Someone from Fox News apparently fed false information to discredit a reporter writing a report about CNN beating the conservative news network in a key demographic group.

In his new book, Murdoch’s World, NPR media reporter David Folkenflik writes about the lengths taken by Fox News to stifle critics, including a campaign by its public relations department to rebut negative or neutral blog posts by planting positive comments using fake accounts.

Folkenflik also wrote about Matthew Flamm, of Crain’s New York Business, who set out to write an article about the February 2008 ratings success of CNN, which had beaten Fox News in prime time ratings among the important 25- to 54-year-old age group.

Flamm said he contacted all three major cable news networks but “hit a brick wall at Fox News,” Folkenflik says.

But Flamm says he received an email from the private Hotmail account of someone who claimed to be a Fox News producer, saying Fox wanted to copy the success MSNBC had with Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews anchoring their coverage.

The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple Blog obtained the full e-mail and reposted it:

I work at Fox but I heard from a friend at CNN that you were doing a story on them beating us in February ratings. Thought I’d pass along a tip for you. Fox execs had a meeting yesterday and decided that Bill O’Reilly will anchor our texas and ohio primary coverage on Tuesday night. They want to copy the success that MSNBC has had with Olbermann and Matthews anchoring their coverage.

Don’t think they want it out there since we’ll catch too much heat between now and Tuesday especially in light of O’Reilly’s recent lynching remarks. And FOX PR reps would never confirm this, at least not on the record. But O’Reilly, not Brit Hume, will be in the anchor chair Tuesday night. I feel it’s worth you knowing that we’re going to have an opnion monger anchor what’s always been our hard news election coverage.

Flamm then began corresponding with the tipster, who told the reporter that Hume would serve as a senior analyst and report exit poll results while Megyn Kelly enjoyed her honeymoon.

The tipster also told the reporter he could attribute the report to a Fox News producer.

Folkeflik writes that, if true, this would break with the network’s claim to be “fair and balanced,” because it typically anchors such coverage with its “objective” news team, rather than its opinionated pundits.

“To ask O’Reilly to handle actual anchoring duties would be to erase that clear line of separation,” writes Folkenflik.

Flamm reported what the tipster had told him, and then Fox News mocked the report as “absurd and wildly inaccurate.”

“If Flamm is so off base with this ‘fact,’ you’d have to question of all his other ‘reporting’ when it comes to Fox News,” the network said in a statement.

Folkeflik says Flamm called the producer who supposedly gave him the inaccurate tip, and she told him she had no idea who he was or what he was talking about.

The reporter emailed the Hotmail account, but his message was bounced back from the now-closed account.

Folkenflik says Flamm and his editors admitted they should have treated the email as a tip, not confirmation, but the book claims a Fox News staffer confirmed the reporter had been set up by the network.