Newsmax Goes Fishing for Respectability in Fox’s Talent Pool
The outlet appears to be backing off the fringe ledge just a tad after high-profile embarrassments, hiring two longtime Fox producers—and may add reporting vet James Rosen.
Between multiple billion-dollar lawsuits over its 2020 election-fraud lies and having a star White House reporter go all-in on satanic vaccine conspiracy theories, Newsmax seems to be facing a similar predicament to that of Fox News in recent years: How do we pivot away from the lunacy?
The fledgling MAGA channel’s solution seems to be going on a hiring spree of former Fox News producers and reporters.
While Newsmax has never shied away from over-the-top, often unhinged right-wing commentary, the MAGA-centric channel’s ludicrousness came under the microscope over the last two weeks when its star White House reporter Emerald Robinson began pushing on Twitter a patently absurd claim that the COVID-19 vaccines contain a “bioluminescent” tracking device with satanic powers.
Newsmax publicly rebuked Robinson, emphasizing that the network “never reported” her “false claims” on its airwaves. And then on Nov. 4, Newsmax announced it had benched the correspondent who’d previously worked for rival far-right outlet OAN. “Newsmax is currently reviewing the posts and during that period Ms. Robinson will not be on the air but continue with duties for the network,” a network spokesperson said at the time.
The right-wing personality returned to Twitter last Tuesday, after serving a seven-day suspension, and was almost immediately given a permanent ban for continuing to promote her satanic vaccines conspiracy theory on the platform.
And now it appears Robinson’s days as a Newsmax personality are numbered, multiple sources told The Daily Beast. Newsmax may already be lining up a far more seasoned reporter to take over—former Fox News chief D.C. correspondent James Rosen, currently a political reporter for local TV giant Sinclair Broadcasting Group.
Furthermore, over the past month Newsmax has hired two longtime Fox News “straight news” executive producers to be the fledgling network’s news director and vice president of talent. This seeming effort to replicate the Fox News model suggests Newsmax is trying to expand its threadbare newsroom and lend it some credibility—in spite of recent embarrassments.
As one Newsmax staffer told The Daily Beast earlier this month: “If we are going to be viewed as a news organization, we have to act like one.”
After Twitter permanently banned Robinson, Newsmax appeared to suggest this week that changes were afoot.
“Emerald Robinson remains off-air as Newsmax reviews matters relating to her posts made outside of the channel on her own social media,” a Newsmax spokesperson told The Daily Beast on Wednesday morning. “As of yet we have not determined when she will return to the air.”
But within the network, multiple sources said, the decision has essentially been made.
One current staffer said that the consensus belief among network employees is that “she’s just going to be gone.” However, “nothing definitive” has been relayed to the newsroom. Another insider told The Daily Beast that Robinson is almost certainly done with Newsmax. (Sources said Robinson, who left OAN to join Newsmax only last year, may be an independent contractor and not a full-time employee—a not-so-unusual arrangement for Newsmax on-air personalities, as at least one other prominent correspondent and a weekday anchor are contractors.)
Now a former Fox correspondent appears in line to possibly take her job. According to two sources familiar with the matter, James Rosen has been in negotiations with Newsmax to become the network’s new chief D.C. correspondent. The veteran reporter has been to the network’s New York offices, the sources said, and the discussions have been ongoing for several months, preceding even the Robinson controversy. Rosen would come with his own personal baggage, however. After leaving Fox News in late 2017, after nearly two decades at the network, it was reported that his exit came after a string of sexual misconduct claims were made against him, including allegedly groping and retaliating against female colleagues.
Rosen declined to comment when reached by The Daily Beast. “Unfortunately, we cannot comment on personnel issues,” a Newsmax spokesperson wrote in response to this story.
Having already staffed much of its on-air programming with ex-Fox Newsers like Eric Bolling, Rob Schmitt, and Greg Kelly, network CEO Chris Ruddy also recently brought on two veteran Fox News producers to shape Newsmax’s news desk in the mold of the channel it has quixotically challenged for more than a year now.
Christopher Wallace, who was at Fox News for nearly 15 years until May, was hired in October to be Newsmax’s news director. Wallace—no relation to the similarly named Fox News Sunday anchor—spent nearly four years as the executive producer of Fox News @ Night with Shannon Bream. Before that, he was a senior producer for various Fox Business and Fox News programs. Between his time at Fox and Newsmax, he spent five months as an executive VP at the D.C. political news outlet The Hill.
Valeria Riccioli was a Fox News producer for 14 years before departing in February and, just last month, being named Newsmax’s vice president of talent. In her final two years at Fox, Riccioli was executive producer of the cable giant’s daytime “straight news” broadcast, America’s Newsroom. Prior to that, she had risen through the ranks of the show, moving from segment producer to line producer to senior producer before getting the top gig.
Both Wallace and Riccioli’s exits came amid programming shifts at Fox News. Following the 2020 election, the network notably reshaped some of its weekday programming in January, including moving Bream’s straight-laced newsy talk show to midnight in April to make room for right-wing “comedy” show Gutfeld! in the 11 p.m. slot.
Newsmax sources labeled their hirings as “quite a shift,” noting that they demonstrated the network’s seemingly concerted effort to copy the Fox News formula of producing both allegedly “straight” news broadcasts alongside overtly right-wing opinion content.
Insiders suggested that humiliations like the Robinson ordeal plus multiple billion-dollar lawsuits from voting tech companies Smartmatic and Dominion—a consequence of Newsmax’s unhinged on-air election conspiracy theorizing—have undoubtedly galvanized a need for changes, no matter how slight.
One network insider said the hirings perhaps show that Newsmax wants to move beyond its start-up mindset and be taken more seriously as a supposed news organization.
“We had a news director but not as solid a news desk as we needed,” another current staffer said of Wallace’s hiring in particular.
This would be far from the first time Newsmax has attempted to replicate the Fox News model in order to broaden its audience and appeal to conservative cable viewers.
Back in 2019, Ruddy enlisted former Fox News star Bill O’Reilly’s longtime executive producer as a consultant, after briefly hiring former Fox News executive Michael Clemente as Newsmax’s CEO. By summer 2020, Newsmax had ramped up its efforts to compete with Fox by hiring a slew of Fox rejects to bolster its lineup.
And following the presidential election, Newsmax brought on even more ex-Fox Newsers while simultaneously taking Fox’s Trump apologia and turning the dial to 11, all while blasting its much larger rival for being insufficiently loyal to the disgraced ex-president and, in effect, being insufficiently Fox News anymore.
One such curious attack took place earlier this month on election night. Newsmax used reputable election forecasting service Decision Desk HQ’s services that evening and, as such, reported that Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin had won the contentious Virginia gubernatorial race long before Fox News—with its own in-house decision desk—followed suit.
Newsmax spent much of the following day touting itself as the first channel to call the race for Youngkin, repeatedly mocking Fox News for being last to do so. Never mind that Newsmax’s election-night call was based on an outside company’s projection; the mere fact of being faster to report Youngkin’s victory became an easy way for the network to (questionably, of course) tout its newsroom superiority over Fox News.
Elsewhere, Newsmax has made other subtle moves to step back from the fringe-right cliff it found itself on following the 2020 election—even though it was that obsequiously pro-Trump shift that helped put the network on the map in the first place.
While facing massive lawsuits from voting software companies Smartmatic and Dominion for repeatedly airing baseless voter fraud claims, for instance, Newsmax appears to have cut some ties with MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who remains one of the loudest pro-Trump election conspiracists.
After previously bashing Fox News for refusing to run Lindell’s “cyber symposium” ads and vocally supporting the pillow magnate, Newsmax has decided to stop running ads for its network on Lindell’s social-media platform, Frank Speech. “[Ruddy] made a bad decision, but, you know, I'm not gonna dwell on it,” Lindell groused about Newsmax on his livestream last month.
Furthermore, the network has also told its employees that it will adhere to the Biden administration’s vaccine requirements for large companies. While the network’s right-wing hosts have raged against the vaccine mandates and claimed they will not comply, the network has tried to publicly thread the needle by saying it has “no vaccine mandate nor do we require it for employment,” adding that they are “exploring our own legal options” regarding the federal policy.
At the same time, however, the internal memo declared that “all employees should be fully vaccinated,” suggesting that the company is—just like Fox News—trying to walk a fine line between publicly railing against any and all vaccine requirements while supporting vaccination rules for its own employees.
Diana Falzone was an on-camera and digital reporter for FoxNews.com from 2012 to 2018. In May 2017, she filed a gender discrimination and disability lawsuit against the network and settled, and left the company in March 2018.