* Oct. 31, 1994: Sex and business are a winning combination for Ailes (Newsweek)
* July 6, 2016: Sex and business lead to a lawsuit against Ailes (politico.com)
“We have a solid relationship with the New York Times,” Fox News PR chief Brian Lewis tells me. “I think that surprises people.”
It bothers some journalists, too.
On Tuesday, New York Magazine’s Gabriel Sherman tweeted about the two news organizations (“Fox using NYT to promote its journalism”), and quickly heard back from Times media writer Jeremy Peters.
“Much as I like Gabe Sherman’s work, I disagree with him in this instance,” Times media editor Bruce Headlam told me Tuesday night. “Covering a person or organization doesn’t mean you are carrying water for them. If it did, our homepage right now would be doing PR for Mitt Romney, the recall vote in Wisconsin, the Italian cruise ship captain, Paula Deen and ‘Cougar Town.'”
(Sherman, who is working on a book about Fox News, declined to say more about the matter.)
How did Jeremy Peters get the access?
“This was the case of a reporter being persistent,” says Lewis, whose official title is Fox News corporate communications executive vice president. “He wanted to do Iowa, but we turned him down. He kept at it and at it — everything he’s written has been fair — so we said go ahead, and he got a great story out of it.”
One journalist wonders if Fox News’ embrace of the New York Times is part of the network’s “course correction” that Roger Ailes discussed with Howard Kurtz last fall. Lewis says it’s as simple as this: “We work with journalists who treat us as a news organization. We have no interest in those journalists who don’t.”
He adds: “We have tremendous relations with about 95% of the reporters out there.”
Stay away from the C word
Any journalist who describes Fox News as a “conservative” outfit — or spins a story in a way that’s unacceptable to the network’s PR people — will likely get a call from the “famous” Irena Briganti, who joined Fox in 1996 as Media Relations Coordinator and has risen to Fox News and Fox Business Media Relations Senior Vice President. (Gawker once called her “the most vindictive flack in the media world.”)
The 37-year-old PR woman is known for her insulting, condescending emails to reporters — always ‘cc’d to bosses — and for staying out of the limelight. Briganti, who declined to participate in this piece, isn’t on Twitter, Facebook or Google+, and an ex-Fox Newser says that “you’ll never see a photograph of her.”
That’s not correct. When I started working on this post, there was one photo of Briganti on Google Images. A few weeks ago I noticed it was gone. A source claimed Fox News was able to get Google to remove it, which a search-engine rep denies. It didn’t matter, though; I was slipped another photo of her — the one you see on the right.
What reporters say about Briganti
“I think you should charge us all therapist rates to listen to our Irena stories,” one reporter emailed after I tweeted that I was looking for anecdotes about the PR woman.
Another reporter responded to the email address I posted on Twitter: “I will admit that even as I send this, a tiny, tiny part of me wonders if ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ isn’t some overly obvious front email for her to scoop up a lifetime’s worth of ammunition to destroy all the reporters she always wanted to. I am not ashamed to say I fear her.”
My tweet brought in dozens of stories from Briganti critics and fans.
Glenn Garvin of the Miami Herald tells me: “No question she can — and usually does — use tough language when discussing Fox News’ rivals and critics. But as a reporter, I considered her a huge asset. She responded promptly to questions and was almost always able to provide quick answers. A surprising number of publicists I deal with don’t really have good access to upper-level executives within their own companies. Most importantly, she has never lied to or misled me, not once, not ever. She represents the Fox News worldview, of course, and is anything but shy in offering it up.”
Former Page Six writer Paula Froelich emails:
I actually think she’s amazing – and one of the few pr types in that position who do the job with accurate efficiency… and yes, I know, I know, I used to work at News Corp and there will be some people who say that we got along because we were technically in the same company – but not true. There’s no love lost between the Post and Fox. She was (and is) tough as nails. She has a job to do and does it very well/efficiently – she is under no pretention that reporters are her friends, but always returns phone calls from anywhere on the planet, defends the people she is paid to defend, and knows every trick in the trade to try and kill a story.
But then this email came in: “You want info on Irena Briganti? You better be offering COMPLETE and TOTAL anonymity because that is one vengeful lady who is part of a web of top management who deliberately spreads fear throughout the network.”
A journalist who is currently in the doghouse with Fox recalls leaving a voicemail for Brit Hume, but getting the return call from Briganti.