Former Trump campaign adviser Steve Cortes is out at Newsmax and will host his last primetime broadcast for the right-wing cable channel early next week, if not sooner, five sources familiar with the matter told The Daily Beast.
Tensions between Cortes and the MAGA cable network had long been simmering, sources suggested, but it was the Trump loyalist’s vehement disagreement—which he wasn’t shy about publicly voicing—with Newsmax’s company-wide vaccine rules that was the final straw.
In a statement, sent three days after the publication of this story, Newsmax wrote: “Any claims that Mr. Cortes was fired or quit Newsmax over vaccine issues is completely false. Newsmax never has had, nor does it ever plan to have, a vaccine mandate and we have taken every step to make sure staff can easily opt-out of Biden’s proposed OSHA requirements.”
Earlier this month, Newsmax instituted a rule that all employees must either be vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID testing. The news of such a policy, which was in compliance with the Biden administration’s policy for businesses with more than 100 employees, pushed Cortes to unequivocally declare on Twitter that he wouldn’t have any part of it.
“I will not comply w/ any organization’s attempt to enforce Biden’s capricious & unscientific Medical Apartheid mandate,” he blared in one tweet. “I will not be forced into the injection, nor will I disclose my vaccination status. No one should be pressured to choose between medical privacy & their job.”
Cortes publicly bashing his employer’s decision may have been the final straw, but insiders said the former Trump campaign strategist and ex-CNN contributor has long conflicted with Newsmax.
“It’s been ongoing for a while,” one current Newsmax staffer told The Daily Beast, adding that Cortes is “a constant risk” due to his penchant for making controversial and inflammatory comments.
“He’s on a delay. Can’t trust him,” the staffer further noted, claiming Cortes’ nightly program utilizes a broadcast delay to give the network an opportunity to censor potentially inappropriate content.
Another Newsmax insider suggested threats of litigation have loomed between Cortes and the network, while another current network employee said his exit was most likely “because the ratings for [the Cortes] show suck” and Newsmax is just looking to make a change.
“He still insists the election was stolen,” the staffer continued, pointing out that such claims are verboten on Newsmax airwaves as the network faces billion-dollar lawsuits for amplifying baseless voter-fraud conspiracy theories. Voting technology companies Smartmatic and Dominion have both filed defamation cases against Newsmax for “knowingly and continuously” selling a “false story of election fraud” following Trump electoral loss.
Cortes’ departure from the upstart Trumpist network comes only six months after Newsmax announced he would co-host a weeknight 9 p.m. ET show with former One America News correspondent Jenn Pellegrino. Cortes & Pellegrino appeared to be part of a continuing effort by Newsmax to peel away diehard MAGA viewers who had become disgruntled with Fox News for supposedly being insufficiently loyal to former President Donald Trump.
Despite the hope that Cortes’ credibility with the fervent Trump base would be enough to get the disgraced ex-president’s followers to tune in, Cortes & Pellegrino only averaged 152,000 total viewers a night last month and 24,000 in the key advertising demographic of viewers between the ages 25-54. Sharing the same time slot as cable-news stalwarts Hannity and The Rachel Maddow Show, the 9 p.m. program pulls in only a fraction of its rivals’ viewership.
Furthermore, the primetime show is one of the lowest-rated weekday offerings on the network, which has seen its ratings fall back to earth after a brief surge following the 2020 election. For the month of October, Cortes & Pellegrino ranked ninth in viewership on Newsmax, lagging behind mid-afternoon programs like American Agenda and Eric Bolling: The Balance. It also drew more than 200,000 fewer nightly viewers than the network’s top-rated show Greg Kelly Reports, which airs at 7 p.m. ET.
Cortes’ apparent ouster occurs amid a rash of other changes taking place at Newsmax. Last month, in a seemingly concerted effort to expand its newsroom operations and copy Fox News’ formula of separating its supposed “straight news” and opinion divisions, Newsmax hired two veteran Fox producers to become the network’s news director and vice president of talent. The network was also in negotiations with former Fox News chief D.C. correspondent James Rosen for a reporting role.
The former Trump adviser isn’t the only over-the-top personality that Newsmax has distanced itself from in recent weeks. After White House correspondent Emerald Robinson—a far-right reporter with a long history of peddling conspiratorial rhetoric—outrageously claimed COVID-19 vaccines contained Satanic “bioluminescent” tracking devices, the network pulled her off the air and will likely never bring her back, multiple sources said.
And even though Newsmax has long openly embraced unhinged right-wing commentary, Cortes’ rhetoric was a bridge too far for Newsmax executives behind the scenes, according to three sources familiar with the matter.
Besides his aggressive anti-vax stance—which ran afoul of Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy’s public support for vaccines and COVID-19 mitigation efforts—Cortes has long been a loud 2020 denialist who has parroted Trump’s lies about widespread voter fraud and a “stolen election.”
And even before Cortes relentlessly peddled the “Big Lie,” the Trump diehard had become notorious for his outlandish rhetoric.
The then-campaign operative, for instance, lamented in the summer of 2020 that Trump wasn’t being “more of a fascist.” On top of that, Cortes appeared across mainstream news shows to push spurious conspiracies about the Democratic presidential ticket late in the campaign.
—With additional reporting by Asawin Suebsaeng.