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 — NETWORK OF LIES, PT. 1: Fox News star Jeanine Pirro failed her way up into a coveted seat on the most-watched cable-news show in America. And Tucker Carlson’s lengthy rap sheet of insubordination with Fox News brass extended way beyond his election conspiracy-mongering and into international politics. These are some of the revelations unearthed in Brian Stelter’s new book, Network of Lies: The Epic Saga of Fox News, Donald Trump, and the Battle for American Democracy, due out next Tuesday, parts of which were shared exclusively with Confider. First, the Pirro bit: Confider readers may recall how the blustery former judge was named in the Dominion lawsuit as being a key booster of unhinged election lies on Fox’s air. Less than a year after the suit was filed, Pirro’s weekend show, Justice With Judge Jeanine, was ended and she was named as a permanent co-host on The Five, Fox’s 5 p.m. panel gabfest. The move was widely viewed as a promotion for Pirro—indeed, she instantly became a fixture on what is now the highest-viewed show in all of cable news—but as it turns out, her fancy new gig was supposed to be a demotion. Stelter reports: “‘Pirro was a problem,’ two sources said, using the same language and citing what Dominion found through the discovery process, namely that Pirro’s stubborn, slavish Trumpiness clashed with Fox execs who’d grown tired of her histrionic shenanigans. She submitted drafts of her opening monologue ahead of time, but when higher-ups dared to suggest tweaks, she was liable to accuse them of censorship. She caused headaches week after week. To put it bluntly, ‘nobody wanted to deal with her,’ one of the sources said. Her own executive producer called her a ‘reckless maniac.’ Scott had an open conservative seat on The Five, so by moving Pirro there, she solved two problems at once. Pirro was far easier to manage on a five-person talk show—she wasn’t writing monologues or picking guests anymore. She was also reaching a larger audience, five days a week, than she was on Saturdays. But it was pointed out to me that The Five is not the cushiest job for a seventy-something former prosecutor to hold. Pirro was now in the studio five days a week and sharing the stage with the likes of the grandstanding Jesse Watters. Solo-hosting once a week was definitely easier for her—but harder on the managers and lawyers.”
EXCLUSIVE — NETWORK OF LIES, PT. 2: Elsewhere in Network of Lies, Stelter reveals another previously unreported instance in which Tucker Carlson deliberately usurped the authority of his Fox News bosses and further contributed to his eventual exit. The far-right firebrand star’s 2021 visit to Budapest, where he filmed an entire week of shows fawning over Hungary’s autocratic president Viktor Orbán, was done entirely without Fox permission, an executive involved with the situation told Stelter, who further writes: “A tug-of-war was underway between people of good faith and all parties who wanted to protect American democracy, and those on the other side of the rope who tugged in an authoritarian direction. Carlson’s unapproved trip to Hungary in 2021 was surely in the latter category. Carlson whipped his show up into an infomercial for Viktor Orbán’s increasingly autocratic, patriarchal nation.” The disgraced Fox host was set to return to Hungary for CPAC’s Budapest gathering in 2022, Stelter reports, “but someone at Fox, I was told, reined him in, and he merely sent a videotaped message.” In return, “Orbán praised Carlson and said ‘programs like his should be broadcasted day and night. Or as you say 24/7.’” Neither Carlson nor a rep for Fox News responded to requests for comment.
EXCLUSIVE — INSIDE THE WAPO UNVEILING: The Washington Post’s incoming CEO Will Lewis made his first public appearance before Post staffers in an all-hands meeting on Monday just days after he was announced as Fred Ryan’s successor. Speaking from the center of the newsroom, internally dubbed “the Hub,” alongside interim CEO Patty Stonesifer, executive editor Sally Buzbee, and opinions editor David Shipley, Lewis introduced himself to the editorial and business teams and laid out his journalistic bonafides, including how he missed working in news (“I so wish I was a journalist,” he said). One thing he promised not to do was lay out a strategic plan for the paper until he better learned the business, so as to avoid ending up in the foot-in-mouth situation Stonesifer found herself in when she announced company-wide buyouts last month. “Please don’t take anything I say today as an action,” Lewis said in the meeting, sources relayed to Confider, later telling staffers that if they were looking for a well-constructed plan from him during the all-hands, “you’re going to be disappointed, not going to happen.” Lewis seemed to charm staffers, many of whom laughed at his various jokes and pressed him on issues ranging from how he would work with the Post’s business side, his past employers’ various scandals, and his mandate from owner Jeff Bezos. “People found him likable,” a Post staffer told Confider after the meeting. Lewis also told the group that he was pro-union, a notable declaration as the Post Guild heads into its sixteenth month of contract negotiations. Lewis was announced as the Post’s next publisher late Saturday—minutes after the news was scooped by The New York Times.
EXCLUSIVE — TAPPER’S NOT-SO-THRILLING SALES: As we noted back in the summer, CNN star Jake Tapper tapped all of his famous pals to plug his latest book All the Demons Are Here: A Thriller, resulting in a clearly coordinated deluge of Instagram posts from CNN colleagues like Kate Bolduan and Kaitlan Collins, on-air segments from Fareed Zakaria and Erin Burnett, and A-list video endorsements from Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jimmy Kimmel, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Seth Meyers. So just how well did this full-throttle, zero-shame media blitz work? According to BookScan figures obtained by Confider, Tapper's book has sold 13,196 copies total since its July 11 launch. To put it in cable-news perspective, Fox News “straight news” anchor Bret Baier sold 14,000 copies of his latest book, To Rescue the Constitution: George Washington and the Fragile American Experiment, in just one week. Tapper declined to comment.
EXCLUSIVE — SIDEBAR OF SHAME: It touts itself as the world’s leading online tabloid with its frothy mix of celebrity, crime, and politics, but the Daily Mail was left scrambling recently when a process server turned up at their L.A. offices after a top finance exec forgot to pay the rent, Confider has learned. Stephanie Rubin, DailyMail.com’s highly ambitious head of finance, who has started popping up in marketing and sales meetings at the Mail’s NY offices, forgot to pay invoices for the lease on the website’s office in Marina del Rey, according to two people familiar with the matter. It led to a process server being dispatched and serving papers to the site’s U.S. showbiz editor, who was at the office at the time. Staffers say Rubin is a favorite of DMG Media CEO Rich Caccappolo, who has empowered her to have input on areas outside of her expertise. We’ve been informed that the Daily Mail quickly coughed up the rent that was owed. A rep for the Daily Mail declined to comment.
EXCLUSIVE — THE WRAP TURNOVER: Two years after we first reported on Sharon Waxman’s yearslong reign as a “degrading” boss atop TheWrap, the award-winning Hollywood trade pub she founded, Confider has learned that over the past year, the site has lost a number of high-profile managers and editors—including two executive editors within a span of just 10 months. Several splashy hires and promotions announced in spring 2022 have recently exited the company: Jayson Goldberg lasted less than a year as a brand partnerships director; former Tribune Publishing exec Dan Strauss, who joined TheWrap in June 2021, was made COO less than a year later but exited the company this past March; and Jethro Nededog, who started as a top editor for TheWrap’s subscription service and was promoted to co-executive editor in January, suddenly called it quits last month. Nededog confirmed to Confider that he resigned from TheWrap, declining to comment any further. Other notable exits include senior news editor Rosemary Rossi, who bolted for a People mag weekend gig after six years at TheWrap; contributing editor Ben Svetkey, who exited for a full-time gig at The Hollywood Reporter after being recently nominated alongside Waxman for an LA Press Club award for a feature they did together on novelist Gigi Levangie Grazer; and Joe Bel Bruno, an entertainment journalism vet whom Waxman hired as an editor-at-large for business in March 2022, lasting only eight months before he was gone. “When you work with Sharon, you go in knowing you're either going to be fired or you’re going to quit. Or both,” Bel Bruno told Confider. Unlike Bel Bruno, however, Svetkey told Confider that his experience working with Waxman was extremely positive and he had nothing but good things to say about his time at TheWrap. The outlet’s high-level turnover comes amid a tough time for media in general—but Waxman has managed to attract some new talent nevertheless, namely former W magazine editor Stefano Tonchi, who joined in July as executive editor of TheWrapBOOK, and former New York Times columnist and correspondent Alexei Barrionuevo, who joined as business editor last month. “TheWrap has been expanding its staff this year and continues to attract the most talented journalists and executives ever in its history at a time when all digital media … has faced serious challenges,” TheWrap’s president and COO, Edward Menicheschi, emailed Confider. “We are proud of our award-winning reporting, nominated for 14 NAEJ awards just last week including best entertainment website, and our team.”
MORE FROM THE BEAST MEDIA DESK
—Turns out Gannett was serious about hiring someone to cover Taylor Swift full time. The company unveiled its newest reporter in a glossy profile in Variety on Monday, complete with his Swift-laden application video. Learn more about the hire here.
—The White House demanded Fox News issue an apology to its viewers after host Jesse Watters made Islamophobic remarks on The Five last week. Read about his incendiary comments, and the White House’s scathing reply, here.
—House Speaker Mike Johnson responded to various questions (including one on a Daily Beast report) on this week’s Fox News Sunday, showcasing the latest work by his new comms chief (and former Fox executive) Raj Shah. Read our dive into his new flack here.
—There has been a strong drumbeat of late that Jeff Zucker is looking to make a play for the U.K’s Telegraph and during lunch with the Financial Times’ Matthew Garrahan the former CNN head honcho does nothing to put a stop to the speculation. Read that here.
—Journalists worldwide have increasingly been threatened by various forms of “SLAPP” lawsuits, which they told The Guardian were often just attempts to silence their work. Read the paper’s look into the latest assault on free speech here.
—The Atlantic’s Charlie Warzel took a look at the once-symbiotic—and now heavily fractured—relationship between social-media companies and the news business, noting how one helped precipitate the fall of the other. Read his column here.
***WHAT ARE WE OUTRAGED ABOUT NOW?***
“ROBOTS ARE RACIST?” That was the on-air graphic blaring on Fox News last week after President Joe Biden signed an executive order requiring equity, civil-rights guidance, and safety assessments on AI’s impact on the labor market. According to the right-wing outrage-industrial complex, this was just further proof of “wokeness” running amok. On top of that, it gave conservative pundits an opportunity to engage in one of their favorite pastimes: mocking Vice President Kamala Harris, who traveled overseas to warn about the “existential threats” AI poses. “She truly is artificially intelligent,” Fox News host Greg Gutfled sneered during Tuesday’s broadcast of The Five. “AI is going to send us to dinner for bugs and fake meat,” co-host Katie Pavlich groused. Jesse Watters, meanwhile, casually threw around stereotypes while arguing that AI engineers are making software that discriminates against white people. “A lot of these people are not from this country,” he argued. “I am telling you the demographic profile of the engineer skews not just left, it skews far left. And so when Kamala Harris comes out and says we need to fight discrimination in AI, she is fighting for discrimination. She is fighting for the ability of AI to discriminate against us!” A day later, Watters would use his perch on Fox’s most-watched show to declare that he has “had it” with Arab-Americans and Muslims, proving there’s no AI program preventing him from saying racist stuff.
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.