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 — CNN DRAMA BECOMES UTA DRAMA: The drama consuming CNN’s morning show has now apparently spilled over into a top talent agency. Rival agencies are circling some of United Talent Agency’s biggest names after CNN rising star Kaitlan Collins decided to fire her agent, UTA chief Jay Sures, over the handling of her off-air bust up with Don Lemon, a fellow UTA client, Confider has learned. It comes as another big on-air name, MSNBC’s Symone Sanders, also dumped UTA last week for WME, where Collins has also just signed. UTA reps some of the biggest names in news, including CNN stars Jake Tapper, Anderson Cooper, Kate Bolduan, Dana Bash, John Berman and Alisyn Camerota; ABC News personalities David Muir, Rebecca Jarvis and Ginger Zee; CBS hosts Norah O’Donnell, Lesley Stahl and Bill Whitaker; and NBC Newsers Chuck Todd, Jen Psaki and Tom Llamas. When Collins needed Sures the most he “ghosted” her to instead look after Lemon, according to two people familiar with the situation. Now sensing blood in the water, agents at CAA and WME have been reaching out to Sures’ clients, sources told us, in the hopes of poaching them. Sures, who is well-known for his leaks to the press in the hope of boosting his clients and trashing rivals, has seen his industry influence wane in recent years, particularly at CNN where, our sources said he has made it known he doesn’t think current CEO Chris Licht is up to the job. In fact, Sures, who has no experience as a TV executive or a journalist, has told multiple people he should be running CNN and spent months promoting himself as a candidate through columns, including some written by Puck scribe Dylan Byers, another UTA client. Byers mentioned Sures in seven separate pieces while writing about the future leadership of CNN, while only declaring in three a conflict of interest. On Feb. 2, 2022, Byers reported: “While casting about for other hypothetical replacements, some in [Jeff] Zucker’s orbit floated the idea that Sures himself could be a candidate, given that he has closer relationships with CNN talent than anyone besides Zucker and [Allison] Gollust.” And then on Feb. 6: “But when it comes to having the love and loyalty of CNN insiders, Sures is unrivaled. Moreover, as I’ve been surveying CNN executives and on-air talent over the last 96 hours, more and more of them seem to be piqued by the idea of a Sures-led CNN. Like Zucker, he’s competitive and plays to win.” Byers later admitted that, despite his reporting, Warner Bros. Discovery chief David Zaslav never actually spoke with Sures about the job. “Meanwhile, UTA superagent Jay Sures had the connections but not the broadcasting and journalism experience,” he wrote on Feb. 26 after Licht was named to the gig. “Anyway, I’ve since learned that Zaslav never spoke to any of the aforementioned names about the job.” Since June 1, 2022, Byers had written more than 40 columns about CNN, many of them highly critical of Licht. “Chris and Jay are friends,” a UTA spokesperson emailed Confider. “Jay has the utmost respect for Chris and has no desire to do anything except his role as Vice Chairman of UTA.” Byers told Confider: “Thanks for being such a close reader. I have no comment.”
EXCLUSIVE — FOX TRIES TO SILENCE TOP PRODUCER: Fox News is now taking legal action against one of its top producers in an effort to silence her amid the ongoing Dominion lawsuit. In a Monday complaint filed in the Supreme Court of New York, Fox News alleged that Abby Grossberg, a senior booking producer for Tucker Carlson, has threatened the network with a discrimination lawsuit and, in doing so, has threatened to publicly disclose privileged conversations she had with Fox News lawyers in advance of her own deposition in the Dominion defamation case. Grossberg’s threats, the network wrote, has forced Fox to seek a court order silencing her. The top producer worked on Maria Bartiromo’s weekend show during the 2020 election and was among those who received the “wackadoodle” memo from “Kraken” lawyer Sidney Powell, written by a self-described “ghost” woman, that served as the basis for some of the baseless election-fraud claims Fox News aired. Grossberg was deposed by Dominion last fall and testified that the memo, which Powell sent along and used for her claims on TV, “isn’t something that I would use right now as reportable for air, no.” At the same time, Grossberg “knew what Powell would say on air on November 8,” according to Dominion’s recent brief, and was aware at the time of the thin sourcing of her claim. Grossberg has yet to file a suit against Fox, but Monday’s complaint indicated she has threatened to sue for “alleged discrimination and retaliation claims against Fox News under the New York State Human Rights Laws (NYSHRL) and the New York City Human Rights Laws (NYCHRL).” According to the network, the producer’s threat to disclose conversations with Fox News attorneys “will violate Fox News’ right to maintain the confidentiality of those communications under the attorney-client privilege and the work product doctrine.” A Fox News spokesperson emailed Confider: “Ms. Grossberg has threatened to disclose Fox’s attorney-client privileged information and we have filed a temporary restraining order to protect our rights.” Grossberg’s attorney Parisis G. Filippatos told Confider: “Having just received and read Fox News’ frivolous attempt to silence Abby Grossberg we are happy that the full story regarding her case will now be heard by three separate courts in each of which we are confident she will receive the justice she deserves and certainly the fair treatment which she hasn’t experienced thus far from her employer Fox News.” Read the full story here.
THE FIFTH (AND FINAL?) WEDDING: Serial husband and divorcee Rupert Murdoch is officially getting hitched again. Confider first reported last month that Uncle Rupes, 92, was smitten with former police chaplain Ann Lesley Smith, 66, and intended to make her his fifth wife. The billionaire Fox News mogul confirmed their engagement to his own New York Post on Monday—which, of course, made no mention of our reporting—and said he proposed on St. Patrick’s Day with an Asscher-cut diamond. “I was very nervous,” he confessed. “I dreaded falling in love—but I knew this would be my last. It better be.” The pair revealed they met at Murdoch’s Bel Air vineyard last fall, just one month after Murdoch finalized his divorce from fourth wife Jerry Hall (a divorce we reported was assisted by chief heir Lachlan Murdoch). The latest installment of “Rupert Gets Married” is set to premiere in the late summer.
NEWSMAX FOR YOU: As Newsmax continues to enlist GOP allies to force DirecTV to pay them millions, the little-watched pro-Trump channel is scrounging for cash wherever it can find it. In recent weeks, the network has repeatedly aired lengthy advertorials during its news broadcasts, often disguised as serious interviews with a Medicare expert. The “segments” ostensibly revolve around anchors discussing Diane Ohmdahl’s how-to guide for soon-to-be seniors, Medicare for You, which the author describes over the course of a few minutes as providing secrets to save thousands of dollars when signing up for Medicare. After the interview, however, the host says “everybody should read your book” before offering it for “free” to Newsmax viewers. The catch: it’s a “special offer” including a three-month trial subscription to Newsmax’s HealthRadar newsletter and a $4.95 S&H charge for the book. And, of course, the “trial subscription comes with a convenient automatic renewal,” which costs $42.95 a year. Ohmdahl has made near-daily appearances on Newsmax programming since the start of the month. Last week the network also aired a separate medicare supplement advertorial that included lengthy, at-times clunky disclaimers. Move over, non-stop lubricated catheter commercials on Fox News—there’s a newer, more aggressive cable-news sheriff exploiting the elderly in town! Newsmax did not respond to a request for comment.
THE ACLU VS. WAPO: The ongoing saga between Felicia Sonmez and The Washington Post now involves the American Civil Liberties Union. The nonprofit’s D.C. affiliate filed an amicus brief on Friday in support of Sonmez’s appeal in her discrimination lawsuit against the paper. The ACLU argued that the D.C. Court of Appeals should not consider her claims to be a “SLAPP” case under the district’s anti-SLAPP law designed to dismiss lawsuits brought against those engaging in protected speech. The Post claims it engaged in “protected expression” when it barred Sonmez, a survivor, from covering sexual-assault stories, but the ACLU said that considering her claims in this light “could deter the filing of meritorious civil rights cases in situations that pose none of the dangers the Anti-SLAPP Act were intended to address.” That, in turn, could affect D.C. journalists who could file discrimination suits in the future, it wrote. “The Post’s gambit seeks to stretch the law that the [D.C.] Council enacted to help local activists into a law that will protect the institutional media for conduct far afield from the public expression of views on issues of public interest,” it wrote. In a statement to Confider, Sonmez wrote: “Journalists, like all other workers, have the right to do their jobs in an environment free from discrimination. It is alarming that the Washington Post and the coalition of media organizations supporting it would seek the power to freely violate their employees’ rights—and then hide behind the notion of ‘free speech.’” A rep for the Post said the paper would not comment on ongoing litigation.
(LOSING IT) IN PLAIN SIGHT: Today News Africa reporter Simon Ateba, a notorious gadfly who claims he’s been removed from the WHCA, had a very public meltdown on Monday—in the presence of the Ted Lasso stars no less. With Jason Sudeikis and Hannah Waddingham, et al, standing around awkwardly on-stage, Ateba began heckling press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre for not taking enough of his questions. Later on, when Ateba’s tantrum continued, one journalist let out an exasperated yelp while others, including Reuters scribe Jeff Mason and columnist Brian Karem, stepped in to shut him down with stern lectures. Watch the chaos unfold here.
MORE FROM THE BEAST MEDIA DESK
—CNN hasn’t been able to fill its glaring 9 p.m. void and so, as Confider first reported, the network turned to a series of town-hall events and celeb interviews. That strategy has proven a ratings failure. Read about that here.
—Conservative writer Bethany Mandel, co-author of a new book pinning society’s ills on all things “woke,” struggled to define the word to TV host Briahna Joy Gray. She later blamed her flub on something Gray said off-air minutes earlier. The whole thing was just straight-up goofy. Check it out here.
—We’ve long known that Stephen A. Smith is friends with Sean Hannity, but today came news that the ESPN star is also pals with Mark Levin, a career windbag who apparently enjoys sports when not screaming spittle-flecked rants about Marxists or whatever into his radio mic. More here via Mediaite.
—Let’s take a moment to tout our colleague Jake Lahut’s brand-new 2024 election column, aptly titled “Trail Mix.” Keep an eye on that and read the first installment here.
***WHAT ARE WE OUTRAGED ABOUT NOW?***
First the “woke” left came for our gas stoves. Then our XBoxes and Legos. Now they are coming for our washing machines, according to the right-wing faux-outrage industrial complex. Fox News and other conservative media outlets went wild last week with misleading claims about the Department of Energy’s latest energy-efficient proposals for household appliances. While even manufacturers who lobbied against the regulations admit the new standards wouldn’t impact performance, right-wing pundits repeatedly insisted that the “idiotic” ban on “super-sized water” would leave clothes “dirtier” and smellier. “They’ve ruined our toilets, they’ve ruined our dishwashers,” Fox Business host Sean Duffy groused at one point. “Listen, nothing works in the home. Enough with these liberals, get them out of here.” One Fox guest even decided to use conservative media’s one joke: “Before long, you'll have to say your preferred pronouns to get the dishwasher to work.”
Confider will be back next week with more saucy scooplets. In the meantime,
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