In April of 2012, Joe Muto decided to steal unaired video footage of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney from his employer, Fox News, sell the tape to Gawker and then post anonymous online tell-all rants about the network, its bathrooms and prime-time hosts. The stunt got him fired, and landed him in a New York courtroom this month where he pled guilty to misdemeanor theft. He also scored a book deal in the low six-figures.
An Atheist in the FOXhole: A Liberal’s Eight-Year Odyssey Inside The Heart of the Right Wing Media will be released June 4. The man now selling his book today carries himself with a bit less bravado than last year. Shortly after he was fired, Muto wrote online, “I am a weasel, a traitor, a sell-out and every bad word you can throw at me…but as of today I am free, and I am ready to tell my story.” Today, he says he does not want to be seen as someone who intended to harm. “It sort of developed into something I didn’t mean it to be,” he told TIME in an interview on Tuesday. “It was supposed to be mischievous. It ended up looking like I was doing malicious corporate espionage.”
Before his firing, Muto worked for Fox News for eight years, the last five as an associate producer on The O’Reilly Factor. On May 9, 2013, Muto pled guilty to two misdemeanor charges, was fined $6,000 and sentenced to 440 hours of community service. A lightly-edited transcript of his conversation with TIME follows below.
Do you regret it all?
I don’t regret leaving Fox. My career at Fox was done. I was burnt out at the place. I couldn’t in good conscience be a member of an organization that I thought had gone so far to the right. I just couldn’t in good conscience still be employed there. So I don’t regret leaving Fox.
I regret the manner in which I left. I especially regret the fact that I opened myself up to these charges, these criminal charges that I stole from them.
What would you have done if you hadn’t been caught?
I was on my way out the door anyway. My original thing was to do some gossipy, random items. To give an insider’s take on what Fox is doing that day. Like, “Fox is covering this story today. This is why I think they are covering it so closely. Here’s what we are hearing and have to do.” That was always my original conception. I didn’t think it would be that short, but I didn’t think it would last more than a few weeks before people lost interest. So I was poised to give my two weeks notice anyway regardless of whether or not I got caught. The process was accelerated for me. I was just expecting to slip out the door, get my two week’s notice, let things cool off for a month or so, and go back to Gawker and say, “Hey, here I am, it was me!”
I think Fox News is misunderstood to an extent. One of the ways people misunderstand it is how they drive a message. Everyone I talk to expects that there is this big meeting in the morning, and Roger Ailes gives us marching orders and we—I’ve got to stop saying “we” I haven’t worked for them for a year—but that’s not quite how it works. There is a lot of editorial autonomy at Fox. A lot of shows are free to pursue their own cause du jour. That is how you saw someone like Glenn Beck get so far out into the weeds. He was given a certain amount of leeway. If he wants to do his weirdo stories then they’re not going to stop him, unless he gets too far off the reservation, in which case they had to intervene and smack him down and then eventually fire him.
I’m still interested in it as a hobby. Right now I’m employed selling this book and promoting this book, so that’s what I’m doing for the time being. What’s going to come next, I’m still pursuing a few options. There have been a few things that have come up, especially recently, and I expect there will be some things that come up in reaction to this book. So it’s a weird time for me. It’s an interesting time for me. I don’t quite see myself going back into cable news. I don’t think that’s in my future.
I definitely want to continue writing, whether that’s for a journalistic outlet or for something entertainment-related, or I write another book, or something like that I haven’t figured out. My current project hasn’t even been unleashed yet. I’m sort of looking where this book takes me. In a few months I’ll reassess. I don’t’ see myself going back to a straight hard news organization. I would definitely want to go to something that is more of an opinion-based. Well, I guess Fox was opinion-based, wasn’t it?
There are certain hurdles that I would have to get past with the next person, and convince them that this was a one-off thing, I’m not looking to do this again. I’m not looking for a job just to spy on them. I would obviously have to offer them those reassurances. I think when people read the book they’ll see what I was going for. I don’t think I explained myself very well back when it all broke. Part of that was that it lasted all of 36 hours. I wasn’t out in the wild very long. It sort of developed into something I didn’t mean for it to be. It was supposed to be mischievous. It ended up looking like I was doing malicious corporate espionage. I just wanted to poke fun at my bosses a little. It morphed into something. It got away from me, it got out of my control. Part of that is that Gawker is so brilliant at stirring the pot. They’re really savvy organization. They are good at pushing the right buttons.
It’s a memoir. It goes a little bit into my background and talks about how I ended up at Fox News channel. I was a booze-addled college senior and I hadn’t given any thought to how my future was going to be. I was applying frantically for jobs in New York City, I wanted to be in New York, that was always my whole thing. And the only ones who responded to me were Fox. And I was nervous at first. “Do I really want to work for them?” But I heard from a friend who had interned for them (who convinced me that they) were not so bad. They’re not insane right-wingers.
I joined it. And as you’ll see in the book, it sucked me in. Television is a very exciting medium to work in. If you can shove aside any ideology and look the other way at some of the stuff you disliked going on, it was a very exciting place to work. You get a front row seat for a lot of stories. After a few years, I got put onto O’Reilly’s staff. And that was a whole adventure in and of itself. He is the central figure of the second half of the book. The second half of the book is sort of a travelogue, I guess. You could call it, “Daily life when your boss is this angry, six-foot-four, screaming-prone, pugilistic, Irish man.” The book is a roast of him in the Comedy Central sense. I go into his foibles and talk about the things he does on a daily basis.
Any parting words?
I don’t people want to look at this as like an angry book, or like a score-settling book. People looking for that are probably going to be disappointed. This is more of a lighthearted look at the foibles of Fox. I’m probably harder on myself in the book than I am on anyone at Fox as I bumble my way across this eight-year cable news career that ended pretty ridiculously. I don’t want to be seen as a malicious person. I think people reading this book will be surprised at how entertaining and funny it is.