record and asking who else is in a story before giving a comment.

"They definitely are intent on finding out who is in a story," said James Rainey, longtime media scribe for the Los Angeles Times. "They are always very skeptical and combative about getting out information. They want to know a lot about what you are writing about. I don't get the kind of blowback from others that I get from them."

Rainey cited as an example a story he wrote about toy experts with ties to toy companies being used by local news programs that included several network affiliates, not just Fox. But he said the Fox affiliate sent him to the corporate media relations office.

"It was interesting because one of the people at the station seemed like she wanted to answer and said she would get back to me. But the next call I got was from Fox."

Eric Deggans, media critic at the St. Petersburg Times, offered similar experiences: "I have had to call a PR person in New York to arrange interviews with Fox people here. When I first started that was not the case."

Other media writers said the difficulties run deeper, often when getting comments or questions answered by Fox spokespeople. Several writers declined to be identified, fearing they would get even less cooperation from Fox.

"They are more aggressive than anyone else about demanding to know who else is being interviewed or who is quoted and demanding to know who else is in a story," said another veteran media reporter at a major newspaper. "They are very demanding."

Adds another media reporter whose work appears online, "They almost never want to be quoted in anything. If I write something they like, then they think I am on their team. Then I write something negative and they wonder why I am not on 'their team'."

The same reporter said he has sought comment from Fox spokespeople and when they declined, he tells the person he will report that they declined to comment. "Then they say, 'No, just say you couldn't reach us.' But I tell them I can't report that because it isn't true."

One recent example of Fox's hesitancy to be in a story is Gabriel Sherman's lengthy piece in New York magazine earlier this week about how CNN and MSNBC are dealing with Fox's ratings success. The story included no official Fox comment because they declined to be interviewed.

"Fox's PR department is really good at doing their job, being advocates for Fox News," Sherman told me. "They always try to make sure they are promoting Fox's interests as the job of any communications executive should be."

A Fox spokesperson declined comment for this story.

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