The Media Today

Will Donald Trump start his own right-wing news channel?

November 13, 2020

As Trump and his allies continue their desperate efforts to overturn the election results, there are reports that the soon-to-be former president is planning to launch his own media venture. Mike Allen, of Axios, wrote in his newsletter on Thursday that Trump “has told friends he wants to start a digital media company to clobber Fox News and undermine the conservative-friendly network.” According to Allen, a source with detailed knowledge of Trump’s notions said that he “plans to wreck Fox, no doubt about it.” Trump, apparently livid that Fox News was the first major network to call the state of Arizona for Joe Biden on election night, has been berating the network both privately and publicly ever since. (Vanity Fair reported that Trump called Rupert Murdoch, the founder of News Corp, to scream at him and demand a retraction, but Murdoch refused.) Yesterday, Trump shared a series of messages from supporters who said they were bailing on Fox for Newsmax, a right-wing news outlet run by Trump’s friend Christopher Ruddy. “Suit yourself Left Fox 4 NewsMaxxxxx,” one said.

In a recent piece for the Los Angeles Times, Stephen Battaglio argued that the odds of Trump successfully launching a competitor to Fox News are extremely slim. Even with Trump behind it, introducing a new cable network “would be a difficult climb in the current TV landscape, where consumers have shifted away from pay TV subscriptions,” Battaglio wrote. “As the universe of traditional pay TV customers slowly but steadily diminishes, getting operators to pay a license fee to carry a new channel would be a major challenge.” Yet Allen said that, according to his sources, Trump is planning a digital-only channel. Trump would likely charge a monthly fee directly to his fans, the sources said, and would aim to draw viewers from Fox Nation, the $5.99-a-month streaming digital offering from Fox News.

Allen also reported that Trump is planning to target an audience using the mailing and cellphone lists he acquired as part of his campaigns. At least one lawyer, a Democrat named Marc Elias, has said that doing so could be illegal, a violation of campaign finance laws against using campaign data for personal purposes. “This is one of the few portions of the campaign finance laws that are routinely prosecuted criminally,” Elias tweeted. Of course, that may be no deterrent—Trump has repeatedly breached ethical rules before.

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If the talk about a “Trump TV” launch sounds familiar, that’s because there was similar speculation in the run-up to the presidential election in 2016. Until the final numbers were counted, the overwhelming expectation was that Trump would lose badly, and that his post-election plans would involve the formation of a media entity. That was why he brought on Steve Bannon and Roger Ailes as advisors, reports said. Vanity Fair quoted sources saying that Trump had “become irked by his ability to create revenue for other media organizations without being able to take a cut himself.” CNN’s Brian Stelter said that Trump might want to “launch a new television channel, or launch a new giant website, a new subscription service,” and the New York Times reported that Trump and Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, had explored either starting their own media entity or buying a stake in an existing one.

None of that came to pass, obviously. Could it happen now? Of course it could. As for whether it would be robust or not, skeptics note that when others in Trump’s orbit have attempted to become media entrepreneurs, it hasn’t always panned out: there was the Sarah Palin Channel, a digital subscription that launched after the 2012 election, then vanished without a trace; and The Blaze, a media entity started in 2011 by Glenn Beck, who hired dozens of staff, without ever becoming much of a media force. Trump is a more potent star than either Palin or Beck. But whether he can convert his fans into paying subscribers—and how serious he is about doing so—is very much an open question. Until we have an answer, at least, Newsmax is getting a ratings boost.

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Here’s more on Trump and the media:

  • Doomed: Asawin Suebsaeng, who reports on Trump for The Daily Beast, said on Twitter that even if Trump does decide to launch some kind of media channel, it will likely be doomed. “He couldn’t get any measurable number to leave Fox for [One America News Network] over four years, so I think Trump TV has a great chance of being Palin TV, the thing you invariably forgot had even happened,” Suebsaeng said. “Trump keeps saying that Fox is forgetting what got them where they are today, but insane, email-chain racism existed long before 2015, so I think Fox News will be fine.”
  • A cudgel: Ben Smith, the media columnist for the New York Times, said he thinks it’s best to see Trump’s talk about a media entity as a combination of a stick to beat Fox with and an enticement to potential partners. “Best to see it as likeliest a) a cudgel against Fox (which could backfire) and b) maybe a licensing exercise, in which OANN and Newsmax and maybe others bid for his name,” Smith said. Joe Wiesenthal, of Bloomberg TV, said that Trump could succeed if he surrounds himself “with serious media operators, as opposed to clowns and random hangers on.”
  • A problem: Trump’s bashing of Fox News didn’t start with its Arizona call on election night. Consider his comments last month,  during a two-hour radio “rally” and interview with Rush Limbaugh: “Fox is a problem,” Trump said. “When Roger Ailes ran Fox, I mean, Roger had a very strong point of view. It’s totally gone.” Trump added that he thought Fox was “going the way of CNN, and they’re going the way of MSNBC, and it’s a shame.” On Twitter this week, he said that Fox “forgot the Golden Goose,” in an apparent reference to himself.


Other notable stories:

  • A bomb explosion in southern Afghanistan on Thursday killed a reporter who was working for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Afghan Service, according to a report by Voice of America. Afghan officials said the journalist, Elyas Dayee, and his brother were traveling to the press club in the capital of Helmand province when an explosive device ripped through their car. Dayee was killed and the blast injured his brother, also a journalist, and two others who were also in the car. Dayee had been reporting from Helmand for more than a decade for the Afghan branch of the US government’s Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty external broadcast services.
  • All this week, CJR has been using its Galley discussion platform to speak with Maria Bustillos about her new journalism collective, Brick House. The collective includes Popula, the alternative arts and culture magazine that Bustillos founded, as well as a number of other outlets including Hmm Weekly from Tom Scocca, The Sludge Report, Preachy, and Olongo Africa, a pan-African literary digest edited by Kọ́lá Túbọ̀sún. Some of the members of the collective were previously part of Civil, the cryptocurrency-powered journalism platform that failed to take off.
  • YouTube pushed back against claims that its platform is helping to promote and spread misinformation surrounding the election, The Verge reports. The company said that its most popular videos related to the election are from authoritative sources, and that it takes measures to stop the spread of videos containing false or misleading claims by not showing them in search results or through its recommendation engine. YouTube’s comments appeared to be in response to a tweet from Bloomberg journalist Mark Bergen, who criticized the company’s moderation of election content.
  • Fox News has confirmed that John Solomon, a pro-Trump commentator,  is no longer affiliated with the network, according to a report from The Daily Beast. Solomon’s work has been controversial even at Fox, where even the “Brain Room” warned hosts and anchors not to trust his “disinformation” about Trump or alleged ties between Ukraine and Biden. Solomon worked for a number of media outlets during his career, including the Washington Post, before joining The Hill, where he pushed stories claiming that Trump was the victim of a deep state plot.
  • Bill Grueskin writes for CJR about what the media should do after Trump is gone, and how it needs to kick its addiction to reporting on the train wreck that he represents. “This may wind up as the greatest risk of all for the press,” he writes. “Trump, who craves the spotlight the way a kitten craves the sunny corner of a rug, will demand to be seen and heard. It will take every ounce of self-control that journalists can muster to resist his insistence on getting attention and air time. We saw how badly the cable networks, in particular, handled this in the 2016 campaign, with their incessant and uncritical broadcasting of Trump rallies and remarks.”
  • Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, told staff on Thursday that Steve Bannon had not violated enough of the company’s policies to justify the suspension of his account, even after Bannon posted that two senior US officials should be beheaded. On November 5, Bannon posted a video saying that Christopher Wray, the FBI director, and Anthony Fauci, the government infectious diseases expert, should have their heads placed on pikes for being disloyal to Donald Trump.
  • A federal court judge in Georgia rejected a defamation lawsuit brought by Donald Trump against CNN. The case was launched over an opinion piece written by Larry Noble, a former general counsel at the Federal Election Commission. Noble took the position that Special Counsel Robert Mueller should have charged Trump campaign officials with soliciting dirt on his opponents. The lawsuit objected to one line in particular about the Trump campaign assessing “the potential risks and benefits of again seeking Russia’s help in 2020.” The judge said that Trump failed to show malice on the part of CNN.
  • In October, Gannett offered a round of voluntary buyouts to all its employees. According to a report from Poynter, roughly 600 people opted in and about 500 buyouts were accepted. Gannett, which owns USA Today and more than 250 other daily newspapers, is the country’s largest newspaper chain, with about 21,000 employees, 5,000 of whom are journalists. According to Poynter, the list of those who took the buyout offer includes about 60 editors, 19 photojournalists, seven managing editors, three executive editors, and 124 reporters.

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Mathew Ingram is CJR’s chief digital writer. Previously, he was a senior writer with Fortune magazine. He has written about the intersection between media and technology since the earliest days of the commercial internet. His writing has been published in the Washington Post and the Financial Times as well as by Reuters and Bloomberg.