Welcome to this week’s edition of Confider, the media newsletter that pulls back the curtain to reveal what’s really going on inside the world’s most powerful navel-gazing industry. Subscribe here and send your questions, tips, and complaints here.
EXCLUSIVE — HOW THE MEDIA GRINCHES STEAL XMAS: Seasons greetings! And by “season,” we mean that surreal time of year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day when media giants scramble to clear their books and pink-slip a bunch of employees. As 2023 nears its end, the media grinches are about to steal Christmas for many, as several key outlets are poised to suffer through a final wave of layoffs. The bloodbath began Thursday at Condé Nast, where about a dozen New Yorker staffers exited the famed magazine... Read the full Confider scoop here.
EXCLUSIVE — BEGRUDGING BENNET: Former New York Times opinions editor James Bennet apparently can’t move on from the scandal that derailed his career at the paper. For those with some memory loss, Bennet resigned in 2020 after publishing an op-ed in which Republican Sen. Tom Cotton called upon President Donald Trump to “send in the troops” to quell nationwide protests against police brutality. It was a truly dark period for the Times newsroom, with an internal revolt they’ve long hoped to forget. But Bennet hasn’t forgotten. Confider has learned that he’s been calling around to former Times colleagues, peppering them with questions about that fateful incident for a piece he intends to write for The Economist, where he now serves as a senior editor. No word yet on the specifics of the article or when it will run. Bennett and a rep for The New York Times both declined to comment. Read the full Confider scoop here.
EXCLUSIVE — OMID SCOBIE LETTERS: The British royal family’s oft-quoted mantra of “Never complain, never explain” went out the window last week when access journalist Omid Scobie’s new book, Endgame, made international headlines after copies published in the Netherlands named the alleged “royal racists” as King Charles III and Kate Middleton. As papers across the pond debated whether to name the pair, Confider has learned that white-shoe law firm Harbottle and Lewis—the royals’ lawyers of choice—blasted out legal warnings to British newsrooms, explicitly warning that naming Charles and Kate would breach Article 8 of the EU Convention on Human Rights, which declares that everyone has the right to respect for their private and family life. Nevertheless, the dam burst after Piers Morgan of all people named the king and the princess on his TalkTV show, a move that was then picked up by the New York Post before generating worldwide headlines. The Guardian was the first U.K.-based paper to name the pair, soon followed by their competitors. In what surely will go down as one of publishing’s strangest mysteries, Scobie, who once lied about his age in an interview, has denied all responsibility for naming the pair in a book he authored.
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EXCLUSIVE — CNN’S ‘KING CHARLES’ AIR BALL: King Charles was likely doomed to flop. The weekly primetime CNN show starring Charles Barkley and Gayle King absolutely bricked its debut with historically low ratings. Chris Licht first revealed the show in April as a linchpin of his vision for more “culturally relevant programming” on CNN. He was fired just six weeks later, but the ambitious show remained on the docket for the fall, perhaps because of contractual obligations, and despite leadership working overtime to scrub the Licht era from memory. The star-helmed show’s lifeless launch was no surprise, said three CNN insiders who spoke with Confider, because the show has been set up to fail. Most notable was the sheer lack of promotion, these sources said. Barkley and King, two undeniably savvy TV vets, participated in exactly zero curtain-raising profiles or interviews with outside media. Furthermore, the network announced a King Charles launch date with barely a week’s notice, clearly labeling it a “limited series” and quietly reversing the original plan for a 9 p.m. slot (the plan up until only a few weeks ago, sources said) by sticking it in the 10 p.m. hole. (The show will air at 9 this week to make way for CNN’s post-game analysis of NewsNation’s GOP primary debate.)
The launch underscored the limitations of Licht’s vision and of the show itself, as CNN, which prides itself on breaking-news coverage, was stuck airing a pre-taped King Charles premiere in the hour after Henry Kissinger’s death. As a war rages in Gaza and the 2024 election season picks up steam, one can easily see this problem recurring. Of course, the show, which is taped in the network’s Hudson Yards studios on the afternoon it airs, would hardly be the venue to cover major news even if it were live, considering Barkley’s comedic persona and lack of news experience.
All in all, CNN insiders said the general feeling is one of secondhand embarrassment given that a show boasting superstars of Barkley’s and King’s caliber were unable to book any major guests, instead debuting with Warriors coach Steve Kerr, rapper Fat Joe, and the two Gannett reporters tasked with covering Taylor Swift and Beyoncé. While King Charles did beat MSNBC among viewers in the key advertising demographic of ages 25-54, The Last Word ultimately drew more than three times as many viewers overall. In the end, the only real buzz generated from the first broadcast was that it was CNN’s lowest weeknight primetime debut in at least a decade. “CNN is very pleased with the launch of King Charles. This show is a big swing and unlike anything we have on our lineup,” a CNN spokesperson wrote in a statement. “We are already seeing a younger, more engaged audience across platforms along with strong viewer feedback. We are creating something new and fresh and are committed to building on a strong first episode.” [A previous version of this story mischaracterized the extent to which King Charles’ competitors covered Kissinger’s death.]
IN PLAIN SIGHT: CAA CEO and co-chairman Bryan Lourd lunching with David Letterman at Michael’s in Manhattan on Monday… Murdoch family chronicler Paddy Manning, who this year published The Successor, an unauthorized biography of Lachlan Murdoch, is out now with a must-listen podcast about Rupert Murdoch’s life, titled Rupert: The Last Mogul.
MORE FROM THE BEAST MEDIA DESK
—Fired Fox News star Tucker Carlson’s “right-hand man” Justin Wells has been accused of sexually assaulting a former Fox employee. According to the lawsuit, filed under the New York Adult Survivors Act, Wells “violently forced his tongue” down the ex-staffer’s mouth in 2008 before “aggressively” grabbing his genitals. Read about it here.
—Grant Lally, publisher of the Long Island paper that first exposed George Santos as a shameless grifter, reflects on how the national news media needs to learn from its mistake in not paying attention to local journalism until it’s too late. Read that here.
—Mehdi Hasan publicly addressed his MSNBC show’s cancellation, amid outcry from progressives who felt the axing was due to his outspoken criticism of Israel. Over the weekend, Hasan seemed to throw shade at MSNBC insiders who’ve claimed the show was bumped over low ratings, sharing headlines about his viewership gains and unsubtly writing: “Proud to have hosted one of the highest-rated @msnbc shows on the weekend and one of the most viral shows on the network.” More here.
—The lawyer who’s created a cottage industry of suing U.K. tabloids like The Sun, The Daily Mail, and the Mirror over historic phone-hacking claims sat down with the Financial Times for lunch to talk repping Prince Harry, Elton John and Johnny Depp. The always-tanned David Sherborne also discussed how he’s helped reshape privacy laws. Read that here.
—Speaking of vexatious litigants, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has a cracking deep-dive on how Carter Ruck became Britain’s most notorious libel firm, a go-to for the rich and powerful looking to kill stories. More here.
—Remember Talk magazine? The Fine Print’s first podcast goes back in time to revisit the backstory behind the Harvey Weinstein-funded publication, with interviews from former editor-in-chief Tina Brown and former Talk assistant and now-New York mag writer Rebecca Traister. Listen to that here.
***WHAT ARE WE OUTRAGED ABOUT NOW?***
While covering the death of Henry Kissinger, Fox News hosts were simply beside themselves that the “liberal media” dared describe the former secretary of state, architect of illegal bombing campaigns among other disastrous policies, as a “war criminal.” After Rolling Stone, HuffPost, and The Daily Beast published obits calling Kissinger a “monster” or wishing him “good riddance,” the conservative cable giant published a digital article moaning about “mean-spirited send-offs” for the Nixon-era diplomat. On Thursday’s broadcast of The Five, the network’s premier destination for faux outrage, Jesse Watters groused that the “liberal media is full of scorn and hatred” for Kissinger, wondering why they were “smearing him as America’s most notorious war criminal.” Right-wing pundit Katie Pavlich heaped praise on Kissinger for his “courage” and “resolved, principled, consequential decisions” while lecturing the left for not being “open-minded” on his legacy. Resident “liberal” commentator Harold Ford Jr. continued the lovefest, incredibly claiming there was “no better and more tireless advocate for peace in his 100 years on this earth in my lifetime than Henry Kissinger.” Meanwhile, during his Sunday media show, Fox News host Howard Kurtz added his criticism of the “uber-liberal” media running “screaming headlines” before himself running to Kissinger’s defense. “Fifty years after Kissinger left office, left-wingers are still blasting President Nixon's secretary of state,” he declared. “‘War criminal’ was their label, but even with the secret bombing of Cambodia, those decisions were ultimately made by Nixon, not Kissinger.”