From the Beast’s media desk
Welcome to this week’s edition of Confider, the media newsletter that pulls back the curtain to reveal what’s really going on inside the world’s most powerful navel-gazing industry. Subscribe here and send your questions, tips, and complaints here.
EXCLUSIVE — JEZEBEL IS RISEN: Loyal Jezebel readers can come out of mourning: The iconic feminist website is already set to be revived under new ownership, Confider has learned. Four potential buyers came out of the woodwork following the shock news earlier this month that the site was shuttering. And from that pool, two bidders have submitted seven-figure offers to bring the iconic site back to life, according to two people familiar with the matter. The frontrunner to resurrect Jezebel is believed to be an angel investor-turned-media buyer, we’ve been told. If the deal goes through, former Jezebel EIC Laura Bassett would return to run the site, and most of the dozen-plus staff who were laid off by G/O Media would be hired back. G/O’s CEO Jim Spanfeller, often derisively referred to as “The Herb” by his employees, has told confidants he is happy that the narrative around Jezebel’s demise has been “woke don’t sell,” as opposed to what staffers said was his inability to resource and monetize the well-known site (“Completely false,” a G/O Media rep told Confider). News of Jezebel’s potential rescue—which the flack declined to comment on—comes as Spanfeller has told remaining G/O staff he has “big plans” for the future of journalism—particularly with the assistance of artificial intelligence. The media bigwig’s latest “big” idea: Roundups of the previous week’s top posts to publish on the weekends in the hope of juicing traffic. (“The idea came from staff and is something we are currently testing and is something commonplace in digital publishing,” the G/O rep said.) In his four-page Nov. 10 memo announcing Jezebel's closure, Spanfeller touted the creation of an “office of editorial oversight,” which sounds straight out of 1984, and in Orwellian fashion it appears to be an office of one, with Big Brother Spanfeller taking on all editorial responsibilities after sacking editorial director Merrill Brown. “This is completely false,” a G/O Media rep claimed. “Details of this are still in development and will be shared with the staff in the near future.” It’s just the latest in a series of seemingly bizarre ideas from Spanfeller, who, as Confider previously reported, concocted a convoluted “scorecard” to mark staff performance. He also is pushing to reduce from six to four the number of days per month that staffers—whose demands for an all-hands meeting have been ignored by management—can work from home. “He (Spanfeller) doesn’t want anything to do with us,” one G/O staffer told Confider. “He wants to treat us as widgets.” Meanwhile, Deadspin senior writer Julie DiCaro is preparing to file a federal lawsuit against Spanfeller and G/O alleging she was discriminated against based on her gender and paid less than her male equivalent when she was acting EIC of the sports site, two people with knowledge of the situation told Confider. The one silver lining for G/O Media’s embattled staffers? Despite having shut down a beloved website and fired 23 employees, Spanfeller wants to hold a lavish holiday party to celebrate the year’s achievements. “G/O Media’s intention is to add to headcount in the coming months,” the G/O flack noted to Confider. "Despite the union’s best efforts to negotiate issues through the press, G/O Media management prefers to discuss these topics at the bargaining table.”
EXCLUSIVE — THAT’S RICH: Fox News has quietly re-hired the man behind its disastrous Seth Rich reporting that was debunked and cost the network a pretty penny. Earlier this month, Confider has learned, Fox News Digital boss Porter Berry brought back former deputy managing editor Greg Wilson to once again oversee the conservative cable giant’s website—except this time as a weekend managing editor. Wilson was the editor who pulled the trigger on Fox’s story that baselessly claimed Rich, a Democratic staffer who was murdered in 2016, “had leaked thousands of internal emails to WikiLeaks.” Besides suggesting Russian hackers didn’t steal Democratic emails during the 2016 election, the story also gave credence to fever-swamp conspiracy theories that Rich was killed by top Democrats (including Hillary Clinton) for colluding with WikiLeaks. While the report immediately fell apart and Fox was forced to retract a week later, Wilson felt that the story would “be vindicated” in the end. Instead, the network was sued by Rich’s family, resulting in a 2020 settlement for an undisclosed amount just as Fox News star Sean Hannity—who heavily promoted the story on-air—was set to be deposed. Wilson, meanwhile, moved up the ladder to Fox News Digital’s managing editor before leaving in 2020, allegedly due to clashes with Berry. “It felt like Wilson was shown the door rather than shoved through it,” a Fox News staffer told The Daily Beast at the time. After taking a similar position at the conservative Washington Examiner, Wilson then jumped ship last year to Ben Shapiro’s right-wing media empire The Daily Wire to serve as its managing editor, moving to Nashville to work at the company’s headquarters. After only 17 months there, however, Wilson suddenly exited in August. Despite reportedly driving Wilson out of Fox News just three years earlier, Berry welcomed his former deputy back to the fold a few weeks ago—albeit in a lower position than the one Wilson held last time around. The network, meanwhile, did not publicly announce Wilson's hiring, though it would be slightly unusual to do so for a weekend editor anyhow. Fox News did not respond to a request for comment.
EXCLUSIVE — RFK GOES HOLLYWOOD: Anti-vaccine political scion Robert Kennedy Jr.’s run for office has attracted a bevy of media profiles and big-name endorsements from the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Robbie Williams, Joe Rogan, Woody Harrelson, Pierce Brosnan, and Alicia Silverstone. Add to that very Hollywood list of Kennedy 2024 supporters: Jay Carson, a former top Clinton staffer who created Apple’s The Morning Show. Carson became good friends with Kennedy through sobriety and believes he’s fit to be the next president. “I remain a full-time screenwriter, but I’m trying to do what I can to help Bobby win because I think our country needs a president who understands how deeply the system is broken, but who is also sane and competent enough to fix it,” he wrote in a statement to Confider. Carson has Democratic blue-blood credentials: He was formerly the communications director for the Clinton Foundation and then went on to serve as Hillary Clinton’s press secretary for her 2008 presidential campaign. ”As someone who worked in government and politics for almost two decades, I’ve been most struck by how the Bobby I’ve been reading about and who is portrayed on TV doesn’t resemble the kind and honest and courageous person I've come to know,” Carson wrote to Confider. “I'd like to help bridge that gap so people know they have another choice on the ballot in November.” Are Bidenworld types the least bit concerned that the likes of Carson and other Hollywood power brokers have backed RFK’s bid for the White House? “A fiction writer working for a delusional conspiracy theorist. Tracks,” a top Democratic strategist with ties to the Biden campaign wrote to Confider.
EXCLUSIVE — VF LAYOFFS: Vanity Fair is set to bear the brunt of the upcoming Condé Nast layoffs with upwards of 10 staffers set to lose their jobs, Confider has learned. While Condé top dog Roger Lynch brought in bean counters from Boston Consulting Group to give the once-mighty media powerhouse a business colonoscopy, it was Condé editors who had the unenviable job of deciding which staffers will face the axe. The list that VF management drew up was shared with the staff union, who last week started informing the impacted staffers, who range from big-name writers to audience development specialists. Vanity Fair staffers have changed their slack avatars to “I’m on the list” or “I’m with the list” showing their support for their colleagues facing the chop. Vanity Fairers who spoke with Confider were critical of editor in chief Radhika Jones, and universally lamented a lack of clear communication from management as the Dec. 4 deadline for layoffs loom. The NewsGuild, which is currently locked in bargaining with Condé brass, are considering their legal options to block the firings. A rep for Condé Nast declined to comment.
ZAZ HEADS INTO THE BUSH: If you’re a big-time Hollywood mogul and a much-anticipated profile of you is due to drop—one you know will be read and perhaps mocked by your friends and foes alike—what better place to ride it out than… an elephant sanctuary in Rwanda founded by Ellen DeGeneres. That’s where David Zaslav was last week when The New York Times Magazine published not one but two buzzy pieces about him, according to two people familiar with the matter. We are told Zaz’s African sojourn was a pre-planned vacation with his wife Pam. The two-part profile was a hot topic at Brian Stelter’s book party last Wednesday at Michael’s in Manhattan, not least because several guests featured heavily in the piece. CNN COO David Leavy, a Zaz whisperer and one-fourth of CNN’s much-talked-about “quad,” held court in one corner of the room as former CNN boss Jeff Zucker and his partner, former CNN comms chief Allison Gollust, made the rounds. WarnerDiscovery spin doctor Nathaniel Brown, who helped massage the Times pieces, was also in attendance, as were Jim Stewart and Ben Mullin, the Times writers he presumably tangled with. And of course what would a party full of journalists be without the presence of Confider’s favorite dial-a-crisis specialist Risa Heller, who represented Zucker following his ouster from CNN. Meanwhile, for anyone who cannot get enough of the Zaz storyline, buzzy media start-up Puck, which is in part financially backed by glamorous roofing company Standard Industries, offered a “last minute flash sale” on Friday touting they have three correspondents—Dylan Byers, Bill Cohan, and Matt Belloni—documenting Zaz’s every (bowel) move. Using the promo code “ZAZ21” netted subscribers a generous 21-percent discount. Elephant rides not included.
SHINE ON YOU CRAZY DIAMOND: The social-media activity of Darla Shine, the wife of former Fox News president Bill Shine, is once again raising eyebrows. Mrs. Shine, whose penchant for making anti-vax, transphobic, and racist comments first came to light when her spouse became Donald Trump’s White House communications director in 2018, decided this weekend to go nuclear on NewsNation, the “centrist” cable news channel where her own husband has consulted for two-plus years. Reacting on Saturday to a tweeted story about ex-CNN star Brian Stelter’s appearing on Dan Abrams’ NewsNation show, Darla furiously wrote, “You guys are so pathetic. Dragging Humpty Dumpty out of the basement,” invoking Sean Hannity’s favorite derogatory nickname for Stelter. Bill, who left Fox News in 2017 amid accusations that he covered up sexual-harassment complaints at the network, began advising the upstart NewsNation in early 2021, prompting concerns among staffers about his Trump ties and the potential for a more rightward lean in the channel’s content.
IN PLAIN SIGHT: Speaking of Fox’s Seth Rich debacle, here’s a fun fact: Malia Zimmerman, the reporter at the center of it all, whom Fox put on ice for a few years before her exit, is now a published children’s book author. Her official bio does not mention Fox News… It’s not even Thanksgiving yet, but Fox News has already lit its All-American Christmas Tree, which readers may recall was set ablaze in 2021 by a man who was believed to have been homeless.
MORE FROM THE BEAST MEDIA DESK
—The Daily Beast’s OG media correspondent Lloyd Grove returned for a truly wild profile of Trump’s strangest self-described “alpha male” sycophant Nick Adams, an Aussie ex-councilman who went viral most recently for ranting about M&M’s not being sexy anymore. More here.
—Palestinian writer Mosab Abu Toha, whose essays and poems in The New Yorker have shed light on life in Gaza during Israel’s ground invasion, has been detained in Gaza, the magazine said on Monday. PEN International accused Israel’s military of seizing him, though no one has provided an official update on where he is—and who exactly has him. Read more about Toha’s situation here.
—Photojournalist Petra Beter claims in a new lawsuit that in 2001 she was sexually assaulted at Michael Bloomberg’s mayoral campaign headquarters by campaign strategist Duane Baughman. She is also suing former Deputy Mayor Ed Skyler and political operative/cable-news fixture Doug Schoen for allegedly facilitating the attack. More here.
—New York writer Shawn McCreesh returned to his old stomping ground of D.C. and filed a fun dispatch grilling Trump book writers Bob Woodward, Josh Dawsey, and Jonathan Karl about the potential “Return of the Resistance.” But the cameo from Cassidy Hutchinson’s CAA agent as McCreesh tries to ask the ex-Trump aide a question is priceless. Read it here.
—The New Yorker has a scorching essay from Jay Caspian Kang on the rash of media firings, forced resignations, and internal tensions over staffer support for Palestine—and how newsroom bosses have zero idea how to handle any of this. Read the essay here.
—Forget private equity and venture capitalists. The next wave of media ownership is in supermodels? A few years after she and fellow model Kaia Gerber bought W magazine, Karlie Kloss returns with another high-profile media purchase—this time grabbing i-D, the fashion-focused outlet, from an ailing Vice Media. More here.
***WHAT ARE WE OUTRAGED ABOUT NOW?***
After Democrats took control of both chambers of Virginia’s legislature, easily won the governor’s race in deep-red Kentucky, and enshrined abortion rights in the Ohio Constitution, Fox News was more than a little pissed about yet another GOP electoral flop. So Fox did what Fox does best: Have a good old-fashioned meltdown. That was bad news for Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, whom Fox News founder Rupert Murdoch had previously urged to run for president. “What an epic failure by Governor Youngkin. It’s a huge loss for him,” Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade fumed on Wednesday morning, sticking the knife in Youngkin’s White House aspirations. White House correspondent Peter Doocy also let the governor know he was toast, saying the election results were “potentially lethal to this theory that Youngkin could ride a red wave in Richmond to a last-minute presidential campaign as a dark horse Trump alternative in 2024.” While still declaring themselves “pro-life,” the network’s conservative stars seemed to suggest conservatives must learn to live with abortion if it means winning elections. “Republicans need to look at all of these numbers, and really think about what’s more important. Yes, most people that are Republicans are probably pro-life,” Ainsley Earhardt exclaimed. “And we love our babies. And I love being a mother. But what’s most important? Republicans taking over. And Republicans being able to keep our country!”
Confider will return next week with more saucy scooplets. In the meantime, subscribe here and send us questions, complaints, or tips here or call/text us 551 655 2343.