Is Fox News About To Have A Major Conservative Rival?

Conservative Newsmax Media is reportedly set to launch its own 24-hour cable news channel in June. According to a Bloomberg Businessweek profile of Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy, “NewsmaxTV” will position itself as a “kinder, gentler” version of Fox News.

Ruddy tells Bloomberg that the channel's goal “is to be a little more boomer-oriented, more information-based rather than being vituperative and polarizing.” That Ruddy sees an opening for a conservative outlet that is less aggressively partisan than Fox is a good indication of how far to the right that channel has veered during the Obama administration. It's also somewhat surprising, given Ruddy's personal history.

As the profile lays out, Ruddy cut his teeth in the 90's pushing conspiracy theories about the Clintons, particularly the outlandish claim that they may have been involved in the death of White House Counsel Vince Foster. (Ruddy has since moderated his views, and the article reports he has “become friends” with the Clintons and may support a potential Hillary Clinton presidential run in 2016.)

Newmax's website and magazine are definitely less off-the-rails than some of their rivals, but the company isn't exactly The New York Times. For example, though Ruddy conceded that there was “no evidence” President Obama wasn't born in the United States, Newsmax nonetheless gave oxygen to the baseless speculation and conspiracies about the president's birth certificate.

It has also helped prop up perhaps the most public birther, Donald Trump, and the ongoing farce of his plans to run for political office, including his imaginary 2012 presidential run and 2014 New York gubernatorial bid. (Newsmax even tapped Trump to moderate a Republican primary debate in 2011, but that event fell apart after most of the candidates expressed discomfort with Trump running a debate while he was still pretending he might run for president.)

More recently, a banner headline on Newsmax proclaimed that the indictment of conservative filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza for allegedly violating federal campaign finance laws was “Payback.”

Regardless, Bloomberg Businessweek reports that Ruddy considers himself “not as far to the right” as Fox News chief Roger Ailes:

Ruddy describes himself as “not as far to the right” as Fox's Ailes. “You want to help people ... but you also want to make sure it doesn't create a cycle of dependency,” he says. He favors preserving Social Security and Medicare, extending unemployment benefits, raising the minimum wage, reforming immigration, even forgiving student loans. In a recent Newsmax editorial lambasting Rand Paul for dredging up the Monica Lewinsky affair, he wrote, “As one of the participants in those battles back then who was a critic of President Clinton, I can say with some degree of certainty we made a mistake.” About the only area in which he remains a staunch party-line conservative is foreign policy.

Setting aside politics, conservative-slanted commentary is only one part of the Newsmax Media empire. Writing about the kerfuffle over the Trump debate plan, Salon's Alex Pareene described Newsmax as a “nutritional supplement sales organization and expensive email list with a right-wing news website attached.” Indeed, Bloomberg Businessweek explains that of the company's $104 million revenue in 2013, $6 million came from selling vitamin supplements and another $46 million from “subscription revenue from its 17 newsletters.”

The company's practice of renting out conservative figures' email lists to help pad their subscription base made headlines recently after former Senator and current Fox News contributor Scott Brown sent a message to his mailing list touting dubious cures for Alzheimer's disease from Dr. Russell Blaylock, a columnist for “Newsmax Health.” Brown severed ties with Newsmax after media outlets reported on the email.

Bloomberg Businessweek reports that the Newsmax line of products is central to the NewsmaxTV business plan, as the channel seeks to make money by pitching their wares and selling advertising. In doing so, NewsmaxTV could resemble something like a more paranoid QVC:

Ruddy says he can make NewsmaxTV profitable entirely through advertising and selling Newsmax's consumer products over the air. It's the same business model that's been successful for QVC, Home Shopping Network (HSNI), and numerous televangelists, but no one has tried it in cable news. He's quick to add that he doesn't need to beat Fox News, he just needs to shave off a little of its audience--particularly those conservatives who feel Fox has drifted too far to the right. “If we take 10 to 15 percent of the Fox audience,” he says, “and they are making $1 billion a year, then we are going to be hugely profitable.” 

While Bloomberg Businessweek anoints Ruddy “The Next Ailes,” it's worth noting that Ruddy reportedly tried to get the actual Ailes to run Newsmax's TV channel. In his 2013 book on Rupert Murdoch, NPR media reporter David Folkenflik reported that while planning a television channel for Newsmax in 2012, Ruddy lobbied Ailes to join the venture for a $25 million per year salary with equity.

Ailes eventually stuck with Fox, and now Ruddy is hoping to poach “10 to 15 percent” of his audience.