'Fox Mole' ousted: Whistle-blowing hero or disloyal self-promoter?

The Fox Mole, an insider who wrote horrible things about Fox News, has been identified and fired in a fresh parable about how new media tools are creating new workplace issues.

Douglas C. Pizac/AP/File
The Fox Mole posted video outtakes, never before aired, of Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity (shown here in a file photo).

As of Tuesday Joe Muto was newly enshrined as the "Fox Mole," an employee inside the right-leaning news network who was tattling in public about the alleged failings of his employer. 

 The next day he had lost his job while winning some fame, being threatened with a lawsuit by Fox, and dangling the prospect that he has "much, much more" to say.

 Mr. Muto, who until Wednesday was an associate producer at Fox News, adopted the "Fox Mole" persona on the news website Gawker. In blog posts that sometimes included video footage of anchors like Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly, he echoed views that have long been voiced by critics from the outside: That it is biased against President Obama (and Democrats) and that its coverage is anything but "fair and balanced."

Is he a whistleblowing hero, a disloyal self-promoter, or something in between? 

 The answer may be in the eye of the beholder, but he's certainly a cautionary tale of the 21st century workplace, where digital technology intersects with a tweet-your-life culture of public expression. Corporations, for their part, want to guard their reputations and their secrets as much as ever, even as they often embrace the idea of workers who also blog on the side.

 Muto joins other US workers who have made high-profile job exits that included public complaints. In March, a senior executive at Goldman Sachs, Greg Smith, announced his own sudden departure in a New York Times column arguing that the investment bank has lost its moral compass. In 2010, JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater made headlines when he voiced frustrations with his job over the public-address system before exiting down the airplane's emergency chute. (That came after passengers preparing to walk off a flight had an altercation about an overhead bin.)

 The gesture by Mr. Smith of Goldman Sachs prompted some workplace experts to warn American workers: You may not want to do that yourself, even in an era when people are used to posting their blunt reviews of restaurants and books online.

 “For most workers, it is best to exit quietly and not burn any bridges," outplacement expert John Challenger said in a statement in March. "New employers may need to contact your former boss for references, and loose talk may be the difference between a new job and continued unemployment. Even a rant about a former employer on Facebook can become an obstacle to new employment.”

 Muto, in his first article as the Fox Mole, said he had never intended his job at Fox to be a long one. 

 "The plan was simple: get hired, keep my head down and my views to myself, work for a few months, build my résumé, then eventually hop to a new job that didn't make me cringe every morning when I looked in the mirror," he wrote.

He joined Fox in 2004. He said he settled into life at Fox after numerous efforts to find other jobs failed.

In his first blog as Fox Mole, Muto labeled his employer's website as the "seedy underbelly of the Fox News online empire." He singled out one post on the site, illustrated with pictures of black celebrities who visited with the president on his 50th birthday last August, under the headline "Obama's Hip Hop BBQ Didn't Create Jobs."

"The post neatly summed up everything that had been troubling me about my employer: Non sequitur, ad hominem attacks on the president; gleeful race baiting; a willful disregard for facts; and so on," Muto wrote. The partygoers also included many Washington politicians and White House staffers, he said.

Muto's posts included a two-minute video of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's off-air banter in an interview with Mr. Hannity.

"I think Mitt loses points with the GOP base for his correct pronunciation of dressage," Muto posted.

On Wednesday afternoon, Fox and Muto engaged in an unusual game of cat and mouse. A representative told website Mediaite.com that the TV network had identified the person and was exploring its legal options, but Muto taunted Fox with another post saying, "I Am the Fox Mole, And I'm Still Here."

That changed late on Wednesday, Muto wrote, when he was ushered into a Fox attorney's office and "suspended indefinitely ... with pay, oddly enough." That posting was made before Fox confirmed that Muto would be fired.

Reuters wire material was used in this report.

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