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.
CBS 3D CHESS MOVES: CBS News can thank Brian Williams for Evening News anchor Norah O’Donnell re-upping with the network at a slightly lower salary. According to multiple people familiar with the situation, CBS earlier this year floated to the press that Williams, fresh off his MSNBC exit, had turned down offers from CBS co-president Neeraj Khemlani to replace O’Donnell on the network’s nightly flagship. The trial-ballooned story was meant to force O’Donnell—who has struggled to get her show out of third place and has long been rumored to be on the chopping block—to take a pay cut in order to stay on board. O’Donnell’s agent, UTA boss Jay Sures, countered that chess move by approaching former CBS exec Chris Licht to pitch O’Donnell for a CNN gig, two people familiar with the matter told us, but was rebuffed because the incoming CNN president could not negotiate before his start date. Nevertheless, sources told Confider, Sures then pitched a trade publication on a story about O’Donnell being in talks with CNN. That story never ran, depriving O’Donnell of much-needed leverage in her talks with CBS. She ultimately signed a new contract to stick with CBS for a lower rate, according to the people familiar with the situation. CBS co-prez Khemlani wrote in a statement: “This is wrong. I never met with Brian Williams about the Evening News. Period.” A rep for UTA declined to comment.
DISNEY FLACK FLAP: Disney broke out the tried-and-tested spin playbook and took a Friday night news dump by announcing the departure of comms chief Geoff Morrell in a hastily prepared statement. Morrell, who sources said failed to make friends in Hollywood or much of an impression on his colleagues in Burbank, only joined the Mouse House in January, taking the reins from the “acid-tongued” Zenia Mucha. Morrell allegedly ran roughshod over people both internally and externally and was economical with the truth with several reporters, according to five people who dealt with him over his four-month tenure. The former BP spin doctor managed to create his own Deepwater Horizon with his clunky handling of Disney’s response to Florida “Don’t Say Gay” bill, leaving CEO Bob Chapek looking like Goofy. Morrell had tried to centralize Disney's communications division with a re-org but ultimately fell on his sword leaving what was once one of the most-desired flack gigs in the country. A spox for Disney declined to comment.
CRAZY LIKE A FOX: The Fox News defense strategy for its upcoming defamation trial with Dominion Voting Systems appears to revolve around embracing election denialism, according to documents provided to Confider. Jackson Walker, the cable giant’s law firm on the case, filed open records requests for state election officials to provide documents related to Dominion. Liberal watchdog Media Matters is set to publish a story this week on those documents they obtained, which they and shared with us. In its $1.6 billion suit against Fox, the voting software company cited unfounded claims made on-air by numerous Fox News hosts and pundits accusing the firm of rigging the 2020 election for President Joe Biden, including baseless allegations that Dominion paid “kickbacks” to election officials to use its machines. Jackson Walker filed public record requests in at least nine states, seeking “documents and communications related to campaign contributions, financial contributions or other things of value” between Dominion and election offices. Additionally, Jackson Walker has asked for “documents and communications related to testing, analysis, certification, decertification or refusal to certify, accept or utilize equipment and/or software provided, maintained or supported by Dominion” and “documents and communications related to any criticisms of, or concerns about, the use of” Dominion’s equipment. This apparent attempt to validate the Dominion conspiracy theories comes after Fox publicly distanced itself from the election lies it once aired, even publicly feuding with top advertiser MyPillow guy Mike Lindell over his promotion of that same disinformation. Fox News lost its bid to dismiss Dominion’s suit late last year, and a jury trial is now set for April 2023. “This is, I think, the first real picture we get into where Fox is at strategically, and it doesn't feel like they're in a particularly strong place,” Media Matters boss Angelo Carusone told Confider, noting that depositions will likely start in the coming weeks. Fox News did not respond to a request for comment.
PLAGIARISM AT THE PEACOCK: On Monday afternoon, NBC News published a cryptic note to readers saying the outlet discovered 11 articles from a single reporter over the past year that contained plagiarized content. “In all cases, the passages were not central to the stories, but instead contained supplemental or background material that did not represent original reporting,” the network added, further noting that editor’s notes had been placed atop all of the offending articles. Interestingly, NBC wrote that the public note was written in the interest of “Maintaining the trust of our readers and viewers,” but did not specifically identify the reporter in question. NBC later added links to the offending stories but, prior to that, an NBC spokesperson confirmed to Confider that the journalist is Teaganne Finn, who joined the network in June 2021 to cover politics and is no longer with the company. An NBC insider emphasized to Confider that Finn’s infractions were “more lazy than nefarious.” Finn previously worked as a breaking-news reporter at Bloomberg, which declined to comment when asked by Confider whether the outlet plans to review her articles.
WATTERS UNDER THE BRIDGE: The Daily Show correspondent Ronny Chieng is perhaps best-known for his fiery response to a 2016 segment on The O’Reilly Factor in which Jesse Watters went to Chinatown and openly mocked Chinese-Americans who didn’t speak English. When our colleague, The Last Laugh podcast host Matt Wilstein, told Chieng about a recent clip of Watters, who has since failed upwards to become a primetime Fox News host, “joking” about the time he let the air out of a younger female colleague’s tires so he could give her a ride home, Chieng replied: “That’s pretty fucking disgusting.” The comedian fired off: “He looks and acts like a douchebag. So when there’s smoke, I think there’s fire… I would have more respect for him if he actually had his point of view and he gave it irrespective of who was in political power. He’s just like, ‘Who’s the Republican in power? I’m going to defend whatever they say.’ He never criticizes his own team. And unfortunately, the other aspect of it is that he’s just saying stuff to get controversy.” Listen to the full conversation with Chieng on this week’s new episode of The Last Laugh.
WE HEAR WHISPERS: Disgraced director Woody Allen is set to pick up his clarinet on May 16 and begin a Monday night residency at The Pierre hotel (featured in his 2019 film A Rainy Day in New York) that will be sure to ruffle feathers… While riding the Acela to D.C. on Friday (so sorry to do this), Confider overheard not one but two separate conversations about CNN host Jim Acosta confronting dopey MAGA Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene on the street over her “Marshall law” texts.
IN PLAIN SIGHT: Politico Playbook’s Ryan Lizza with New York’s Olivia Nuzzi at almost every WHCD party. With all the party-hopping it’s amazing the glamorous couple have time to write for their respective pubs… Bitcoin bros Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss in a bidding war with each other on Friday night over an exclusive Diplo NFT at The Robot Heart Foundation Inaugural Voyager Dinner at Hudson Mercantile ahead of Fare Forward, a Burning Man-inspired festival that was held in Central Park… CNN PR maven Matt Dornic at UTA’s Friday night WHCD bash at Fiola Mare throwing food at Confider from across a packed room (he missed).
More from the Beast’s Media Desk
—“Dave Rubin’s ‘Don’t Burn This Country’ Is His Desperate Plea for MAGA Love.” Daily Beast opinions editor Anthony L. Fisher read YouTuber and professional charlatan Dave Rubin’s new book and found it rife with the “self-loathing opportunism” that has made the former self-described “last liberal” a MAGA media sensation.
—“Meet the Sneakiest Defenders of Putin’s Invasion of Ukraine.” It’s not just right-wing media that giddily peddles Kremlin propaganda. In a lengthy reported column, Mathew Foresta looked into how self-styled “leftist” writers including former RT America host Lee Camp “rake in cash and followers” on social media by peddling misinfo about Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and/or the Chinese oppression of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region.
—“Axed Netflix Writers Speak Out: ‘This Was All a F*cking Lie.’” The streaming giant on Thursday laid off 10 staffers—mostly women of color—it hired to run Tudum, the fan-service news website it launched just months before. Our colleague Laura Bradley spoke with some of those pink-slipped employees who described the cruel and surreal ways they were treated.
—“Tucker Carlson and Charlie Kirk Wimp Out on Their Twitter Chest-Thumping.” Fox News host Tucker Carlson and TPUSA head Charlie Kirk talked a big game about never deleting the transphobic tweets that got their accounts locked. But—surprise!—they caved. And, of course, they pretended they did no such thing.
—The New York Times published a three-part series investigating Tucker Carlson’s meteoric rise from bowtied intellectual to far-right fringe agenda-setter. In speaking with dozens of his friends and former colleagues, and analyzing more than 1,000 episodes of Carlson’s show, the Times reported that Fox fact-checkers had discovered his screeds sometimes originated from stories on racist or neo-Nazi sites like Stormfront; that he blew up at colleagues who privately or publicly criticized his views, including calling a young Fox reporter up to yell at her to “shut your mouth”; and that his show’s success is built on “gleefully courting blowback, then fashioning himself as his aggrieved viewers’ partner in victimhood.”
—Mediaite reported that Fox News and MSNBC vet Greta Van Susteren is in talks to join Newsmax, a mildly peculiar move given the network’s overt MAGA bend and Greta’s penchant for framing herself as a moderate voice.
—Puck’s Dylan Byers reported on Monday that an assault lawsuit against CNN host Don Lemon has been dropped as plaintiff Dustin Hice now says he misremembered their encounter. Hice’s case completely fell apart in March and he was ordered by a judge to pay $77,000 worth of Lemon’s legal fees. The CNN star’s lawyer hailed the end of the suit—a “crass money grab from its inception”—and lamented “unethical” media coverage of Hice’s claims, “likely referring to Fox News, Megyn Kelly who gave it oxygen,” Byers noted.
**WHAT ARE WE OUTRAGED ABOUT NOW?**
More than a week after first blowing a gasket over “Bunnygate,” Fox News was still goofily attempting to make this “scandal” a thing. In case you forgot: conservative media lost its mind last month after a White House official dressed as the Easter Bunny interrupted POTUS while he spoke with a reporter at the Egg Roll event, claiming the moment as further proof that Biden is not actually in charge of the White House. On Thursday, a full 11 days after Easter, Fox News pundit Will Cain continued to grouse about the issue alongside anchor Harris Faulkner. “Look, I’m saying this somewhat facetiously, but not completely,” he said. “Will he come out with the Easter Bunny? Will the Easter Bunny be there to guide him along the way?… Let me again only half-heartedly, facetiously ask this question: Who is in the costume? Who is the Easter Bunny?”
© 2022 The Daily Beast Company LLC I 555 W. 18th Street, New York NY, 10011
If you are on a mobile device or cannot view the images in this message, click here to view this email in your browser. To ensure delivery of these emails, please add firstname.lastname@example.org to your address book. Was this email forwarded to you? Sign up here. If you no longer wish to receive these emails, or think you have received this message in error, you can safely unsubscribe.