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Yesterday was the last day for critics to urge the Federal Communications Commission to stop conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group’s proposed acquisition of Tribune Media Company. President Donald Trump’s administration, which frequently tries to promote right-wing outlets as part of its war on the mainstream press, has bent over backward in order to reward Sinclair for its favorable coverage, while the merger has drawn criticism from consumer watchdogs like Allied Progress and media consolidation foes like Free Press. But they aren’t the only ones objecting: Some pro-Trump media companies have also taken sides against the merger because they worry Sinclair’s growth will impact their own bottom lines, forcing the administration to choose between its staunchest press allies.
Sinclair is already the nation’s largest local news provider, thanks to its ownership of 173 broadcast television stations in communities across the country. If its attempt to purchase Tribune’s 42 broadcast television stations is approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the result would be a broadcast goliath reaching more than seven in 10 U.S. television households -- nearly double the audience cap mandated by Congress. The deal would have been unthinkable if Trump-appointed FCC chairman Ajit Pai hadn’t rolled back a key Obama administration regulation in April that had prevented Sinclair from further expansion.
The merger raised the hackles of NewsMax Media Inc, which owns a right-wing cable channel and website and has called for the FCC to slow down the process and seek additional information. In a filing, the company warned that the prospect of a combined Sinclair-Tribune company raises “serious competitive concerns” and that “press freedom and media diversity may be seriously harmed by this transaction.” NewsMax CEO Christopher Ruddy has said that the deal raises “so many serious concerns about the concentration of media power.”
The conservative cable news channel One America News Network (OANN) also wants to delay the sale, telling the FCC that the “transaction raises competitive concerns and questions of law.”
Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox is one player that did not weigh in during the comment period. Sinclair’s increasing power in the conservative media space could prove a threat to Fox News. But Fox also owns dozens of broadcast stations, and the FCC’s deregulation bent could also benefit the company’s own expansion plans. Instead of taking its would-be rival on at the FCC, Fox is reportedly considering dumping Sinclair as an affiliate partner.
As for Trump, he wants to help Sinclair because the network has been a key media ally. After several cycles of support for Republican presidential candidates, the network stepped up its game in 2016, making a deal with the Trump campaign during the election cycle by providing positive coverage in exchange for access. After the election, Sinclair hired a former Trump adviser and required every one of its stations to regularly run his pro-Trump propaganda segments. Sinclair’s conservative “must-runs” are every bit as slanted as Fox News coverage, but Sinclair is more insidious because its viewers don’t expect that level of ideological content from their local news channels. Because so many Tribune media stations are located in big cities and swing states where Sinclair didn’t previously have a platform, the merger could provide a sizeable benefit to Trump’s re-election campaign.
But NewsMax has also been a staunch supporter of the president -- in fact, it was one of Trump’s first real media allies in his political rise. The would-be Fox rival started giving him a platform as early as 2006 and regularly promoted a potential Trump run for president during the 2012 cycle. Described by reporters as the “Trump whisperer” and the administration’s “Zelig,” Ruddy is a close friend of the president who regularly advises Trump and his aides and is often quoted by reporters and appears on cable news as a kind of unofficial spokesperson. In turn, the Trump presidency has been good for NewsMax, which has received unprecedented access; during his first 48 press briefings as White House press secretary, Sean Spicer called on the network’s correspondent more than any other reporter but Fox’s representatives.
OANN, another would-be Fox, is no slouch either -- as The Washington Post noted, the network became “one of President Trump’s favorite media outlets” because its coverage depicts his administration as “a juggernaut of progress, a shining success with a daily drumbeat of achievements.” OANN White House correspondent Trey Yingst was one of Spicer’s go-to questioners, and Trump called on him at a January press conference.
Trump has sought to lift up conservative news outlets throughout his tenure. But as the OANN and NewsMax filings demonstrate, in this fractured media environment, he can’t help one of his media allies without hurting the others.
Right-wing media figures have been loudly and frequently complaining about special prosecutor Robert Mueller, with some explicitly calling for the president to fire him. Watch:
MSNBC host Chris Matthews pressed Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy about a Newsmax report on President Donald Trump meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in April 2016. Ruddy repeatedly attempted downplay his own outlets report, claiming that the Newsmax report was probably a “wire report” republished on Newsmax.
Matthews pushed back on Ruddy’s denials by showing the article in question, which was titled “Putin pleased with Trump,” on screen and pointing out that it was “a byline piece, not a wire.” From the March 3 edition of MSNBC’s Hardball:
CHRIS MATTHEWS (HOST): What is your reporting at Newsmax tell you about Trump's relationship with the Russians during the campaign? What do you have?
CHRISTOPHER RUDDY: Well, you know, you and I both know, we’ve covered a lot of campaigns --
MATTHEWS: He says he’s had no contacts. Well, you’ve covered it. What contacts has he had with the Russians during the campaign according to your news organization?
RUDDY: Well, look, when he gave his foreign policy speech in Washington the Russian ambassador sat in the front row. This is not unusual for a political campaign to have dealings with foreign diplomats and officials. It happens all the time. He was very open about that he wanted to reset the relationship with Russia.
MATTHEWS: Sure, but he said that -- look at a couple of things here.
According to a report in your Newsmax Trump met with the Russian ambassador during the presidential campaign. According to Newsmax, your organization, Trump met with Sergey Kislyak himself, the Russian ambassador to the United States at a VIP reception along with three other foreign ambassadors. Newsmax reports that the meeting came during the foreign policy speech, as you said he gave in April. What do you make of his denial he had no relations with the Russians at all? He’s given a blanket denial.
RUDDY: Well, again, he gave a speech where the Russian ambassador showed up so it’s a little hard to say that he had --
MATTHEWS: You said meeting.
RUDDY: Well, I don’t believe, and again --
MATTHEWS: Well your reporting was that it’s a meeting.
RUDDY: Do you know, we both have been in politics, you know how many hundreds or thousands of people you meet in a political campaign.
MATTHEWS: No, no, no, no. You said it was a meeting. I’m just asking you was it a meeting or wasn’t a meeting? If it was a meeting, why has Trump denied it?
There's a conflict there between your reporting of a meeting and him saying it's a ruse.
RUDDY: We pick up a lot of wire stories at Newsmax and there’s a lot of reports on Newsmax, so if there was an official meeting with the Trump campaign, I don’t believe we’ve ever reported that.
MATTHEWS: We just read your wire -- I know what you reported, we just read it. Does that conflict with what Trump just said there?
I want you to tell me what your news agencies reported, and whether it’s true or not. Was there a meeting between Trump and the Russian ambassador Kislyak or wasn't there? Because Trump denies it.
RUDDY: Well, you should ask his campaign. MSNBC has reporters at the White House. Go ask them tomorrow about it. I'm not representing the Trump campaign. I don't see anything wrong if he did have the meeting. He wanted to reset the relationship, I think that's a positive thing.
MATTHEWS: Then why is he acting like he didn’t? I agree with you. By the way, I don't think it proves anything that he met with the Russians. The question out there, in everybody’s mind is we know the Russians were involved in helping him win the election, because they wanted to beat Hillary. We understand that. That's a fact and there have been a series of meetings that have been disclosed between his people and the Russian ambassador which they never told us about until we dug it up.So there’s a reasonable progression here of information and it’s not coming from Trump, or from you, but it did come, ironically, from your news agency when you reported about a meeting last April between Trump and the Russian ambassador. And now you're pulling away from what you reported in April.
The byline piece in Newsmax, which we all read of course, was written by Sandy Fitzgerald, and it was a byline piece not a wire. Just want to make that clear. That was in April.
RUDDY: It was probably a wire story that we probably picked up.
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.
We've recently documented the close relationship between Donald Trump and the right-wing website Newsmax, which has been promoting Trump's potential presidential candidacy. Now, U.S. News & World Report's Paul Bedard has spoken with Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy, and Ruddy has confirmed that "Trump realizes the great potential of Newsmax and has been using it very adroitly" and that Newsmax is "happy" he's doing so.
Ruddy also responded to our description of Newsmax as an "early and enthusiastic promoter of Trump's presidential ambitions." Bedard wrote: "Ruddy has no problem with that description. 'Media Matters is right,' he says."
From Bedard's post on the Washington Whispers blog:
So is there a Trump-Newsmax conspiracy? "Yes," cheers Ruddy. "Trump realizes the great potential of Newsmax and has been using it very adroitly. We're well aware he's using it, happy he's using it" says Ruddy from the Newsmax HQ in Florida.
"He's been really responsive to our news team here," says Ruddy, who calls Trump a "friend."
Recently, the potential 2012 GOP primary candidate dropped by Newsmax's West Palm Beach HQ and even chose it as the place to reveal his American birth certificate, part of his effort to call into question President Obama's birthplace. Ruddy doesn't back the birther movement and says he told Trump that he believes Obama was born in Hawaii.
Media Matters last week put a spotlight on the news site's coverage of Trump, calling it an "early and enthusiastic promoter of Trump's presidential ambitions."
Ruddy has no problem with that description. "Media Matters is right," he says.
For at least the third time in the past year, right-wing website Newsmax has provided positive coverage to a Florida politician whose campaign or political committee has received money from Newsmax or its CEO, Christopher Ruddy. This financial support has not been disclosed in campaign endorsements or other articles about these politicians at Newsmax.
In June, Media Matters noted that Dick Morris was leading a fundraiser for Bill McCollum, who was in a Republican primary race for Florida governor (while falsely claiming that he rarely endorsed candidates).
Afterward, Morris appeared on Fox News twice -- on August 9 and August 23 -- to tout McCollum and attack his opponent, Rick Scott (who ultimately defeated McCollum in the August 24 primary). In neither appearance did Morris disclose that he had taken part in a fundraiser for McCollum.
As the invitation to the June 23 fundraiser shows – obtained by Media Matters from Morris' mailing list -- Morris was no passive participant. He is listed as one of two hosts for it, and he also starred in a "VIP Reception" area where, for a $300 donation, donors had the opportunity for a "VIP Photo Op With Dick Morris."
Was it the opportunity to snag a glowing profile from a right-wing outlet?
Could it have been the chance to reach Lou Dobbs' coveted demographic of aging anti-immigrant conspiracy theorists?
Perhaps he was given some sort of clue as to how glowing the profile would end up? There isn't really a harsh word in the piece… they cover his dashingly good looks, his affection for Ailes-Hannity-O'Reilly, his purported fairness to both sides, that he worked at the AP once upon a time when it was still fair, and all of the big politicos appearing on his show. The profile's author, Ronald Kessler, even explains to his readers what it means for King to "keep kosher" since his conversion to Judaism.
The only thing that makes sense is the idea that King agreed to the interview because he knew in advance that it would be a puff-piece. Then again, maybe he didn't know Newsmax's history of right-wing incendiary misinformation. For example, back in September the publication ran a column (eventually taken down) stating that a military coup "to resolve the 'Obama problem'" was not "unrealistic." There's a lot more where that came from.
Check out the interview's gems after the break.
In the run-up to right-wing website Newsmax's June 17 Economic Crisis Summit -- featuring Bill O'Reilly - CEO and Editor in Chief Christopher Ruddy used fear of inflation and skyrocketing gas prices to entice people to attend the event. Previous Newsmax "summit[s]" have similarly stoked fears to drive sales of Newsmax's financial-services products.
Earlier today, Karl Frisch highlighted the interest of Newsmax's Christopher Ruddy in buying Newsweek. While Newsmax makes rich Republicans its target demographic -- according to Talkers magazine, 20 percent of its readership claims a net worth of $1 million or more -- it likely doesn't throw off enough money for Ruddy to purchase Newsweek without help.
Enter Richard Mellon Scaife.
Scaife, that longtime right-wing sugar daddy, has been Ruddy's benefactor for well over a decade, since Ruddy brought his Clinton conspiracy-mongering to the Scaife-owned Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. When Ruddy started Newsmax in 1997, Scaife was among the original investors, and by 2002 he was the third-largest shareholder. Today, all the other shareholders have been bought out, and Scaife and Ruddy are the sole owners of Newsmax, with Ruddy holding a majority stake.
Ruddy and Scaife purchasing Newsweek is not as far-fetched as it sounds, actually. Newsmax already publishes a monthly magazine that, despite an unmistakable rightward tilt, is professionally designed. A Ruddy-operated Newsweek would likely look much as it does now -- but would definitely have a lot more right-wing content, with an additional focus (like its current magazine has) on two other areas of Newsmax interest, money and health. It may also give a bigger platform for longtime Ruddy buddy (and failed prognosticator) Dick Morris, who has a history of helping Ruddy shill for Newsmax' financial products.
If, say, George Soros had expressed interest in buying Newsweek, Fox News wouldn't be able to report on anything else for days. But two right-wing political activists looking into obtaining the number-two weekly newsmagazine is raising barely a ripple.
UPDATE: Newsmax has confirmed that it has made a bid for Newsweek, adding that if it succeeds in obtaining the magazine, "Newsweek would continue in its mission to objectively report the news and provide analysis from a wide spectrum of perspectives."
Right-wingers love to claim that troubles in the print-media world can be chalked up to news consumers rejecting "liberal media bias." As Media Matters' Terry Krepel noted a few weeks ago, the decision by Washington Post Co. to sell Newsweek was no different:
At NewsBusters, the Media Research Center's Brent Baker claimed that Newsweek "repeatedly showcased their favorite candidate, Barack Obama, on the cover" and asked, "Might such obvious blatant liberal advocacy, which anyone could see in the grocery store checkout line, help explain its decline in fortunes -- in credibility followed by finances?"
He was joined by fellow MRC employee Clay Waters, who complained that a New York Times article on the sale failed to mention "Newsweek's purposeful shift toward liberal opinion over news-gathering."
At Fox News on May 8, contributor Liz Trotta highlighted John Podhoretz's claim that Newsweek is "a liberal journal of opinion masquerading as a news publication," added that "even The Washington Post" called it left-leaning, and posited that Newsweek's strategy of "shoving liberal opinion down [people's] throats" failed because it "colossally ... misjudged what the American public and the American readership is. It's not a bunch of lefties from New York."
Of course, this is the same right-wing media establishment that ignored the also-up-for-sale conservative Washington Times' lack of profits.
Now, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that Newsmax publisher Christopher Ruddy is interested in purchasing the faltering news weekly (emphasis added):
OpenGate Capital, the investment firm that owns TV Guide, plans to formally declare its interest in acquiring Newsweek before Wednesday's deadline for nonbinding bids, according to managing partner Andrew Nikou. Christopher Ruddy, publisher of the conservative monthly magazine Newsmax, said he also plans to bid.
A right-wing "news" outlet is now interested in picking up a magazine that media conservatives claim failed because of "liberal bias." It would be funny if it weren't so delusional.
So, who exactly is Christopher Ruddy? For starters, Ruddy was a bit too nutty even for Rupert Murdoch's New York Post. As the New York Times reported in 1997:
...Chris Ruddy, a ferociously dogged reporter who says he lost a job at The New York Post partly because he would not let go of the Vince Foster story. Ruddy now works for The Tribune-Review, a right-wing Pittsburgh paper, and his stories are reprinted in newspaper advertisements around the country, paid for by the Western Journalism Center in Sacramento, Calif. Richard M. Scaife, an angel of the far right, owns The Tribune-Review and contributes money to the center.
The "Vince Foster story" to which the Times refers would be the crazy right-wing conspiracy theory that Foster didn't commit suicide and was instead killed.
As for Newsmax, it's a rabidly conservative "news" outlet that traffics in just the sort of right-wing Obama conspiracy theories and misinformation that Ruddy cut his teeth on during the Clinton years.
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