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 — MESSAGE RECEIVED?: Growing increasingly anxious over the financial health of The Messenger, staffers at the “non-partisan” media start-up have quietly been pushing to unionize the newsroom while urging management to hold a town hall to address their myriad concerns, multiple people familiar with the situation told Confider. Among the issues employees would like to see addressed, sources noted, are the outlet’s recent partnership with an AI firm, The Messenger president Richard “Mad Dog” Beckman’s suggestion to others that the site is “out of money,” and the internal secrecy over the site’s traffic. Additionally, employees wonder why editor-in-chief Dan Wakeford continues to be MIA, especially with the increased bumps in the road for the site, noting that owner Jimmy Finkelstein has taken to regularly sending editors story ideas and tips, a task generally reserved for Wakeford. A Messenger spokesperson, however, contended that Wakeford still “has complete editorial control” and that Finkelstein merely “makes editorial suggestions to the team.” Launched in May with grand promises of booming traffic and massive revenue windfalls, The Messenger saw key execs hit the exits just months into its existence, citing clashes with Beckman, who earned the nickname “Mad Dog” for his brutish management style at Conde Nast. Meanwhile, with reporters already grousing about the reliance on “clickbait” journalism and aggregation to generate gobs of content, the newsroom was taken aback this month by the announcement that the site was partnering with Seekr, an AI company. According to the press release, the “strategic partnership” would be used to flag “clickbait” and “eliminate bias.” Of course, that left employees confused due to the site’s embrace of sensationalized headlines but also worried that they’ll be essentially replaced by AI bots. Adding fuel to the firestorm, sources said, was The Messenger’s very favorable story about the company two weeks before the partnership was revealed. The fallout over the collab, which staffers said they were “blindsided” by, has been made worse by internal comments from Beckman—the one who made those pie-in-the-sky promises of $100 million in revenue within the first year—that the site is struggling financially. (A spokesperson for The Messenger disputes this characterization, telling Confider that the site “is doing extraordinarily well” and expects to be profitable by the end of 2024, adding that there is “no question about us staying afloat.”) Staffers have also fumed about management tightly guarding access to the site’s Chartbeat, which provides data and analytics on online traffic. According to people familiar with the matter, only senior editors have the ability to see the data, on orders of Finkelstein, prompting concerns that traffic is struggling and ad revenue is tanking, especially since the site still largely relies on low-paying programmatic advertising. Based on Similarweb’s external traffic analysis, The Messenger currently ranks #195 among U.S. news sites, pulling in similar numbers to local Texas news stations.
EXCLUSIVE — ACRIMONY IN ALBANY: The New York Times has brought in an outside law firm to investigate new complaints against one of their star reporters, Confider has learned. Jesse McKinley, the paper’s former Albany Bureau Chief, has been accused of inappropriate behavior by a former top aide to ex-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. In her new book What’s Left Unsaid, Melissa DeRosa writes that during a pandemic-era meeting in McKinley’s backyard, he drank more than a bottle of wine before attempting to hit on her when she tried to leave. After McKinley inquired about her eye color, DeRosa said he grabbed her on the wrist as she attempted to walk away. “Don’t go, Melissa. It’s still early. Stay longer,” he said as he pulled her towards him, according to the book. She says McKinley held on to her for a few seconds more until she was able to grab her belongings and leave. The Washington Post’s Eric Wemple first reported on the incident last week and found other instances of alleged inappropriate behavior. That has prompted Times brass to launch its second probe into McKinley after an initial probe in 2021 looked into a complaint from DeRosa. “The question that still remains unanswered is how The New York Times who was the driver of the Me Too movement and specifically the Me Too moves against Andrew Cuomo could determine that the governor putting his hands on a woman’s face at a wedding is a front page offense but yet when something much worse was brought to their attention in their own house they did nothing about it,” DeRosa told Confider, adding that she told Times journalist Nick Confessore about the incident around the time it happened in 2020. “When Nick informed [Managing Editor] Carolyn Ryan to the extent that there was a situation with their Albany bureau chief, why did she do nothing at all? I think the entire situation underscores the hypocrisy of The New York Times.” But the Times says it was not clear DeRosa was making a complaint when she spoke with Confessore. “A complaint was made against Jesse McKinley, a New York Times journalist in 2021. An independent, external investigation did not substantiate Ms. DeRosa’s characterization of the events, and McKinley denied the accusation that he grabbed her in any way,” a rep for the Times told Confider. “We take all allegations very seriously and are reviewing the new accounts.” McKinley did not respond to a request for comment.
NO LOVE LOST: The escalating conflict in Gaza has led to rising tensions in newsrooms as staffers take sides in the bloody war, even resulting in some losing their jobs over their criticism of Israel and advocacy of Palestine. Tirhakah Love, a senior writer for New York magazine who authors the Dinner Party newsletter, became the latest journalist to spark outrage over inflammatory tweets. In a series of posts sent on Oct. 11, Love—a former entertainment reporter for The Daily Beast—seemed to engage in Holocaust revisionism by blaming pre-Israel Zionists for the deaths of Jews in WWII. “[W]ait til they find out zionists couldve saved hundreds of thousands of Jews from the gas chambers and decided not to,” Love tweeted. “[T]he nuremberg trials revealed they actively negotiated with nazis and even helped SS officers in Hungary get off with mass murder. this is not about antisemitism.” He followed that up by citing Rudolf Kastner, a Hungarian-Jewish lawyer who negotiated with the Nazis to smuggle 1,600 Jews out of occupied Europe in 1944. The posts went largely unnoticed until this past weekend when The Atlantic’s Yascha Mounk said Love’s comments had beaten “the depravity” of Harvard student groups who signed a letter saying Israel was “solely responsible” for the Hamas attacks. While saying he didn’t want journalists fired for their tweets “no matter how stupid and vile,” Mounk said “cancel culture” had turned “everything into a zero-sum conflict” before offering up a rhetorical question: “Does anyone seriously think that a writer who suggests that slavery was ‘really’ the responsibility of Africans would continue to be employed by Vox or New York Magazine? Of course they wouldn’t.” The pile-on grew from there, eventually prompting Love to take his X account private. But Love has since doubled down by tweeting that “the zionist bots have found me” and they can “kiss my ass cus im def not finna shut up.” He added: “my last week on this website. so geeked.” A spokesperson for Vox Media, the parent company of New York, told Confider: “This tweet does not represent the views of New York Magazine or Vox Media, and contradicts our company values. We condemn hate of any kind, including antisemitism, and are taking this matter seriously.” Monday’s edition of the Dinner Party newsletter, meanwhile, was not written by Love but by editor-at-large Choire Sicha, who previously ran The New York Times “Styles” desk. “Hi, Choire here, filling in while we move offices today into the glamorous Vox Media mothership,” Sicha wrote at the top of the letter. Love did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but he did tweet “send love” on Monday.
EXCLUSIVE — MEGHAN GOES MIA: Meghan McCain is no longer a twice-weekly columnist for DailyMail.com, Confider has learned. McCain, who joined DailyMail.com with much fanfare in 2021, hasn’t written for the outlet since Sept. 20. “After two highly successful years as a regular columnist, Meghan McCain is switching from weekly contributor to a range of special projects for Dailymail.com, which is delighted to continue a valued relationship as Meghan also pursues various new ventures,” DailyMail.com and McCain told Confider in a joint statement. Just what those “special projects” involve isn’t clear with McCain popping up in Mail rival the New York Post over the weekend in an exclusive interview to tout her podcast. “Meghan is looking forward to focusing on her podcast and production company that she has just launched and is extremely busy with her two daughters,” a person with knowledge of her decision told Confider. “She was also disappointed that [former DailyMail.com Global Chief Brand Officer and Managing Director, US Operations] Sean Walsh left the company and felt it wouldn’t be the same there without him.”
IN PLAIN SIGHT: Piers Morgan leaving Citarella on the Upper East Side Sunday… Jeffrey Toobin walking a dog on the Upper West Side Friday. Star Journalists — They’re Just Like Us!
MORE FROM THE BEAST MEDIA DESK
—Fox News had already distanced itself from Donald Trump in favor of anyone from Ron DeSantis to Vivek Ramaswamy, but its decision to de-platform him from its live shows may have another motive: staving off another lawsuit. Dive into the messy fracture here.
—So much for dethroning Disney. The Daily Wire’s new app Bentkey—home to more than a dozen children’s shows—doesn’t do anything the rivals it’s trying to debase don’t already do. Read more about its meager content offerings here.
—Few journalists in Tennessee are nosier than NewsChannel 5’s Phil Williams, who has spent decades holding politicians’ feet to the fire to root out corruption. Read our deep dive into his life’s work here.
—Eyes perked up when a 28-year-old was announced as a buyer of Forbes in May. Turns out he was just the face of the deal, according to a Kremlin-connected tycoon who claims he is the actual buyer. The Washington Post heard the tapes and wrote them up here.
—Literary agent Andrew “The Jackal” Wylie has propped up the likes of Philip Roth, Sally Rooney, and Salman Rushdie. With Rushide’s post-memoir due next year, the ever-direct Wylie expands on his work to The New Statesman here.
—A New York Times editor. A Broadway theater landlord. A dominatrix for the rich and famous. All these and more made New York’s list of those with the real power in the Big Apple. See who else did—or didn’t—make the list here.
***WHAT ARE WE OUTRAGED ABOUT NOW?***
Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think? Fox News, a network that recently paid $787.5 million to settle allegations that it knowingly peddled election lies in order to boost sagging ratings, slammed The New York Times on Monday for correcting its Gaza hospital coverage. Nearly a week after a blast that may have left hundreds of Palestinians dead, the Times published an editor’s note saying the paper “relied too heavily on claims by Hamas” in its initial coverage and “did not make clear that those claims could not immediately be verified.” The Gray Lady added that “given the sensitive nature of the news during a widening conflict, and the prominent promotion it received, Times editors should have taken more care with the initial presentation.” Hours after the deadly explosion, Israel said an errant rocket from Palestinian militants was to blame, an account since supported by U.S. intelligence reports and independent analyses from several media outlets. While the Times changed its headline within two hours of the attack, the paper’s mea culpa wasn’t good enough for the conservative hosts at Fox. “The New York Times knows what they are doing and they are responsible for it,” host Pete Hegseth groused on Outnumbered. “Just like they did not report the Holocaust in real-time.” Without a hint of irony, Hegseth added “this is a newspaper that’s gotten a lot of big things wrong for all the wrong reasons.” Sneering that the Times “became part of the propaganda” and that she didn’t know “if we will be able to separate them from that,” anchor Harris Faulkner lectured the paper for wanting to “believe one side” of the story. Kayleigh McEnany, who served as Donald Trump’s chief propagandist before joining Fox News, also hammered the legacy newspaper’s supposed double standard. “You don’t believe Putin, why do you believe Hamas?” she seethed.
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.