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 — MONDAY MEDIA MASSACRE, PT. 1: The shock exits of Tucker Carlson at Fox News and Don Lemon at CNN share striking similarities: Both came about after the anchors created an endless stream of controversies and distractions for their parent companies; both were their respective network’s highest-profile stars who thought they were bigger than their platforms; and both were undone by their own hubris. In Carlson’s case, it was Fox Corp CEO Lachlan Murdoch and Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott who made the call on Friday night to can him and his show, Confider has learned, thanks largely (and surprisingly) in part to vulgar comments he made about Sidney Powell, the right-wing lawyer behind many of the bonkers 2020 election lies pushed on Fox’s airwaves. Tucker was already pissing off Fox management between his conspiracy-laden coverage of the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, including the repeated and baseless targeting of Trump supporter Ray Epps as being an FBI agent who instigated the insurrection; a looming lawsuit from his former producer Abby Grossberg alleging a sexist work environment; and his disparaging remarks about Fox brass in documents, some of which were made public and others which were redacted. But most egregious, and what loomed large in his termination, people familiar with the matter told Confider, was how during his deposition with Dominion lawyers, when he was asked if “this wasn’t the only time you referred to Sidney Powell as a cunt,” the Fox News star responded: “You know I-I-I can’t know and I just want to apologize preemptively. I mean you’re trying to embarrass me, you’re definitely succeeding as I am embarrassed.” Carlson being nailed in court documents for his repeated use of the overtly misogynist c-word was a key factor in his demise, as Fox News had rid itself of Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly after years of sexual-harassment complaints and could not have its biggest star undermining any supposed progress. Carlson, who was given no reason for his termination, was stunned by the development, people familiar with the situation told Confider. He told staffers who inquired: “I have no idea what’s going on.” Neither Carlson nor Fox News responded to requests for comment.
EXCLUSIVE —MONDAY MEDIA MASSACRE, PT. 2: In Lemon’s case, it was less of a surprise. His long record of diva-like behavior on and off the air set in motion his demise, people familiar with the situation told us. That includes previously unreported behavior like refusing to attend pre-production rehearsals for CNN This Morning because he was “pissed” he wasn’t the center of the show and would have to share equal hosting duties with co-anchors Poppy Harlow and rising star Kaitlan Collins. Lemon even had a meltdown in front of bosses after being informed he would not be allowed to drink alcohol on-air during CNN’s New Year’s Eve telecast, two people familiar with the matter told Confider. And then there was Lemon’s remark about GOP star Nikki Haley and her “prime,” which generated weeks of bad publicity for the show and made several celebrities and politicians wary of being booked on the program with him. Lemon’s fate had been sealed for weeks, people with knowledge of the matter told us, and he was keenly aware of his coming exit, calling around over the last week for a crisis comms specialist to help out. He ultimately decided on Allison Gollust, who previously ran comms for CNN and resigned from the network two weeks after former CEO Jeff Zucker was fired for not disclosing his relationship with her. CNN CEO Chris Licht had hoped to give Lemon a soft landing and had Amy Entelis, CNN’s executive VP for talent, reach out to the star’s agent, Jay Sures of UTA, to negotiate an exit. Lemon was invited to meet with Licht on Monday afternoon, and would have been given an opportunity to say goodbye on-air Tuesday or Wednesday morning. Instead, Lemon went nuclear, tweeting, “I was informed this morning by my agent that I have been terminated by CNN. I am stunned. After 17 years at CNN I would have thought that someone in management would have the decency to tell me directly. At no time was I ever given any indication that I would not be able to continue to do the work I have loved at the network. It is clear that there are some larger issues at play.” Lemon and CNN declined a request for comment.
EXCLUSIVE — THE MORNING AFTER: Both fired media stars have retained pitbull litigator Bryan Freedman, meaning we can expect protracted and ugly negotiations for golden parachutes for Carlson and Lemon. A hint of just how nasty this may get lies in the fact that Freedman still reps Chris Cuomo and his scorched-earth campaign against CNN. More messy headlines about both stars and their respective networks are sure to follow, but for the rank-and-file at CNN and Fox who spoke with us, it comes as a relief to have two gung-ho cowboys off the air. Many view Carlson as perhaps the first of several sacrificial lambs to pay for Fox’s Dominion-related misdeeds. As such, sources have speculated the future may not be long for both Maria Bartiromo, who was a leading peddler of 2020 election lies, and Fox’s chief legal officer Viet Dinh, who is currently on vacation and notably did not make an appearance in Delaware during the all-too-brief Dominion proceedings—nor has he shown up in New York where the Murdochs have been huddling.
SHELL SHOCKED: The luckiest man in media is Jeff Shell, the now-former CEO of NBCUniversal whose firing was choreographed on a sleepy Sunday afternoon and was the juiciest story in media—until the Monday Media Massacre happened. Shell has been accused of sexual harassment and discrimination by former CNBC reporter Hadley Gamble, whose name NBCU seemingly leaked late Sunday after Confider approached the network for comment on Shell and Gamble’s relationship. “The investigation into Mr Shell arose from a complaint by my client of sexual harassment and sex discrimination,” Gamble’s lawyer Suzanne McKie emailed Confider. “Given these circumstances It is very disappointing that my client’s name has been released and her privacy violated.” We’ll have more on Shell and Gamble in next week’s newsletter. Shell’s rep, the dial-a-crisis specialist Risa Heller, declined to comment.
EXCLUSIVE — MAXING THAT NEWS: Newsmax, which has spent all day Monday in absolute glee over Tucker Carlson’s Fox ouster, could be shaking things up again real soon. The pro-Trump cable channel recently said goodbye to Sean Spicer after three years, replacing his late-afternoon show with a new offering from Carl Higbie, an even more stridently MAGA firebrand. With the far-right channel recently making nice with DirecTV and regaining a footprint in 13 million cable households, Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy is now looking to replace one of the network’s primetime shows with a The Five-style roundtable program, multiple sources told Confider. Prime News hosted by Jenn Pellegrino is the most likely program on the chopping block, according to a source familiar with the matter. Pellegrino’s show, which she previously co-anchored with ex-Trump adviser Steve Cortes until his departure in late 2021, has long struggled to build an audience in the 9 p.m. time slot. Last month, for instance, she averaged 95,000 total viewers, finishing tenth on the little-watched channel. Network staffers noted that Ruddy has become very interested in panels lately and wants to make primetime changes. One name that has been floated about as the lead host for this primetime panel show is former CNN correspondent-turned-conservative radio host Chris Plante. After Confider began sniffing out this story, a Newsmax spokesperson preemptively emailed a statement: “Newsmax is testing a number of shows, as we regularly do, and it would be a mistake to claim we are officially making any program changes at this time.” Plante did not respond to repeated requests for comment, but shortly after Confider reached out a third time, the Newsmax spokesperson sent the same statement—despite Plante not appearing to be an official Newsmax employee.
INSIDER’S HAND ON DECK: Insider’s mass walkout on Monday saw more than 250 staffers abstain from their job, with about 35 holding up picket signs outside the company’s NYC headquarters—leaving one global editor-in-chief stuck writing media news round-ups. EIC Nich Carlson had multiple bylines throughout Monday, covering everything from a hole in the ocean near Mexico to a roundup of right-wingers angry that Fox News fired Tucker Carlson (no relation). Other stories on the website’s homepage were mostly written by London-based reporters. Prior to today, the top editor’s recent bylines have mostly been standard editor’s notes (including his now-infamous memo boosting the role of AI in the newsroom) and a 2021 “EIC Interview” series. The walkout day’s writing spree came less than a week after the company announced its plans to lay off 10 percent of its staff, including 60 union members. That prompted a quick walkout campaign, which included dozens of reporters carrying homemade signs reading “Nasty Nich” and “Management = Bad Eggs” outside the Lower Manhattan offices on Monday, complete with an illustration of a rotten egg. “Nich loves writing and was happy to jump back in to serve our audience. Others in the newsroom also pitched in,” a spokesperson emailed Confider.
IN PLAIN SIGHT: CNN star Anderson Cooper feeding his son Wyatt a blueberry muffin at Third Rail Coffee in Greenwich Village on Monday morning, accompanied by ex-partner Benjamin Maisani and his other son Sebastian… Graydon Carter and Linda Wells celebrating the launch of Air Mail Look with a cocktail party Tuesday night at the Hotel Chelsea.
MORE FROM THE BEAST MEDIA DESK
—Tucker Carlson’s final words on his final Fox News broadcast last Friday seem to suggest he had no clue the ax was coming. “We’ll be back!” he declared while giddily housing pizza on-set as Fox transitioned to the 8 p.m. hour. More on that here. Meanwhile, the ladies of The View could barely contain their glee at the news of Carlson’s demise. Whoopi Goldberg started a wave on-set while Ana Navarro led the audience in a chant of “na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye!” Watch that here.
—Phil Jackson doesn’t watch hoops anymore since the NBA supposedly went woke. It may seem surprising that an NBA coaching legend nicknamed “Zen Master” would feel that way, but as Robert Silverman wrote, Jackson’s history of reactionary politics is extensive. More here.
—Not all of CNN’s recent on-air tension is bad for the brand. Take, for example, Lindsey Graham having a mini-tantrum when pressed on Sunday by Dana Bash on abortion rights. “No, quit covering for these guys!” he shouted at the CNN host. “No, no, no… you keep covering for these guys,” he said, deploying the age-old GOP tactic of whining about the media when you have no real policy ground to stand on. Watch that here.
—Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple, long a target of Tucker’s cruel personal attacks, took no glee in dunking on the blowhard’s Fox demise, soberly noting how ‘It seems that Fox News was fine with Carlson’s vicious attacks—as long as they were directed elsewhere.” Read that here.
—Los Angeles magazine has a riveting look inside how racing heir-turned-media titan Jay Penske has amassed both a business and cultural monopoly with his stable of entertainment trade pubs. More here.
—A new novel is somehow the latest blow against Axel Springer boss Mathias Döpfner, once again thrusting him back under the scandal microscope. The Financial Times has the details here.
***WHAT ARE WE OUTRAGED ABOUT NOW?***
Remember how before the Monday Media Massacre the biggest story on the beat was Fox News settling with Dominion for $787.5 million to avoid going to trial over their 2020 election lies? Well, the network’s resident media critic Howard Kurtz—who had once been banned from even talking about the case—was really upset on Sunday that the media wasn’t nicer to Fox as it faced down the massive defamation lawsuit. “It’s true!” Kurtz grumbled on Sunday, noting that a Dominion lawyer thanked the press for its coverage of the case. “The overwhelming majority of media outlets were strongly against Fox, and therefore, were aiding Dominion.” Kurtz went on to gripe about the “endless anti-Fox coverage,” though he did concede the evidence laid out by Dominion’s lawyers was “embarrassing” for the network. “But Fox was also fighting for the First Amendment, which actually applies to liberal news outlets as well as right-leaning ones,” he dutifully groused at the end.
Confider will be back next week with more saucy scooplets. In the meantime,
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