An agreement between Newsmax and DirecTV returned the right-wing cable news network to the provider’s satellite TV offerings last week after a two-month absence. While it remains unclear whether DirecTV met Newsmax’s exorbitant demands for carriage fees because of threats from Republican lawmakers, the GOP’s response to the deal suggests that this will not be the last time the party steps in to try to reward its right-wing media friends by interceding in corporate disputes.
DirecTV stopped broadcasting Newsmax when their previous deal expired at 11:59 p.m. ET on January 24, saying that the network — which streams for free on the internet — had been “seeking significant fees” in a new deal. Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy responded by baselessly declaring the network a victim of “political discrimination,” while the network’s hosts urged viewers to ask members of Congress to intercede.
Newsmax’s argument was absurd — but Republican politicians place a high value on propagandistic programming aimed at their base and quickly rallied to its aid anyway. They denounced DirecTV and its owners, AT&T and TPG Capital, and threatened them with political retribution, including congressional hearings, if Newsmax was not returned to its airwaves.
The farce ended last Wednesday when DirecTV announced a deal to once again distribute the network. We don’t know if DirecTV met Newsmax’s original price; terms of the agreement were not released, with DirecTV stating only that the channel would come “at no additional cost to customers.”
What is clear, however, is that even as Newsmax publicly acknowledged that its prior claims of political discrimination had been hogwash, energized Republican politicians took credit for the result — and received thanks from the network’s hosts.
Rep. James Comer (R-KY), chair of the House Oversight Committee, had promised hearings into DirecTV’s “concerning” decision, baselessly claiming that “there’s a pattern among a lot of leaders in the media to censor conservatives.” After DirecTV brought Newsmax back, host Greta Van Susteren thanked him for being “very helpful to DirecTV and to Newsmax in helping us resolve this dispute so that all our viewers can watch this show.” Comer responded that the deal had been a “primary concern” for his committee because “we want to make sure that the American people have conservative options for their news."
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott plugged his own role in getting Newsmax back on DirecTV, saying in a statement that the agreement “is a huge win in protecting the right of conservative voices and viewpoints to be heard, and I am proud to have helped facilitate this pivotal business renewal to preserve the strength of public discourse on television.”
And Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) also seized his share of the credit. He had authored a letter to the CEOs of DirecTV, AT&T, and TPG signed by three other Republican senators demanding responses to a series of questions and a host of internal documents. In a March 22 statement, Cruz said he had helped to achieve a “victory for free speech” and to prevent “the silencing of conservatives.” He made similar comments on the network, saying that he “launched an investigation of DirecTV’s decision to deplatform Newsmax and I made very clear to DirecTV that this investigation would keep going until the only acceptable outcome was allowing Newsmax back on-air.”
If you think it sounds strange for the Republican Party’s traditional free-marketeers to be dictating the terms of private business disputes, you aren’t alone.
The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board (which, to be fair, has a substantial conflict of interest) wrote last month that “it’s bewildering why many Republicans are getting involved” in the conflict and criticized Ruddy for “trying to bring political and government pressure to bear on DirecTV to force the satellite operator to carry the channel on Newsmax’s terms.” After Newsmax returned to DirecTV and admitted that the dispute had been solely financial, the board wrote that “many Republican politicians and many in the conservative media were gulled into taking his [Ruddy’s] line” and called it “a sign of the polarized times that so many people fell for his gambit.”
But it’s not the Journal’s party any more: In recent years, the GOP has institutionalized Donald Trump’s corrupt use of government power. As president, Trump repeatedly used federal regulatory power to abuse the corporate owners of news outlets he disliked and reward those that supported him. Since he left office, other Republicans have picked up where he left off, threatening Twitter’s board to force it to sell to right-wing ally Elon Musk and punishing Disney for its pro-LGBTQ advocacy.
This likely will not be the last time we see Republican politicians injecting themselves into the business disputes of right-wing cable news networks.
Newsmax has road-tested a new negotiation strategy and won’t hesitate to use it again in the future. The network now knows that GOP officials are willing to turn the screws on cable carriers on its behalf when they have a dispute over carriage fees. So do the cable carriers, which may decide to simply agree to Newsmax’s demands rather than risking a run-in with congressional investigators who have subpoena power and love the spotlight.
And it likely won’t end with Newsmax. Fox News, which is orders of magnitude more critical to the Republican Party, depends on extremely high subscriber fees to pad its profits, and many of its cable carriage contracts expire later this year. The timing couldn’t be worse for Fox, which has been immersed in scandal after Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit revealed how Fox promoted Trumpian election fraud conspiracy theories its own top executives didn’t believe.
Let’s say one or more of Fox’s renewal deals flounder because a carrier resists paying those fees for a duplicitous, pro-insurrection GOP propaganda channel. Will the Murdochs accept that decision quietly out of principle and take less money? Or will they throw over the table and call their Republican friends for some Newsmax-style authoritarian thuggery?
It will take people power to push back against Fox’s powerful allies. To find out more on how to participate, click here.