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 — THE RISE OF REBEKAH: The top job in the Murdoch media empire will go to Rebekah Brooks, with insiders telling Confider she will take the reins of a remarried News Corp and Fox Corp if and when the much talked-about deal is complete. Brooks is now positioned to take over for Robert Thomson, the current CEO of News Corp, who is expected to step aside on completion of the merger, people familiar with the matter told Confider. The deal to remarry the two companies is the brainchild of Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of News Corp, and his son Lachlan, the CEO of Fox Corporation who would sit on high as chairman of a newly reunited company. Insiders told Confider that there is one more “big deal” the sprightly 91-year-old is keen to make before he departs to the big newsroom in the sky. Just what that deal is, well, it’s a tightly held secret within a massive media empire stretching from newspapers in Australia to the ever-lucrative cable giant Fox News. Brooks is currently the CEO of News UK and is something of a teflon figure in Murdoch land: After a stint atop Murdoch’s British tabloid The Sun, she took over its parent company News International before resigning in 2011 amid the News of the World phone-hacking scandal. She returned to the empire in 2015 and is now poised to take over—the rewards of being a loyal and much-loved executive considered a second daughter to Rupert. Sources told Confider that some recent changes within the empire, such as the elevation of Sunday Times editor Emma Tucker to run The Wall Street Journal, were spearheaded by Brooks. Fox and News Corp split into two in 2013 after the phone-hacking scandal and while the reunion faces opposition from a large number of shareholders, sources emphasized to Confider that the Murdochs, both patriarch and heir, remain fully determined to rejoin the companies. A rep for News Corp declined to comment.
EXCLUSIVE — ABC’S WALTERS SENDOFF: More than a few ABC News staffers are miffed about how the network handled announcing TV legend Barbara Walters’ death on-air, multiple senior employees relayed to Confider. ABC didn’t have their breaking news sherpa David Muir on hand to announce the news late last month, nor did it trot out George Stephanopoulos or Robin Roberts to cut in with the report. Instead, ABC left it to no-name correspondent Phil Lipof to announce Walters’ death—even though rumors of her ill health had been circulating for some time and network bigwigs were fully aware. Contrast that with how ABC News handled the 2005 death of Peter Jennings, another network legend, when longtime anchor Charles Gibson was there to report the news. “Her name is on the fucking building,” one irate staffer told Confider, referring to how the ABC News building at 47 West 66th St. in NYC was renamed in Walters’ honor after she first retired in 2014. ABC staffers who spoke with Confider said this slip-up is yet another sloppy episode in Kim Godwin’s tenure as head of ABC News. “We are proud of our news team for expertly producing heartfelt coverage of Barbara’s life and passing,” a rep for ABC News told Confider.
EXCLUSIVE — DOING THE DARNDEST THING: Disgraced comedian Bill Cosby plans to tour this year, his reps revealed while everyone was hungover around the holidays, and now the women who’ve accused him of sexual assault are understandably pissed. “If anybody deserves a comeback tour, it's the women he traumatized and abused. I’m for those women,” former college basketball player Andrea Constand told Confider. Constand accused Cosby of sexually assaulting her at his home in 2004. Former model Chloe Goins, who claimed the comedian assaulted her at the Playboy Mansion in 2008, said: “I can guarantee that you'll never make a comeback...You'll keep getting protested and booed at your shows.” She continued: “I think he's just trying to make people forget what is now etched into his dark past… He appears to be making the same calculated moves on his fan base that he used on us women he manipulated.” After spending three years in prison, Cosby, 85, had his rape conviction overturned on a technicality in June 2021. Cosby has denied all claims against him and a rep declined to comment when reached.
THE BOY KING’S EMPIRE: Just a few years ago, after Rush Limbaugh kicked the bucket, Vanity Fair asked who among several right-wing wannabe media mavens would win out as conservatism’s next kingpin. If podcasting is any indicator, it appears as though Daily Wire boy king Ben Shapiro is the clear winner. According to data compiled by TheRighting, a watchdog that analyzes trends in right-wing media, Shapiro’s empire had three of the fastest-growing conservative podcasts at the end of last year. Thanks to Shapiro’s eponymous podcast and the recent addition of self-help crank Jordan Peterson’s show, The Daily Wire absolutely dominated all right-wing competitors in overall listenership and new subscribers. In Q4 2022, three other Daily Wire podcasts—Morning Wire, Candace, and the Matt Walsh Show—were the fastest-growing among all right-wing podcasts, per TheRighting’s data. “Shapiro’s got the number one brand in right wing podcasting and his popularity is unrivaled at this moment,” said TheRighting’s founder Howard Polskin. “Dan Bongino is coming on strong but he’s got roughly a fifth of Shapiro’s subscribers.”
EXCLUSIVE — UP AND DOWN THE HILL: Beltway newspaper and digital media outlet The Hill welcomed the new year by unveiling a brand-new org chart—and what seemingly amounts to a demotion for longtime Editor-in-Chief Bob Cusack. In a staff-wide email obtained and reviewed by Confider, the company’s EVP and GM Jason Jedlinski revealed on Thursday that programming SVP Sarah Katt—who was hired by parent company Nexstar in August—will take over Cusack’s duties overseeing the events team as well as The Hill TV, which produces Rising, a popular online morning show. According to the memo, Cusack will also now share supervisory duties over the newsroom with Josh Awtry, SVP of audience. With parts of his job redistributed, Cusack will “focus externally” and “host live journalism events,” the memo added, but he will continue to be the “public ‘voice’ of our brand” and remain “accountable for all editorial judgment calls.” Awtry, who joined The Hill last May, “will lead newsroom strategy and operations” while “focusing inward” in order to “define success and set expectations for editors and reporters.” Notably, The Hill’s new organizational chart showed Awtry and Katt on the same level as Cusack, all reporting to Jedlinski. The site’s masthead now has Cusack as the fourth name down, when just a few months ago he was second on the list. Rising, which has seen its viewership plummet in recent months amid some controversies and the departure of several stars, will also soon begin broadcasting live under the guidance of Executive Producer Gabi Schulte and host Robby Soave, according to the memo. Sources who spoke with Confider complained that the reorg effectively blurs the lines between the company’s editorial and business sides. “Nexstar claims to be in the journalism business but their management of The Hill sure proves otherwise,” one reporter lamented. “I wonder if Axios is still hiring.” Another newsroom source suggested that these recent changes were part of a long-running battle between Cusack and Jedlinski, whom Nexstar has recently considered replacing amid ongoing drama at the outlet. Nexstar chief spokesperson Gary Weitman told Confider that the “memo speaks for itself,” and that it merely shared “organizational updates.” The note reaffirmed Cusack’s role as editor-in-chief, Weitman added. “I’m not sure how anyone could misinterpret that.”
IN PLAIN SIGHT: Plenty of media stars on hand for New York magazine scribe Olivia Nuzzi’s 30th birthday bash, including her fiancé Ryan Lizza (debuting an apparent new lewk with Dahmer-like retro frames), CNN host Kaitlan Collins, and Politico Playbook co-author Eugene Daniels. The party ended at Joyface, a 1970s themed cocktail bar in Alphabet City featuring a waterbed.
MORE FROM THE BEAST MEDIA DESK
—Six years after Access Hollywood tapes derailed his career, leaked audio showed Billy Bush making a crude sexual joke about Kendall Jenner during a taping of Extra. The show saw no issue with the quip, claiming it was part of the show’s “banter” process and was left on the cutting room floor. More here.
—Seriously pathetic beef between two former Newsmax colleagues spilled out into the public last week. Grant Stinchfield, who was dumped by Newsmax just last year, filmed a video of himself telling his replacement Eric Bolling to “sue your plastic surgeon” after the ex-Fox host criticized Stinchfield’s bonkers anti-vaxx take on the Damar Hamlin cardiac arrest. Read about the latest battle between media people we wish we’d never heard of here.
—Last week’s seemingly unending “Never Kevin” chaos exposed a massive rift within the GOP, but it also tore apart Fox News, the party’s de facto comms arm. Most astonishingly: Tucker Carlson branded his own colleague Ben Domenech a “buffoon” part of a “moron community” backing Kevin McCarthy’s speakership. Read about that here.
—At the end of his bombshell sitdown chat with Prince Harry, 60 Minutes correspondent Anderson Cooper revealed that Buckingham Palace demanded access to the interview before it aired. CBS declined, as did ABC when palace reps tried to pull the same demand over Michael Strahan’s Monday morning GMA chat with the estranged prince. Read all about it here.
—Six journalists for a state-run news org were detained by South Sudan police over viral footage of President Salva Kiir pissing himself at an official event. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Kiir was filmed standing for the national anthem while a wet stain appeared on his pants and a pool of liquid formed at his feet and the cameras abruptly cut away. Read more here.
— A fiercely dedicated group of Celine Dion fans—Celineheads? Dion Diehards?—came down from Montreal to protest outside Rolling Stone’s NYC HQ last week after the mag inexplicably left her off their “200 Greatest Singers of All Time.” Despite the outrage, the piece did the exact job of all such lists: pissed people off, created a discourse out of thin air, and gained some publicity. Read about the demonstrations here.
***WHAT ARE WE OUTRAGED ABOUT NOW?***
A current hallmark of the right-wing outrage-industrial complex is to spot “wokeness” in places it doesn’t even exist. Take, for example, Fox News’ recent screeching about iconic Batman villain Joker’s “pregnancy.” In DC’s recent edition of the offshoot series The Man Who Stopped Laughing, the Clown Prince of Crime wants superheroine Zatanna to have his baby. The entirely fictional female character, however, not only rejects his offer but casts a spell that nobody will ever bear Joker’s child—backfiring to the point where he becomes pregnant. Though there is no mention of transgenderism or anything related to LGBTQ identity in the comic book, conservative media immediately lost its collective mind over the “grotesque” storyline, calling for a “Total BOYCOTT of The Joker until further notice.” Fox News “media critic” Joe Concha, whose main shtick is performative outrage, admitted on Monday morning that it’s “not like the Joker became transgender” before saying “who cares” and getting down to business: “No longer the Joker, he’s the Woker,” a self-satisfied Concha quipped. Over on midday chatfest Outnumbered, the hosts yelled in horror over the “real graphic” images. “I don’t know what to say,” Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum lamented. “Whenever I see this stuff I just think we are so far away from where we need to be focused in terms of moving forward as a nation.” While lead anchor Harris Faulkner snarked about purple M&M’s—another current dumb outrage—Fox News contributor Lisa Marie Boothe claimed “we are trying to protect the innocence of children and now they are trying to deny children of that innocence.”
Confider will be off next week for Martin Luther King Jr. Day and will return with more saucy scooplets the week after. In the meantime, subscribe here and send us questions, complaints, or tips here.
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