The influential conservative website RedState fired a handful of prominent writers on Friday in a move that appeared motivated, at least in part, by purging the outlet of anti-Trump voices.
The Daily Beast confirmed that among those laid off by RedState and its parent company Townhall Media were top editors and writers Caleb Howe, Jay Caruso, Ben Howe, Patrick Frey (who writes under the pseudonym Patterico), Neil Stevens, and Susan Wright—all of whom are often critical of the president.
Fired staffers learned about their dismissal either through their email accounts being locked or via a memo from Townhall general manager and vice president Jonathan Garthwaite. “[W]e are having to make changes to RedState effective today,” the memo read. “Unfortunately, we have reached the conclusion that we can no longer support the entire current roster of writers.”
RedState was founded in 2004, and soon after conservative pundit Erick Erickson was hired as its editor in chief. The site quickly grew into an influential blog among both Republican lawmakers and conservative activists. But the shedding of staffers on Friday marks a new chapter in its history and for some of those let go, it is a reflection of the drift that the conservative movement has taken during the Trump era.
“There was a time that Republican politicians were terrified if [RedState] excoriated them from the front page,” fired contributor Ben Howe lamented to The Daily Beast. “But the modern conservative movement seems to have grown tired of accountability. ‘Liberal tears’ is the new operating principle. Unless you’re causing those tears to flow you aren’t being a team player.”
Garthwaite and Townhall Media did not respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment.
Erickson, who no longer operates the website, lamented the latest development in a tweet on Friday morning and suggested to The Daily Beast that the motivations for the layoffs were “two-fold”—relating to both financial and political concerns.
He said he had spoken with roughly a dozen RedState writers on Friday, as the layoff notices went out.
“A number of those fired had older contracts making more money-per-click,” he explained. “But [RedState] kept all the pro-Trump ones. Of those they fired making the lower amount per-click, the ones who were regularly critical of Trump were fired—even if they generated solid traffic.”
Several vocal Trump critics—including Sarah Rumpf and Joe Cunningham—remain with the site. But Friday’s dismissals have been interpreted by those on staff, and those let go, as a purge of anti-Trump writers.
“Any opinion site that fires people en masse because of a particular point of view is sending a message,“ fired columnist Patterico wrote on Twitter. “The message is: this point of view will no longer be tolerated at this Web site. Any operator of a Web site is entitled to decide that a particular message will no longer be tolerated. When the message that will no longer be tolerated is criticism of the sitting President, that creates all kinds of problems for the site.”
Another fired staffer, who requested anonymity to speak freely, said the layoffs “definitely” had political motivations. “They canned someone who brought in 700k to 800k page views per month,” the writer told The Daily Beast. “Lately that would be around 10 percent of monthly traffic.”
Indeed, the website’s highest-trafficked writer, Susan Wright, has been openly critical of not just President Trump—routinely decrying his various scandals, “desperate” behavior, and self-contradictions—but of the unabashed pro-Trump sycophants in conservative media, such as Fox News’ Sean Hannity.
Wright makes “significantly less” than other, more pro-Trump writers who remain with the site and generate less traffic, a source noted to The Daily Beast.
RedState is one of many conservative opinion sites in the Townhall Media roster, alongside Townhall, HotAir, Twitchy, and Human Events. As CNN noted on Friday, their parent company, Salem Media Group—which also owns radio networks and book publishers—has previously been criticized for its treatment of radio hosts who criticized Trump during the election.
Other laid-off staffers suggested the firings reflect the Trump-era incentive for conservative outlets to protect the Republican president at all costs. One of those staffers was Ben Howe, who has been one of the right’s most vocal Trump critics. He was early adopter of the “Never Trump” tag during the election, declaring that he planned to work against Trump’s candidacy, even if that meant helping Hillary Clinton. At one point during the election he declared that a regrettably “status-quo” candidate like Clinton would be better than having “maniac” Trump in the White House.
“It had become clear to me over the last couple of years that Jonathan [Garthwaite] was far more interested in making sure his golfing buddies were pleased with the level of GOP line-toeing more than anything,” Howe told The Daily Beast.
By writing anti-Trump opinions, he said, “you’re certainly making Jonathan’s tee time awkward.”