exclusive

Bad Take

The CEO of Laura Ingraham’s LifeZette Won’t Stop Talking About His Employees’ ‘Boobs and Butts’

‘Is it just me or are [her] tits getting bigger?’ the conservative site’s top exec said about a female colleague, according to one of seven sources who spoke with The Daily Beast.

LifeZette, the politics and culture website founded by prominent ally of President Donald Trump and longtime talk-radio host Laura Ingraham, is in trouble.

Traffic to the site—billed as the right’s answer to the massive Huffington Post when it was founded in 2015—is minuscule, with an average of little more than 10,000 unique visitors per day in July, according to data from ComScore. LifeZette is also the target of a labor complaint aimed at its payroll practices from a former employee who says paychecks came sporadically and with little official documentation, according to documents provided to The Daily Beast.

Most seriously, according to seven sources currently and formerly employed by LifeZette, the organization has become a deeply uncomfortable place for women to work, with a top company official repeatedly making sexually suggestive comments about female employees—sometimes within earshot of those female staffers.

Byron Martinez, LifeZette’s former broadcast engineer and IT administrator, recalled Peter Anthony, the site’s chief executive “talking about other women’s boobs, butts… how he would desire sexual activities with [female colleagues] and stuff like that… All kinds of inappropriate talk about women in the office.”

Six other sources also singled out Anthony by name as the chief culprit. Anthony, a longtime friend and business partner of Ingraham’s, co-founded the D.C.-based site with her and oversees its day-to-day operations.

With the exception of Martinez, all sources spoke to The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity because they feared reprisal from Ingraham and Anthony.

Reports of Anthony’s conduct at Ingraham’s company come as the latter is in talks for her own prime-time show at Fox News, which has itself recently paid millions of dollars to settle allegations that some of its most senior employees and talent sexually harassed female co-workers.

LifeZette sources say Anthony not only frequently made sexually inappropriate comments about female employees, but also aggressively and profanely pressured staffers into taking liquor shots at company happy hours.

One former employee recalled being called into Anthony’s office under the pretense of an editorial discussion. Instead, the CEO began commenting on a colleague’s breasts.

“Is it just me or are [a female colleague’s] tits getting bigger?” the source recalled him saying. In another instance, according to the same source, Anthony said a female colleague “looks like a bitch. If she smiled more she’d be sexier.” Other current and former LifeZette employees described similar sexually suggestive comments.

Multiple sources described Anthony’s habit of gossiping audibly in the office—including to former senior editor Joseph Curl—about how a twentysomething female colleague must be “doing yoga because her ass was so good,” among other crude observations targeting specific female reporters.

In response to an email from The Daily Beast, Curl replied by writing, “So, Houston is under water, North Korea's firing missiles over Japan, the cost of health care has tripled under Obamacare, and you’re writing about -- LifeZette happy hours? No wonder so many Americans despise the media. Your ‘story’ is less than fake news—it’s utter bullshit.”

Get The Beast In Your Inbox!

Daily Digest

Start and finish your day with the top stories from The Daily Beast.

Cheat Sheet

A speedy, smart summary of all the news you need to know (and nothing you don't).

By clicking “Subscribe,” you agree to have read the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy
Thank You!
You are now subscribed to the Daily Digest and Cheat Sheet. We will not share your email with anyone for any reason.

(The Daily Beast did not bring up happy hours with Curl in the prior email exchange, suggesting Curl had been in contact with someone else The Daily Beast had reached for this story. Anthony claims that he wasn’t in contact with Curl regarding the statement above.)

In any event, management, specifically Anthony, made vanishingly little effort to hide his behavior from colleagues, all of the sources said independently.

Much of his crude, sexual commentary was done within clear earshot of his female employees, multiple women told The Daily Beast. One source said it seemed like he “just didn’t care.” Another succinctly described Ingraham and Anthony’s operation as “a kooky work environment” defined largely by “management by chaos,” with all seven sources echoing sentiments of poor management.

A different source who has worked for LifeZette said Anthony sometimes used similarly misogynistic and vulgar terms when discussing former colleagues.

“Call her up and tell her she’s a bitch for leaving us,” Anthony said, according to the source. “I would walk by her desk and she wouldn’t even smile at me.”

Desks in the office were arranged, according to multiple sources, so young female employees were directly outside Anthony’s office.

“[Anthony] is a really gross, skeezy guy that I don’t think anybody at the company had faith in… a total creep to women in the office,” said a former employee.

Multiple male and female staffers said Anthony would also find the opportunity to make “women feel super-uncomfortable” during late-afternoon staff happy hours. He would rowdily demand colleagues take several rounds of liquor shots, according to sources, and sometimes publicly call male or female employees “a pussy” if they did not comply.

Sources also said Anthony sometimes made comments about race that they found discomfiting. Two sources said they heard Anthony criticize Michelle Obama for a spring 2016 speech in which she supposedly used “Ebonics.”

Anthony, for his part, rejected this and every other allegation presented to him in a Monday phone call.

“The questions you put to me are false,” Anthony told The Daily Beast. “I stand by LifeZette’s record as a company. Since we’ve been in business we’ve never had a single complaint about misconduct, inappropriate behavior, unsafe work environment, or lack of professionalism by any staff. These are things we take very seriously at every level. We treat our employees both current and former with the utmost respect.”

That statement is incomplete, however. After Martinez resigned from the company this year, he lodged a complaint with District of Columbia employment regulators alleging that he was not paid in a timely manner, and not provided with pay stubs. According to documentation that Martinez provided to The Daily Beast, LifeZette received that complaint—and denied its allegations—this month.

Anthony reiterated that denial in an emailed statement. “Mr. Martinez was paid every two weeks and any issue with Mr. Martinez being unable to receive direct deposit or failure to pick up his paycheck should be directed to Mr. Martinez,” he wrote. “As I have already stated,” he said in another email, “these unattributed allegations are false.”

But not all of the allegations are unattributed, as his response to Martinez’s complaint indicates.

Martinez said the company provided no meaningful recourse to address the alleged payment discrepancies. “I communicated this to our quote-unquote HR department, but that just didn’t seem to help because two to three weeks went by and I never got a response,” he said. “So I went directly to Pete and said ‘Hey, what’s going on.’ He sent in the payment, but it continued month after month.”

Martinez oversaw the construction of a broadcast studio in the company’s offices. In that capacity, he said, he witnessed contractors go months without receiving their promised compensation. Separately, another former vendor told The Daily Beast that the site had reneged on a five-figure video contract, and that repeated efforts to elicit an explanation or a resolution from LifeZette leadership went unanswered. The contractor, who provided The Daily Beast with emails showing their repeated attempts to collect more than $15,000 in unpaid fees, asked to remain anonymous to avoid damaging other professional relationships.

Three LifeZette sources, including Martinez, say they never felt that internal complaints led to any meaningful resolution for either bookkeeping issues or what they describe as Anthony’s routine denigration of women in the office.

Martinez said he tried with little success to enlist an off-site human-resources staffer to resolve his payroll problems, but that those problems continued.

“There were times that I was getting paid whenever Pete felt like paying me,” Martinez continued. “That went on for months... I gave them time, but then I began to see a pattern where I’m not getting paid on time.”

Anthony, in addition to being responsible for the operations of LifeZette, also served as a top public representative for his and Ingraham’s media venture. He has been quoted on the pages of Poynter and Vanity Fair regarding LifeZette’s operations. He was prominently quoted in press releases touting the media company he co-founded with Ingraham, including a Business Wire blast in which he highlighted their “content that resonates deeply with site visitors and fosters high levels of engagement.” He has been written about and his work has been covered in Breitbart, Politico, HuffPost (which reported on his role in prepping a potential Senate run for Ingraham), Newsmax, and the Washington Examiner.

Ingraham did not respond to multiple inquiries for this story; Anthony confirmed that she was aware of them. A number of sources described her as hands-off in the day-to-day operation of the newsroom. But Martinez said he made her aware of his frequent payroll problems

“Her role is that she talks to Pete and Pete handles everything for her. So of course she’s well aware of it,” Martinez said. “I would cc Laura on the emails but she would never discuss any wages or finances with me or anything like that.”

But it is unclear if Ingraham, the LifeZette co-founder and top editor, knew anything about Anthony’s lewd comments. Sources working at the website all independently characterized Ingraham as too focused on her radio show, her book, and her next potential big career move to be aware of the myriad examples of a potential HR nightmare.

Fox News, where she is reportedly in talks for a coveted prime-time slot, is certainly no stranger to HR nightmares. The network has struggled recently under the weight of sexual-harassment allegations, including a number leveled at its late chief executive Roger Ailes and also hosts such as Bill O’Reilly, the former Fox prime-time star who departed the network in April.

A former employee who recalled multiple instances of inappropriate conduct by Anthony described Ingraham as “pretty harmless,” suggesting she was generally unaware of that misconduct. Aside from the occasional executive decision with respect to the site’s content, she wasn’t deeply involved as a manager, sources say.

“She would be in the office,” a former employee recalled. “For periods of time she’d come in, do the radio show, she might stay in her studio for another hour working with her producers, and then she would go leave to write her book.”

Another job under consideration was a top position in the Trump administration. Sources say she met with Eric Trump at the Four Seasons in Washington, D.C., during the presidential transition to interview for White House press secretary, a job that eventually went to former Republican Party spokesman Sean Spicer. “We were all on high alert that week,” one former employee said, wondering what would become of LifeZette if Ingraham was offered the White House job.

Sources also noted that Steve Bannon, Trump’s former White House chief strategist and campaign CEO, had also eyed Ingraham for the role, as his preferred pick over Spicer. Bannon and Ingraham go way back, and Ingraham has publicly defended Bannon as her “good friend” who was, as Ingraham would spin it, the target of a left-wing smear campaign particularly after the 2016 election.

Ingraham had been “hanging out personally” with Trump during the primaries, the former employee said, and helping him craft speeches in the nationalist right-wing vernacular that Ingraham has honed during a career in talk radio. She didn’t land the press-secretary gig, but Spicer threw a bone to Ingraham’s website in January when he kicked off a press briefing in the first week of the Trump presidency by fielding a question from LifeZette’s White House reporter.

In response to that get, Anthony told Poynter that same month that “the content is all our own, we’re staying away from salacious headlines and our audience is not necessarily Washington, D.C. people with time to dig into everything. We try to be less rhetoric-driven and to not chase clickbait. We’d like to think that a broader spectrum gives us a different perspective.”

Some of LifeZette’s top content has included “What to Do If Your Teenager Is Promiscuous” on the “MomZette” vertical, “Why So Many Women Don’t Like the ‘F-Word,’” and controversial and since deleted posts promoting Clinton “body count” conspiracy theories. One such article was promoted under the banner of: “Could crossing the Clintons kill you?”

Despite those and other click-ready headlines, sources say the site’s traffic has been anemic. Asked what daily traffic figures looked like, one former employee estimated that its concurrent visitors were generally “in the hundreds.” Others said, absent a large traffic influx from a source like the Drudge Report, LifeZette readership at any given point is at most in the low thousands.

According to data from the analytics service ComScore, LifeZette had fewer than 330,000 unique visitors in July. Anthony said that data was inaccurate—the site “does not contain ComScore tags,” he said in an emailed statement—and insisted that a LifeZette media kit pegging its monthly unique visitors at 6 million is entirely accurate (PDF).

Former employees, however, described a general sense of concern about LifeZette’s financial health.

“I don’t know how or if they’re making actual money,” one former employee said.

Two former LifeZette staffers told The Daily Beast that a top editor at the site said privately that T. Boone Pickens, the famous financier and energy magnate, was a huge source of cash flow for the conservative-media startup. Anthony declined to discuss if Pickens had a financial relationship with the site. Pickens’ spokesman did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

In February, the Associated Press sued LifeZette for over $49,000, claiming in the complaint that the site failed to pay months of licensing fees for AP content. The lawsuit was later withdrawn.

As The Daily Beast reported out its story on LifeZette, reporters received an unsolicited email on Wednesday evening from Maureen Mackey, LifeZette’s managing editor. “This is a highly driven group in a very professional environment—led by our CEO Peter Anthony, whose sole focus is our business growth and development,” Mackey wrote. “At LifeZette, women are very well represented on our team, including in senior editorial positions, and always have been.”

The statement did not directly respond to allegations about Anthony’s in-office conduct.

Despite the problems besetting LifeZette, it is clear Ingraham is still determined to plug her website in high-profile media. When Ingraham is introduced on Fox News—where she hopes to make her future professional home—she is still introduced by hosts as the proud editor in chief of LifeZette.