When Gawker unveiled their "Fox Mole," an anonymous employee at Fox News who has been posting about the inner workings of Fox News and their bathrooms, our first thought was that this guy is going to get outed, fired, and then pitch a book. At this point in the story, the big questions are who is he (assuming it's a man) and has he been fired? There's already been some back and forth today with Fox claiming to know who it is and the mole boasting he's still working there. Others are taking bets on when he'll be fired (because clearly, this will not end well). Update: Our prediction came true; the Mole, revealed as Joe Muto, has been busted and unceremoniously suspended (with pay) from his job at Fox. His dispatches at Gawker will apparently continue, for now, as he has instructed us to "Stay tuned for much, much more." Adding to the excitement, even Roger Ailes has weighed in!
The inexorable path of this little drama seems headed to just one place: how much will the book deal get? The Fox News Mole has himself suggested an inspiration based in similar motives. "'So why not just leave Fox News?'" he asked himself in his introductory post. "Good question! I've asked myself that same thing many times. And I am leaving. Sooner rather than later, I'm guessing. But I can't just leave quietly, can I?"
But can he leave richer? As one source in the book agenting world, who would only discuss this anonymous source anonymously, told The Atlantic Wire, "I'm sure he's already been approached. There are so many agents, and they all read Gawker." The ceiling for this sort of book was recently set by Greg Smith's Goldman Sachs career-ending New York Times op-ed, "Why I'm Leaving Goldman Sachs," which lead the news cycle for a day and resulted in a $1.5 million book advance after embroiling Penguin and Hachette Book Group's Grand Central Publishing in a bidding war. Grand Central ultimately won (or lost, depending on how the book sells). Gawker's Fox Mole has all the earmarks of another resignation-by-media-frenzy, though the size of a frenzy set off by the New York Times Op-Ed page is considerably greater than that of the frenzy ignited by the blog posts.
And the reason a proposal needs a media frenzy is because the only way to really get rich with a book deal, the agents told us, is in a bidding war. "With the auctions, publishers are inherently codependent. Nothing drives an auction for these guys like knowing there are five other publishers who want it. It's like chasing after the prom queen; there's safety in numbers," said our anonymous source. And by taking on a media conglomerate with wide-ranging media holdings, the anonymous Fox News employee already has a knock against a book proposal. As publishing consultant and former book agent Swanna Macnair pointed out, "The buyer is certainly not gonna be Harper Collins," which like Fox News is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. Our anonymous source suggested that there may be some lingering buyer's remorse after the $1.5 million for Smith that could dampen enthusiasm for a proposal from the Fox News Mole: "I could be wrong, but I don't think they're ever going to make that $1.5 million back. They make between 3 and 4 dollars a copy. Do you think it's going to sell that many copies?"
Macnair, however, was a bit more optimistic about the Goldman Sachs title and said that while Grand Central would likely not make the money back spent on Smith's advance, they'd probably get pretty close—and it might become an iconic book over time. She also pointed to Smith's book deal as representative of a new movement in book publishing: "It didn't surprise me because it's newsworthy. There seems to be a new type of book buying, for example, the Vogue writer who put her daughter on a diet and got a deal from Random House—controversy is going to sell books. In the old days I'd say no book deal [for the Mole], but because there's a trend of these actions and people wanting to read about them, yes. There could even be a movie in there." But let's be real. No one is predicting a seven-figure payday for some Gawker posts about Fox News. Macnair put forward the highest figure: "Maybe mid-six figures." Steve Ross, director of the book division at Abrams Artist Agency, went with a much lower number. "If he gets an advance—a big if here—it would likely be five figures, probably low to mid."
The reason, Ross said, is that while Smith's book has the potential to "shine a light on an otherwise secretive, invisible, inaccessible subculture, one that wields great influence and which simultaneously taps into the zeitgeist," he not so impressed by the the anonymous Gawker poster. "By comparison, the 'mole' at Fox seems to be a lower-level employee with either a grudge or a narcissistic need to see his words in print somewhere," he said. "If he aspires to a book deal he’ll need to get his mind and his attention out of the bathrooms and direct his focus to subjects that might be of interest to prospective readers searching to understand this media phenomenon." Our anonymous source concurred, asking, "Can you sell a tell-all from someone inside Fox News, that someone's actually going to read? I don't see that working. Can you get a deal, probably, but will it be anywhere close to what Smith got? No. This is just a Fox News neophyte using Gawker to tell his story. Maybe at best he'd get $100,000, but I'd be surprised."
Though, that said: $100,000 for talking smack about your employer on Gawker? We should all be so lucky.