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 — ABC’S NEVER-ENDING SAGA: GMA3 lovebirds T.J. Holmes and Amy Robach are now officially gone from ABC, but the fallout within the network continues. News boss Kim Godwin is now on thin ice with Disney executives over her and her team’s handling of the affair—and she’s rapidly losing the confidence of the newsroom, six senior ABC News staffers told Confider. For starters, employees are quick to recall how soon after the tryst was first revealed, Godwin confidently wrote in a memo that the relationship was “not a violation of company policy,” a declaration that has left the newsroom scratching its collective head now that Robach—who was well-liked and, unlike Holmes, did not have other alleged office trysts—has been given the boot. Staffers noted that with Robach gone and Cecilia Vega having defected to 60 Minutes, the GMA talent bench has thinned out to a troubling degree. ABC bookers are now in a pickle because Robach was the network’s go-to choice to conduct the more controversial interviews that Robin Roberts passes on for fear of tainting her “brand,” insiders told us. Interestingly, two people familiar with the matter said Roberts was among those pushing for Robach and Holmes’ exit. Ultimately, the monthslong scandal was a “self-inflicted wound” for Godwin, multiple ABC staffers remarked, as her initially lackadaisical memo and inability to make a decision allowed a two-day story to spiral into two months of salacious headlines and seemingly nonstop PR crises. “She doesn’t understand the organization and she has surrounded herself with incompetent people,” one dismayed ABC News staffer said. Confider has further learned that, amid all this turmoil, Disney global security has been interviewing staffers as part of a hunt for leakers within the network—an extraordinary move for a news outlet that relies on anonymous sources and leaks. Reps for ABC News and Disney declined to comment.
EXCLUSIVE — CNN’S 9 P.M. WOES: Ratings-challenged CNN has yet to fill its 9 p.m. hole but in the hopes of making its primetime at least a little more entertaining, the network plans to host a series of town-hall events during that hour, Confider has learned. CNN will draw upon a roster of hosts, including Jake Tapper and Anderson Cooper, to helm the town halls, which will be pegged to big news and political events. The first of these events, which will be both live and virtual, is expected to air towards the end of February, sources said. Right now, the 9 p.m. slot—which has been vacant since Chris Cuomo’s December 2021 firing—has been filled by a second hour of Cooper’s AC360 after a few months of Tapper holding down the fort with a show that ended after the midterm elections. A rep for CNN declined to comment when reached by Confider.
EXCLUSIVE — THE ‘HERB’ GOES TO COURT: G/O Media CEO Jim Spanfeller took the stand last week and testified in front of a Chicago jury in the unlawful termination trial for Mike McAvoy, former president of The Onion. The jury ultimately found that the G/O-owned satirical outlet breached its contract with McAvoy and violated the Wage Act, awarding him $605,205 in damages, according to court documents obtained and reviewed by Confider. But it wasn’t all bad news for G/O and Spanfeller: The jury also ruled that McAvoy breached his contract and his fiduciary duty to the company by tortiously interfering with the contract of Katie Pontius Ebel, former Onion chief of staff, awarding The Onion $376,205 in damages. “We feel vindicated by the jury's verdict in this case. The jury ruled in favor of The Onion on all three of our counterclaims against Mr. McAvoy,” a G/O media spokesperson told Confider. “They found that his conduct was so egregious and malicious that it warranted his payment of punitive damages to the company. As for the jury’s award of Mr. McAvoy’s severance and bonus on his breach of contract claim, we disagree with that finding and will be filing on appeal.” McAvoy did not respond to a request for comment.
EXCLUSIVE — INSIDE THE INSIDER COLLAPSE: Back in 2020, Insider was eager to launch a D.C.-based politics team focused on original reporting—a break from the outlet’s aggregation-centric model. The bureau was part of Insider’s quest “to be the world’s most beloved and influential journalism brand,” as Nicholas Carlson, the outlet’s editor-in-chief, wrote at the time. Almost three years later, however, nearly all of the original D.C. team is gone. Its editor, ex-Politico reporter Darren Samuelsohn, was fired just days before the 2022 election, and a steady stream of staffers have exited over the past year to outlets like The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. We spoke with 10 current and former members of Insider’s political team, all of whom described conflicting editorial directions, poor management, and constantly shifting goals that contributed to general dysfunction and, ultimately, the collapse of a once-promising bureau. A spokesperson told us that Insider still plans to cover politics, however, staffers aren’t sure what that will look like. “I don’t know what Insider wants and I don’t know if Insider knows what it wants,” one current politics reporter said. You can read the full inside story on Insider D.C.’s collapse here.
EXCLUSIVE — NEWSMAX LICKS ITS WOUNDS: Fox News has almost entirely ignored the right-wing anger over DirecTV dropping Newsmax—and, of course, Newsmax is pissed off about that. The network has only devoted 35 seconds of airtime to Newsmax getting the boot—via a brief mention from Howard Kurtz, who noted that DirecTV replaced Newsmax with another right-wing channel. In response, Newsmax, which has alleged “political discrimination” by DirecTV, has since trained its fire on Fox for not standing up for a fellow right-wing outlet. For example, Newsmax host Eric Bolling, a former Fox star, exclaimed on-air: “Where are you, Fox?!” But despite Fox’s zeal for pushing overhyped stories about conservatives being “censored,” it makes sense the network would ignore one involving its copycat—Fox is, after all and above all else, a business and Newsmax is its competitor. In a statement to Confider, a Newsmax rep wrote: “The fact Fox News won’t cover this blatant censorship of a conservative network like Newsmax demonstrates they can’t be trusted to be the only source of news for millions of Americans.” Fox News did not respond to a request for comment.
THE VIEW FROM WHERE SHERRI SITS: In the newest episode of The Last Laugh podcast, hosted by our colleague Matt Wilstein, daytime TV host Sherri Shepherd talks about the lessons learned from Ellen DeGeneres’ downfall and stepping into the spotlight once occupied by Wendy Williams. Additionally, she spills some tea on her seven years co-hosting The View, including behind-the-scenes stories of how Barbara Walters once made her weep and how she fought her way back from an embarrassing “flat-earther” scandal. Confider readers can get an early listen to the full conversation here.
WE HEAR WHISPERS: New York Times star journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin was furious to learn that a video message he taped for Katie Couric’s husband John Molner’s surprise 60th birthday party—a message he thought was private—was included in a press release touting the event’s sponsors. Confider’s sources say Sorkin even went so far as having his name removed from press reports about the bash.
IN PLAIN SIGHT: Embattled Broadway producer Scott Rudin outside the IAC building in Chelsea on Monday… NY1 mainstay and CNN analyst Errol Louis at Barclays Center on Saturday night, watching the Brooklyn Nets defeat the New York Knicks… Punchbowl senior congressional reporter Andrew Desiderio (a former Beast, now a Friend of Confider™) getting engaged to IP lawyer Julia Schroeder on a picturesque street in Georgetown on Saturday.
MORE FROM THE BEAST MEDIA DESK
—CNN appears to be following through on its promise to lean into middling “centrism.” The network will air Bill Maher’s “overtime” segments on Friday nights at 11:30 p.m. ET, following the conclusion of the cringe centrist’s talk show those nights over on HBO, CNN’s premium sister within the Warner Bros. Discovery family. More here.
—Rupert Murdoch suffered a major blow last week, withdrawing his master plan to reunite Fox Corp and News Corp into one empire. The humiliating defeat effectively casts the Murdoch succession plan into doubt, limiting Lachlan Murdoch’s future prospects and demonstrating that the family’s pursuit of power may finally be subject to shareholder whims. Read more from Daily Beast contributor Clive Irving here.
—Fox News was a source of unintentional comedy on Friday after authorities released videos from the night Paul Pelosi was brutally attacked in his San Francisco home. “Where is the evidence of a breaking and entering?” asked Fox News regular Brian Claypool, a peddler of conspiracy theories about the Pelosi assault, as footage showing a break-in played on-screen. After anchors Sandra Smith and John Roberts told their guest—who was on TV to discuss the footage, mind you—that the footage “clearly” depicted a forced entry, an embarrassed Claypool replied: “Maybe that’s true, maybe I’m wrong.” Watch here.
—The now-infamous tabloid phrase “catch and kill” is back in the news after The New York Times revealed that former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker served as a witness Monday for a Manhattan grand jury examining evidence of Donald Trump’s role in a $130,000 hush money payment to ex-porn star Stormy Daniels in the lead-up to the 2016 election. More here.
—Lachlan Murdoch has achieved a small victory in his defamation lawsuit against scrappy Aussie website Crikey, which called him an indicted co-conspirator in the Jan. 6 riots. ABC News Australia reports that the Fox mogul won an appeal to broaden the scope of his claims and add more defendants, including the chairman and the chief executive of Crikey’s publisher. More here.
—Yashar Ali’s defamation lawsuit against Los Angeles magazine “appears likely to survive an anti-SLAPP motion by the skin of its teeth,” Courthouse News reported. Read all about that here.
***WHAT ARE WE OUTRAGED ABOUT NOW?***
Sometimes the right-wing outrage-industrial complex’s lust for grievance content leads to trigger-happy pundits being a little too quick on the draw. This was absolutely the case last Wednesday when Fox Business Network hosts Maria Bartiromo and Cheryl Casone were apoplectic over an obvious joke—one that was itself a play on the latest Fox News-invented culture-war outrage. Days after M&M’s announced it was suspending its “spokescandies” after Tucker Carlson whined they were no longer fuckable, fast food chain A&W released a statement noting its mascot Rooty the Great Root Bear’s “lack of pants can be polarizing” and so he will “wear jeans going forward.” Fox News quickly promoted an online article about the supposed change, claiming A&W “is the latest company bowing to ‘woke.’” (After the company tweeted that the whole thing was a joke, the article was quietly updated.) Casone in particular fumed that the “woke police” decided that a “bear has to wear pants” now before adding: “Cancel culture has gone ridiculous!” Bartiromo, meanwhile, wondered “what’s the problem” with a pantless cartoon bear before telling A&W to “quit your crying.”
Confider will be back next week with more saucy scooplets. In the meantime, subscribe here and send us questions, complaints, or tips here.
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