‘Fox Mole’ Joe Muto wants people to read his book ‘and laugh their asses off’

On April 10, Gawker introduced a new columnist: The Fox Mole. The plan was for Joe Muto to provide Gawker with “regular dispatches from inside the organization,” but then Roger Ailes & Co. “nailed” him. (It took just a day.)

Muto quickly became a media star. He gave Howard Kurtz an exclusive interview on CNN, where he came across “as a bit of a douchebag,” according to Village Voice’s James King. Slate hired him to critique “The Newsroom,” and Dutton signed him to write “An Atheist in the Foxhole.”

After noticing last week that Amazon has posted the “Atheist” cover and blurb (the book doesn’t come out until June 4), I emailed Muto and set up this Q-and-A:

You mentioned in an earlier email that “I really hate reading those [comments on the TV Newser post], especially now that I’ve got some perspective on the whole thing and realize what an ass I made of myself.” How do you now view the “Fox Mole” episode?
Well, I get into that kind of stuff a lot in the book, so I think the nice people at Dutton would appreciate me not spoiling it just yet. But let’s just say that when I answered my apartment door at 6:30am to find a detective from the New York District Attorney’s office armed with a search warrant, one of the first thoughts that crossed my head was “Hmm, there are probably one or two things I could have done differently here.”

Thoughts on your interview with Howard Kurtz?
I respect Kurtz a lot as a journalist, which is why I agreed to do the interview with him in the first place. Afterward I respected him even more, because I realized that he’s very good at what he does.

Not that I posed a huge challenge for him. He was able to carve me up pretty good without breaking much of a sweat. And that’s my fault — I was cocky, and assumed that because I’d spent so much time behind the scenes prepping guests for O’Reilly, that I’d naturally be good on camera. Turns out I was very, very wrong. I totally winged it, didn’t really prepare, and ended up looking like a stammering moron who couldn’t explain himself. (I was hoping to at least look like an eloquent moron who could partially explain himself.)

Is the book finished? Was writing it tougher or easier than expected?
We’ve gone through three or four revisions now, so I think my part is almost done — though the book publishing process is still a little foreign to me, so I can’t fully be sure. I’m used to the instant gratification of cable news, where Dick Morris could concoct a hilariously-wrong theory at 4:45pm and be in a studio with O’Reilly making absolutely terrible predictions by 5:05pm.
Writing the book was both easier and harder than I expected. Easier, because the words just flowed and I never experienced anything resembling writer’s block; harder because crafting everything into a cohesive narrative instead of just an episodic collection of random anecdotes took a lot of work, a lot of planning, a lot of sweating the details. Writing a book — as with any creative endeavor – is by turns pleasurable and painful. It’s also anxiety-inducing, in that you’re constantly worrying if people are going to like it or not. Especially with a memoir where you’re really putting yourself out there; if people reject the book, it’s going to feel like they’re rejecting me, the person. But I’m cautiously optimistic that’s not going to happen.

I’m getting extremely positive feedback so far. I set out to write a book that was entertaining and funny above all else. This wasn’t about grinding axes for me. I’m not an angry person. I want people to read this book and laugh their asses off – and at the same time learn something about Fox News Channel, which is an endlessly fascinating organization.

My model for this book was Toby Young’s “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People,” as well as Michael Lewis’ “Liar’s Poker.” I’m not comparing my writing style or skill level to either of them, but they both went for something beyond simply spreading gossip and tried to give some perspective, and some history about the companies they worked for. They were also candid about their personal failings and limitations, and the things that ultimately led to them leaving – that’s what I tried to emulate.

What’s next? Have job offers come in?
I have 8 years of TV production experience, a disturbingly intimate familiarity with the mind of Bill O’Reilly, and I’ve spent the last six months writing a book making fun of Fox News Channel. If that doesn’t at least get me into the room for a job interview with The Colbert Report, I don’t know what will.

But honestly, I don’t know what I’m going to do next. I’ve been busy with the book basically up until this week, so I haven’t pursued anything too seriously yet. Whatever I end up doing, I doubt I’m going to be talking about any of it much. For the next phase of my career I’m going to try out this brand new “discretion” thing that I’ve heard so much about.