Conservative entrepreneur and filmmaker Dennis Michael Lynch was fired this week from a short-lived – but extremely successful – stint as the host of his own Newsmax TV show, UNFILTERED.
Lynch wasn’t just fired. His mic was cut by Newsmax in the final broadcast. Lynch actually suspected that would be coming, once he launched into his final monologue. In it, he explained why he couldn’t agree to broadcast pre-packaged content provided by the Newsmax editors: negative coverage of Donald Trump, and of the Fox News scandal over allegations against Roger Ailes.
I have no doubt Dennis Michael Lynch will land on his feet and go on to another success. (He’ll be launching a new broadcast on Monday, 15 August.) I certainly wish him well.
He captured unedited video footage of his final show and posted it on Facebook, and you can watch it below. (For now. It’s been deleted once already. Using another upload, from YouTube, but it may get deleted too.)
Newsmax’s perspective is also here for balance. (It was here. The video has been removed from YouTube, and I haven’t been able to locate the Newsmax video again. If I can find it, I’ll load it. The difference is that it doesn’t show all of the DML uncut video; it opens with a brief retrospective on the UNFILTERED show; and it has Newsmax’s official statement on ending the show.)
But it’s worth taking a few minutes to consider what just happened. Lynch’s show began airing in January 2016, and immediately became by far Newsmax TV’s most successful show. Sometimes it beat its closest competition on Newsmax by a factor of 10. So CEO Christopher Ruddy wasn’t turning off a non-performing, weak, or even average asset. He terminated his biggest viewer draw.
What was the reason? Apparently, it was that Lynch didn’t want to read copy that reflected the editorial priorities of the Newsmax corporation.
The explanation sounds plausible on its face. I’ve seen a number of conservative websites run with it, agreeing, in a reflexive and perfunctory way, that the owner of the media company gets to exercise ultimate editorial control.
But that particular principle doesn’t necessarily apply in this case, from what I can tell. I think we need to look closer.
Aside from the fact that Lynch says he was given total editorial control of his program (and not knowing the terms of his contract, we can’t speak to that specifically), the issue in this case was what Newsmax wanted him to say. Newsmax wanted him to used packaged copy prepared by Newsmax.
With your star program hosts, the exercise of editorial control is more typically a case of what you want them to not say.
It was what Fox News wanted Glenn Beck to not say, for example, that eventually got his show booted from the channel.
By contrast, Bill O’Reilly doesn’t make a practice of saying Beck-like things that a Fox bigwig would find alarming. (These days, he brings Beck on the show for talking-head spots and lets Beck say them.) But O’Reilly does regularly omit to say things that we can tell – by watching other shows – are the Fox party line.
That’s more usually how editorial control works, with your top cash-cow hosts. And Lynch seems to have been that with Newsmax.
So it’s interesting that Ruddy would cut off a big cash flow, ostensibly over what Lynch wouldn’t say. Ruddy has other shows – and other media outlets – to get that stuff said.
My assessment would be that Ruddy let Lynch go for another reason: because of what Lynch does say, and because of which way Ruddy sees the political winds blowing.
There are two big structural factors to juxtapose here: factors that play into Newsmax’s long-term goals. One is Christopher Ruddy’s assault on Fox News’s media share, which he launched in 2014 with Newsmax TV.
The packaged copy Lynch was handed about the Roger Ailes scandal could certainly be considered a fresh wave in that assault. Lynch explained clearly why he couldn’t in good conscience make himself part of a campaign to dirty up Fox News – and Ruddy’s motive may have been mostly about peeling viewers away from Fox. It might have been as simple as that, just as slanting coverage of Trump to the negative side might be about distinguishing Newsmax from Fox. A lot of conservative websites are drawing just those conclusions.
But Fox’s coverage of Trump hasn’t been that positive. Instead, it’s been the closest thing out there, among the “majors,” to fair and balanced. Between them, heavyweight commentators like Charles Krauthammer, Brit Hume, and Karl Rove have depicted Trump as basically an out-of-control zoo animal. But their judgments are counterbalanced by the obvious affinity for Trump held by Sean Hannity, for example, and some of the regulars on the group shows Outnumbered and The Five. In terms of its straight news coverage of Trump, Fox, considered in toto, has done a pretty good job of digging through for facts and letting them speak for themselves – unlike literally every other news channel and network.
It’s not actually clear to me why, if you were a conservative media magnate, you would want to distinguish your coverage of Trump from Fox News’s coverage.
That’s where the second big structural factor comes in. Unnoticed by many conservatives, Christopher Ruddy has become quite a fan of the Clintons in the years since he published his expose about the death of Vince Foster. He’s also a major donor to the Clinton Foundation. In 2015, he actually wrote an editorial defending the Clinton Foundation from the allegations against it (which were coming from both the left and the right) – and he went on air to make his case.
For my money, this next video is the one you need to contrast with Dennis Michael Lynch’s final commentary for UNFILTERED, in order to understand why he was let go. (H/t: Crooks and Liars)
Ruddy has said in several venues in the last few years that his views are not conservative in the sense they once were. Bloomberg summed it up this way in 2014, when Ruddy was launching his TV channel to compete with Fox:
Although Ted Cruz is on the February cover of Newsmax magazine under the headline “Fixing Washington,” Ruddy’s own conservatism, despite a fervent anti-Obama streak, is far from Tea Party obstructionism. “People mellow or change or get perspective as they age,” says liberal journalist Joe Conason, often Ruddy’s foil during the Clinton battles, who now counts him as a friend. “Or most people do. He’s not this right-wing kid that he was.”
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.
Ruddy’s friendship with the Clintons has been much remarked on in conservative circles. (In a signed photo on Ruddy’s wall, Bill Clinton wrote, “I hope this doesn’t destroy your circulation.”) He met Clinton in 2007 at Clinton’s Harlem offices, and they toured Africa together. Ruddy has given substantially to the Clinton Foundation and favored Hillary over Obama in 2008. “I’m already torn by a Hillary Clinton candidacy,” he says. “I actually think she would make a good president. Generally, I would align myself with the Republican candidate, so there could be some bumps coming down the road.”
Ruddy is a media entrepreneur before he’s a principled conservative. He doesn’t even have to like or support Hillary Clinton, to want to avoid getting on her bad side.
He just has to think she’s going to win in November.
Remember, if Hillary wins, the federal institutions that have the biggest effect on the media – certainly web-dependent media like Newsmax, but also old-model media like Fox – will be shaped by Hillary. Supreme Court, Commerce, FCC, FTC, FEC: Hillary will gain the edge in all of them, and for years to come.
That’s a nasty thought, for those of us who cherish new media precisely because they unleash people like Dennis Michael Lynch. It’s also nasty because of the real threat it can pose to Fox, which may limp along bloody and battered, compromised in some ways, but still does what no one else on the main stage does.
For Ruddy, it could be an opportunity to position Newsmax as the “loyal opposition” that doesn’t get hunted down by the federal bush-beaters, when Hillary follows through on Obama’s plan to strangle media freedom (see here, here, here, here, here, and here as well).
The price of getting such special consideration from a Hillary regime would be, precisely, unloading guys like Lynch, even if they’re big earners for you. The campaign to assail Fox News’s media position can have multiple supporting efforts. That’s how simple this may be.