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Foxhole_Joe MutoGet ready for a shocker, readers. Ann Coulter is a nice person. Don’t take my word for it. Take Joe Muto’s word. According to Muto there is “Green Room Ann” who is warm, friendly and remembers the names of everybody she meets. And then there is “On-Camera Ann” who is, well, you know.

But how does Muto know Ann Coulter is a nice person when she isn’t facing a news camera? Muto knows because he used to work behind the scenes at Fox News and he lived to tell the tale in his enlightening memoir An Atheist in the Foxhole: A Liberal’s Eight-Year Odyssey Inside the Heart of the Right Wing Media.

At first glance, Muto hardly seems like the type to join Fox News. As you can tell from the book’s title Muto is both an atheist and a liberal. But with a huge desire to live in New York City, a worthless degree in film studies from Notre Dame and desperate need to find employment, Muto sends out a cover letter and his thin resume to Fox and gets hired as a production assistant for a whopping $12.00 per hour. As a production assistant Muto is basically a go-fer making sure shows run smoothly, doing tedious tasks and trying to navigate a world where his lefty ideology doesn’t quite match up with his corporate overlords.

Muto soon learns that at Fox News not everything is what it seems, like the aforementioned Coulter. Sure, plenty of his fellow staff members are die-hard conservatives, but most are moderate and there are quite a few liberals, too. However, staff is committed to working hard and getting things done even if it means dealing with delicate egos or woefully out of date equipment. Fox News makes a lot of money but it’s unbelievably cheap. When Muto started in 2004 Fox News was still using old-school VHS tapes instead of upgrading to digital.

As for the Fox News people in front of the camera? Muto speaks highly of Shep Smith, one of the few Fox personalities who leans a bit more to the left. He has nothing but praise for Megyn Kelly who he says is ambitious, hard-working, very smart and completely free of diva-like behavior. Glenn Beck’s on-air shtick is not an act; he really is nuttier than squirrel poop. Sarah Palin is even better looking in person and wildly charismatic. She’s also willfully ignorant, lazy and a total pain in the ass.

And then there is Bill O’Reilly. Muto spent the last few years of his tenure at Fox News as an assistant producer for O’Reilly’s show. While acting as assistant producer, Muto suffered through production meetings (often facing O’Reilly’s wrath) and ambushed Rosie O’Donnell at one of her book signings. And yes, Muto was there when O’Reilly faced a huge sexual harassment lawsuit (and somehow got loofah and falafel mixed-up).

Muto claims he found O’Reilly to be demanding, cantankerous, abrasive and very cheap despite his huge Fox News salary. However, Muto does have a lot of respect for his former boss for his strong work ethic, his devotion to his children and his notable media savvy.

But finally, Muto had enough being caught up in Fox News’ far right spin and he leaked some videos to the gossipy website Gawker.com. Sadly, his time as a muckraking mole didn’t last long and his employer found out about his media malfeasance. They were not thrilled with Muto’s betrayal, and Muto was served his marching papers.

Atheist in the Foxhole isn’t so much an indictment of the right-wing media juggernaut as much as it is Muto’s memoir of a particular moment in his life and his career. Muto is honest and fair about his time at Fox. And he’s also open about his own short-comings and contrite about his becoming a mole for Gawker.com (he naively thought he’d end up getting a job at the website-he did not). Muto intersperses his memoir with tales of partying and drinking, trying to live in New York on a paltry salary, and the difficulty of maintaining a good relationship (the news biz can be a killer on one’s dating life).

Atheist in the Foxhole is a fun, entertaining read. Muto has an amusing, self-deprecating writing style that kept me turning the pages to find out what would happen next. This book is not so much an indictment of Fox News, but a very honest tale of a young man coming of age, facing his own shortcomings and trying to get his footing in a very rough business. I highly recommend it.

 

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