Book Review: “An Atheist in the FOXhole” by Joe Muto

In April of 2012, Joe Muto made headlines around the world as the anonymous “Fox Mole,” a staffer at the cable news giant who was surreptitiously feeding Gawker.com embarrassing unaired video of political candidates, as well as dishing dirt from inside the newsroom about the network’s biggest stars. It lasted all of about two days before he was found out and summarily dismissed. He went on to plead guilty to misdemeanor charges of attempted theft and computer tampering, perform some community service and, ultimately, sign a low six-figure book deal from Dutton.

foxholeThat book, “An Atheist in the FOXhole,” is deceptive in a couple of different ways. The title, which as an atheist myself I love, may possibly mislead some into thinking it is a manifesto of godlessness. That would be an unfortunate presumption as Muto mentions his own non-belief a grand total or maybe three times, if that, and the book in no way travels down a road of secularism or anti-religious ramblings. Not that it would have been a bad thing from my perspective, but that is simply not what the book is about. Secondly, the marketing of the book itself as merely an insider’s trashing of Fox News belies what I feel is a more broad and satisfying story; one in which the ethical dilemma of hiding your personal beliefs in exchange for professional gain is explored, as well as how working in the hectic television news industry can take a toll on personal relationships.

But, of course, while all that may be a welcome addition, it’s likely not why many people will want to read this book. They want the dirt! And that’s okay, too, because there’s plenty of it.

Bill O’Reilly, the highly rated host of “The O’Reilly Factor,” makes many appearances. While his gruff demeanor is on full display as he belittles and downgrades Muto and his other underlings during pitch meetings, it’s the stories about his dustups with upper management, as well as other Fox News personalities like Sean Hannity (they can’t stand each other) that make for even more entertaining reading. You read other funny tidbits as well; from Bill’s inability to understand the concept of wireless printing, thus forcing his staff to simply tell him they are “faxing” him documents, to the story behind the legendary “Jack Mehoffer” email. Most any story involving O’Reilly is funny because Muto successfully captures his immense presence. You can see and hear the tirades playing out in your mind.

Then again, some Bill-O moments are less comical than they are downright embarrassing. Here I am speaking of the sexual harassment debacle involving Andrea Mackris and O’Reilly’s odd, yet extraordinarily detailed, sexual fantasies involving a loofah mitt and falafel. Bill’s “Factor” staff were basically forced to walk on eggshells around him more than usual, while also having to tread very carefully when ordering Middle Eastern lunch items, lest he believe they were making fun of him.

mutoBut Muto is wise in including a softer, more human side of Papa Bear, too, explaining that despite all the grief O’Reilly put him through, there is a latent affection still present. He details Bill’s fondness for his children, which leads him to keep incredibly short office hours in order to spend as much time as possible with them. His love of a free buffet, in which he is found bull-rushing his way to the front of the line for a hot dog, despite the millions in salary he pulls down each year. And how the sizable proceeds of the corny merchandise Bill promotes at the end of each episode of “The Factor” go directly to charity.

But that’s really just one part of the story. He explains why he went undercover for Gawker in the first place, and the method by which he was found out. You’ll also learn plenty about the inner workings of the Fox right-wing empire, including surprising revelations about whether or not the talent truly receive “marching orders,” the archaic video playback system that always seemed on the verge of breaking down, and the curious peccadillos of a variety of on-air personalities that manifest during off-camera moments.

What’s next for Joe Muto is unknown. It is a strong possibility that his actions as the “Fox News Mole” have cost him any opportunity of finding work in television news again. CNN and MSNBC, for instance, may simply find him untrustworthy. But he has produced here an enlightening tale about the behind-the-scenes mechanisms of Fox News, and one that I found a great deal of enjoyment in reading. I am pleased to recommend it to you.

On a related note, this past Sunday on Strange Frequencies Radio, myself and my friend/co-host Bobby Nelson spoke to Mr. Muto about this book and his time at Fox News. Click here to find out more information about the episode, which is available as a download, or on iTunes and Stitcher in podcast form.

Advertisements

Did Jesus Really Exist?

I’m not shy about being an atheist anymore.  At one point in my life, when I was much younger, just hearing someone say out loud that they didn’t believe in god made my stomach feel weird.  It was just this sensation of, “Stop!  How can you possibly say that?”  It was very uncomfortable.

Nowadays, not so much.  I’m an open atheist.  I don’t see any good evidence that there is a god and arguments for the existence of a god seem to be logically invalid to me.  So, I don’t believe.  But that being said, I’m not in anyone’s face about it.  I don’t go around shouting it from the rooftops and I’m not about to go out of my way to make people feel like shit for believing.  When I say I’m an open atheist, I simply mean that, should the topic of religion or who believes what comes up, I’m not ashamed or afraid to say “I’m an atheist” out loud.

Though I don’t believe in god, up until about 6 months ago I was pretty sure that Jesus had at least existed.  Sure, I may not have believed he performed miracles, rose from the dead or ascended bodily to heaven, but I figured there probably was a religious teacher named Jesus who the Biblical stories were based on.  But lately I’ve read a lot and heard from several educated people who have convinced me that it probably isn’t true.

For one thing, I’ve learned that the Bible, particularly the Gospels, were not written by eyewitnesses.  Mark, the first Gospel, was written decades after Jesus was said to have lived.  Furthermore, there are so many contradictions in the Gospels and throughout the Bible that it’s tough to know what the hell happened, if anything at all, during the events being written about.

But forget the Gospels.  There is not a single reference to Jesus at all while he was alive!  No contemporary historian, statesman, or even scribe seems to have heard of him.  That is pretty damning when you consider how influential Jesus is said to have been.  Again, this is a guy whose birth and death brought on long periods of darkness and earthquakes through the land.  He turned water into wine.  He walked on water.  He rose the dead.  He himself rose from the dead!  He ascended bodily to heaven and caused Christianity to spread like wildfire throughout the lands.  And no one seems to have noticed?  No corroborating record of earthquakes or eclipses?  No historians or scribes had anything to say?  No one even wrote a letter to their friend about him?  This is guy who, one could argue, is the most important person in history.  So why didn’t anyone write anything about him in the midst of his life?

I’ve heard it argued that historical records weren’t as well-kept in those days.  But that’s not true.  Consider the case of Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon, for instance.  Caesar lived prior to Jesus, but not only do we have his own writings, but a variety of contemporary sources of his life and travels.  Why nothing for Jesus?

I’ve also had people tell me that the people of the time and place were illiterate, so it is expected that there would be no mention of Jesus.  But that’s not true either.  Seneca the Younger and Nicolaus of Demascus lived and traveled in areas which intersected that of Jesus.  But they apparently never heard of him since they never saw fit to mention him.  And what about Philo of Alexandria?  Not only a statesman and scholar, but he wrote a great deal about religious movements and literally was in the same places as Jesus while he is said to have lived.  His family was close to the royalty of Judea.  There’s no way he wouldn’t have at least heard of Jesus!  But he mentions nothing.  He writes nothing.  This doesn’t make any sense!  Unless, of course, maybe there was no Jesus to notice…

But Paul!  What about Paul?  He was basically responsible for the spreading of Christianity, people say.  He knew Jesus, right?  Nope.  Never met him.  Paul had what would now be called “a vision” in the desert long after Jesus would have been crucified.  It’s true he helped spread Christianity, but certainly not true he met Jesus in person.  His reports of his “vision” are what many people nowadays refer to as a story about a “batshit crazy person.”  I don’t know if he was insane or not.  But the historical record is clear:  he didn’t know Jesus.  And half of his known letters, also known as “epistles,” are known forgeries.  Even the epistles historians do recognize as legitimately Paul’s have been tampered with and edited over the years.  Not exactly a strong case to build your faith around.

It has taken me some time, but I’m now prepared to say that I no longer believe Jesus really existed.  I guess it doesn’t really matter anyway.  I’m not a Christian and I don’t think Jesus was magic.  But if I’m going to proportion my beliefs to the evidence, I don’t believe in god and I don’t believe in Jesus for the same reason.  The evidence is just not there.

NOTES:

I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post that I had been learning a lot about this topic from a few different people.  Well, I’ve been lucky enough to talk to those people on Strange Frequencies Radio.  Their names are Richard Carrier, Robert M. Price and David Fitzgerald.  Please check out their websites, or feel free to listen to the interviews we did with them at the links below.

Thanks!

Dr. Richard Carrier and Dr. Robert M. Price on Strange Frequencies Radio

David Fitzgerald on Strange Frequencies Radio

Ghost hunter contradictions

Recently, along with my friend and fellow co-host of Strange Frequencies Radio, Bobby Nelson, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jenny Stewart.  Jenny is the founder of the Paranormal Research and Resource Society, and we had her on the show to discuss a few of her beliefs about the philosophy of ghost hunting, as well as her own research into spirit communication.  While we disagreed on pretty much everything, the conversation was pleasant until close to the end, when Jenny began to raise her voice in objection to a line of questioning that pertained to a myriad of contradictions we were noticing.  While those contradictions are certainly not unique to her, I thought a post about them might elucidate some of my thoughts on the frequency of which they appear in the ghost hunting community.

Early in the interview, I talked about how many paranormal investigators have things they don’t like about their community, and asked her if there was anything in particular she found distasteful.  She responded by saying that too many investigative team’s websites are like trophy cases, indicating they appear more interested in fame than in helping anyone.  I agreed, but I found it curious when, just moments later, she mentioned working on a television series for A&E about her team’s ghost hunting activities.

Later, we began talking about her ghost box research.  She is quite fond of it, believing that she has contacted entities that have given her team pertinent information on several cases.  She even recounted a story where her ghost box divined the future; foretelling a murder, in fact.  While she went to great lengths to testify to the usefulness of this particular technique, she said she uses it only as a tool; not as evidence.  How funny, then, that her team’s website has a copious amount of ghost box sound files on their evidence pages.

Finally, we talked about her rationale for being in the paranormal community.  While she does not consider herself a ghost hunter in the traditional sense, she does seek her own style of evidence for the existence of ghosts and the paranormal.  She also said that she isn’t trying to prove anything to anyone.  In my opinion, many ghost hunters get into the field because they want to prove the existence of ghosts.  I know that was one of my reasons, and I’ve talked to many who say the same.  But it is strange to hear someone say they aren’t looking to prove ghosts but then, as Mrs. Stewart did, say we are basically denying reality unless we agreed she has captured the image of a spectral baby in a window.  While Bobby told her it could be an example of pareidolia, I told her it was unfair to try and force our opinion when we had never seen the photograph in question.

This article is not about what is or is not proof of ghosts.  I’ve made it clear before that I used to believe and have explained the reasons I no longer do.  This isn’t even about whether or not people should go ghost hunting.  I have nothing against it.  I may not believe in ghosts, but even I enjoy creeping around allegedly haunted locations.  No, this is about the lack of honesty and consistency I see among ghost hunters.

I’m sick of hearing ghost hunters say they aren’t in it for fame while simultaneously seeking out their own reality show.  You have an ego; we all do, so at least be honest.  I host an internet radio show and, while I don’t want to be “famous,” I know a little something about wanting attention for what I do or say.  If you so much as have a Facebook or Twitter page, you have to admit that you do as well.

I also don’t have time to listen while you tell me your team doesn’t use certain items as evidence, or how you aren’t trying to prove anything to anyone.  I especially don’t want to hear it when what you are saying is demonstrably false, or while you are yelling in my ear about how right you are, like Mrs. Stewart did.

Now, to be fair, Jenny did end up writing to apologize a couple of days later.  She said that she originally got angry when one of us brought up science but, upon listening to the interview again, she doesn’t understand why she got mad [1].  And that’s fine.  It is not like I harbor any kind of grudge.  Many people have written to me to express their surprise at Mrs. Stewart’s reaction to the questions we posed on the show.  It surprised me too, but I also very much want to have her back on sometime to discuss the points we disagreed on.  One thing I want Strange Frequencies Radio to be known for is that we went out of our way to invite guests on simply because they disagree with us.  I continue to believe those types of conversations are important, particularly in the paranormal world.

Why are so many in the paranormal community so inconsistent?  Do they really not recognize their own contradictions, or is it, as I suspect at times, they divert attention away from their motivations in the presence of someone they perceive as an outsider?  In other words, when they are around other people who believe as they do, will they still downplay the significance of their ghost box, or talk about how little they want attention or to prove anything?  Somehow, I seriously doubt it.

Why?  Because I’ve been there.

NOTES:

[1] This is the impression I got from Bobby, who received her letter of apology.  However, Jenny has written in the comments of this blog that she was apologizing for having done the show at all, since she was exhausted from lack of sleep.