DirecTV dropped Newsmax from its TV lineup, and it has been loudly playing the victim ever since, recruiting every right-winger it can find to help it complain -- but the Media Research Center is not really helping.
By Terry Krepel Posted 3/22/2023
There's nothing right-wingers like to do better than play victim when they feel even the least bit slighted. So when satellite provider DirecTV dropped Newsmax TV from its lineup Jan. 25 in a dispute over carriage fees that Newsmax demanded and DirecTV didn't want to pay, it rushed to play victim and has been calling in all the favors it can to help it act like a victim of "censorship" (even though Newsmax is available though other means such as streaming platforms). An anonymously written Jan. 25 article started the squealing:
At midnight Tuesday, AT&T's DirecTV cut Newsmax's signal, immediately shutting the network off from more than 13 million customers of the satellite service, DirecTV Stream, and U-Verse.
This is the second time in the past year AT&T has moved to cancel a conservative channel, with DirecTV deplatforming OAN in April.
Despite Newsmax being the 4th highest-rated cable news channel in the nation, a top 20 cable news channel overall, and watched by 25 million Americans on cable alone, according to Nielsen, DirecTV said it was taking the step as a "cost-cutting" measure and would never pay Newsmax a cable license fee.
DirecTV pays cable license fees to all top 75 cable channels and to all 22 liberal news and information channels it carries. Almost all of these channels are paid hefty license fees significantly more than Newsmax was seeking and despite the fact that most of the channels have much lower ratings than Newsmax.
"This is a blatant act of political discrimination and censorship against Newsmax," Christopher Ruddy, CEO of Newsmax said.
"The most extreme liberal channels, even with tiny ratings, get fees from AT&T's DirecTV, but Newsmax and OAN need to be deplatformed," Ruddy added.
The article did not name those "22 liberal news and information channels" DirecTV continues to carry, suggesting that the number may be a bit inflated. The article then tried to reframe the situation in its favor by accusing DirecTV of lying:
As news reports indicated the likelihood of a Newsmax deplatforming Tuesday night, DirecTV representatives made false claims to the media about Newsmax and its negotiations.
DirecTV falsely claimed to media outlets that Newsmax is asking for a fee but still wants to keep a free stream on OTT platforms (over-the-top service is a type of service offered directly to viewers).
But this is false; no operator pays a fee while Newsmax streams free and DirecTV was fully aware the free stream will end this year.
"We've discussed with Newsmax on several occasions that we'd like to offer their programming, however, the network is now seeking significant fees that we cannot pass on to our broad customer base," a DirecTV representative claimed in a statement.
But an analysis shows that Newsmax was seeking a fee with a 75% discount to its market value, and compared to fees currently paid by DirecTV, almost all 50 channels below Newsmax in ratings get higher fees.
Newsmax did not make this alleged analysis publicly available, making it impossible to verify its claim. Newsmax was certainly not going to ask DirecTV for a comment.
The article also added that "AT&T DirecTV's decision to drop OAN and Newsmax comes on the heels of a February 2021 letter written by Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., and then-Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., demanding that cable and satellite TV providers explain their alleged role in the 'spread of dangerous misinformation' by carrying conservative networks." But it did not admit that Newsmax and OAN did, in fact, spread misinformation about the 2020 presidential election -- specifically, repeated false attacks on election tech company Dominion -- over which Dominion has sued Newsmax and OAN. Newsmax eventually reached an out-of-court settlement with a Dominion executive who faced threats as a result of the false reporting, so yes, one can consider that misinformation quite dangerous.
Newsmax also failed to tell readers that this particular channel slot would continued to be occupied by a right-wing channel; DirecTV replaced Newsmax with The First, whose biggest name is disgraced ex-Fox News host Bill O'Reilly.
Former President Donald Trump Wednesday night joined the outcry against AT&T DirecTV's removal of Newsmax from its satellite and cable systems, calling it "disgusting" and saying that the move was a "big blow to the Republican Party and to America itself."
In a post on his Truth Social, Trump wrote:
"WOW. AT&T DIRECTV REMOVES NEWSMAX FROM ITS CHANNEL LINEUP. This disgusting move comes after “deplatforming” OAN last year. The Radical Left seems to have taken over the mind and soul of AT&T. This is a big blow to the Republican Party, and to America itself.”
Trump continued: “For DIRECTV to drop very popular NEWSMAX, without explanation, will not be accepted. I, for one, will be dropping all association with AT&T and DIRECTV, and I have plenty. This is just one of many reasons why we must WIN IN 2024!!!"
Very few, if any, of these articles, mentioned that DirecTV replaced Newsmax with another right-wing channel -- probably because admitting that fact would blow up the "censorship" and "cancel culture" arguments its commentators were making.
Speaking of which, Newsmax also got mad that Twitter did a fact-check exposing the controversy as the business dispute it is. The apparently uniroinically named Charlie McCarthy huffed in a Jan. 26 article:
Twitter has added what it claims is a user-generated context description to at least one tweet concerning DirecTV's decision to drop Newsmax from its service.
Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., tweeted Wednesday afternoon that "it would be unacceptable to de-platform Newsmax, a popular news channel that many of my constituents in #NY21 depend on for news." She also attached Newsmax's story reporting on DirecTV's move.
Stefanik's post now includes a gray-shaded box with a bold headline: "Readers added context they thought people might want to know."
"Newsmax wasn't cancelled, as it can be streamed for free on YouTube and directly on Newsmax.com still," the box's text reads. "DirecTV and Newsmax couldn't reach an agreement on the new rights or licensing fees after they were free for years."
The context verbiage included links to two stories (Newsweek, Daily Beast) and a link to Newsmax's YouTube page.
Even McCarthy couldn't argue with that. Still, he uncritically repeated his employer's talking point that "DirecTV continues to carry 22 liberal news channels, many with low ratings and all get paid hefty license fees" without naming those channels or listing the "hefty license fees" they supposedly receive.
The attack articles continued, which included demands for federal investigations into being dropped; there was no explanation of how demands that the government harass DirecTV for dropping Newsmax comports with conservative principles of keeping the government out of private business. Newsmax also set up a website filled with its talking points to encourage its viewers to harass DirecTV and its AT&T parent , including the demonstrable lie that "DirectTV wants to silence conservative voices in favor of liberal channels." In fact, DirecTV replaced Newsmax with another right-wing channel, The First, so there is in fact no "censorship" of right-wing views happening as a result of Newsmax's removal.
Newsmax also had columnists weight in as well. James Hirsen used his Jan. 30 column to peddle the corporate argument that "a host of channels that are filled with radical-left programming are still readily available to DirecTV users, even though viewing audiences remain in short supply," though he named only one:
One of the outlets with an extreme left-wing agenda that is allowed to freely prattle on is Vice Media. The channel is a virtual promoter of the trademark liberal political violence that has been witnessed over the past several years.
Not only does Vice Media get to remain on the platform, it turns out that it is being subsidized financially by a managing owner of DirecTV.
Newsmax has experienced tremendous growth precisely because it continues to deliver to audiences the content they consitently seek; information largely denied to them elsewhere.
Hirsen named no examples of the "extreme left-wing agenda" purportedly being pushed by Vice Media, nor did he admit that DirecTV replaced Newsmax with another right-wing channel. Instead, he went conspiracy-mongering in an attempt to link DirecTV to the hot new cause on the right, attacking ESG investing:
House committees may be taking a closer look at an entity called TPG Capital.
This is a private equity fund that reportedly owns a 30% stake in DirecTV and also appears to oversee the cable company’s operations.
A few more details:
TPG Capital is the private equity arm of the global asset firm TPG, which has fully adopted a woke-oriented agenda referred to in the business world as Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG).
ESG is a sort of measuring tool to gauge whether or not business organizations are sufficiently onboard with the woke agenda in order to qualify for financing and other advantages that equity firms provide.
The politics of those at the top rung of TPG are of the ultra-liberal kind.
TPG’s executives have given Democratic candidates 90% of their political donations. The private equity firm has also subsidized the aforementioned far-left news network Vice Media to the tune of hundreds of millions.
Hirsen did not explain how giving to Democratic candidates made one "ultra-liberal."He concluded by ranting that Congress needs to act fast to rescue free speech from the clutches of the stealth partners in the censorship battle" even though, again, no viewpoints have been "censored." He also completely censored the fact that this is a business dispute about licensing fees that Newsmax is demanding but DirecTV decided it didn't want to pay.
By ConWebWatch's count, Newsmax published at least 56 articles attacking DirecTV in the week after being dropped (articles listed here and here), and no articles that gave DirecTV a chance to defend itself. That campaign of hate doesn't seem very fair or balanced -- and perhaps justification that DirecTV made a sound business decision.
Newsmax entered its second week of loudly screaming victimhood and dishonestly elevating DirecTV dropping its TV channel in a business dispute into a "censorship" case and trying to get the government to interfere in it and punish DirecTV and its AT&T parent for its business decision. It has seemingly called in every right-winger who has ever appeared on the channel to register a complaint. Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy also spoke out in a Feb. 1 article that began by complaining that DirecTV wouldn't negotiate with it, then ramping up the victimhood and unproven conspiracy theory that Newsmax was targeted for being right-wing:
"It makes you wonder if there's something bigger behind this that they're so inflexible," Ruddy said.
There has been a "targeted" attack on silencing conservative dissent of liberal political views, he added.
"It was a political decision," Ruddy said, rejecting DirecTV's claim the deplatforming was a "business decision." "They know the elections are coming up. They want to silence conservative voices. They got away with deplatforming One America News, and they hope that they can get away with this, and I think they were shocked and surprised by the outcry."
"They really were selectively trying to target us to essentially put us out of business, because they know a cable news channel needs to have license fee income to exist, and they didn't want us to be treated like another cable news channel," Ruddy told Van Susteren, maintaining that DirecTV's "cost-cutting" explanation does not hold water.
"Usually you do it by eliminating the very costly channels that have very little ratings," Ruddy continued. "And with us, they're taking a highly rated channel we're No. 5 for cable news in the United States, we reach 25 million Americans, and we're top 20 of cable overall.
"We're a big deal in cable, and they're saying that we're not eligible for a fee."
Ruddy pompously thinking Newsmax is "a big deal in cable" doesn't mean it actually is. He also didn't mention that DirecTV replaced Newsmax with another right-wing channel, The First.
More Newsmax columnists have also had their say. A Jan. 31 column by Craig Shirley weirdly blamed the "dark forces of Wokeism" for Newsmax being kicked off DirecTV:
Newsmax is the vision of founder Christopher Ruddy along with his flagship magazine and radio networks.
But collectivism cannot stand the dissemination of conservative ideas simply because, freedom is better than tyranny.
At the very least, DirecTV and AT&T are guilty of violating the constitutionally protected right of free speech.
In other words, Direct TV is interfering with Newsmax audience's right to hear all the information on breaking news.
And Direct TV is disrupting Newsmax’s right to do business with you, the viewer.
You don’t get news and information anymore from NBC News' "Meet the Press," they are interested only in shrinking knowledge, not expanding it.
The program's ratings are abysmal.
Same too with The Washington Post, The New York Times, ABC and CBS.
In fact, all the left-wing news outlets.
And forget about NPR. You might as well be reading Mao’s "Little Red Book."
The left just doesn’t want your hard-earned money.
A Feb. 2 column by Dave Donaldson offered another reason to oppose Newsmax's deflatforming -- it gave right-wing and religious groups (he runs a religious group called CityServe) free publicity:
Each week, Newsmax TV gives scores of nonprofits, especially faith-based organizations, valuable airtime to communicate with a broader audience. They get to talk about their projects and why they matter to the broader community. And Newsmax has a reputation for being very generous with its airtime.
Newsmax sees the world in a way that transcends the common partisan struggles over money and politics. Now, I'm sure losing the opportunity to reach 13 million DirecTV viewers will impact Newsmax's carriage and ad revenue. But AT&T and DirecTV need to understand who else is going to suffer.
By the way, none of these people, including Ruddy, have mentioned the fact that DirecTV replaced Newsmax with another right-wing channel, The First, meaning that claims of viewpoint "censorship"are completely inoperative.
Tom Borelli parroted the pro-Newsmax line in a Feb. 3 column:
To the uninformed, DirecTV’s claim it got rid of Newsmax based on a business decision seems reasonable on the surface; looking deeper, it’s clear an intimidation campaign by U.S. House Democrats was a driving force behind its move to get rid of Newsmax.
In a February 2021 letter from Reps. Anna G. Eshoo, D-Calif., and Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., to companies that distribute TV news programs through streaming, satellite or cable, pressed those companies on their justification for providing Fox News, Newsmax and OANN to their customers.
Reps. Eshoo’s and McNerney’s opening paragraph didn’t pull any punches; it accused AT&T and DIRECTV of being responsible for "disseminating misinformation to millions."
The congresspersons followed up by asking the companies a number of questions including how "moral and ethical principles" play into deciding which channels to distribute and do they require "content guidelines."
They also asked if actions were taken against the TV channels regarding "the November 3, 2020 elections, the January 6, 2021 Capital insurrection or COVID-19 misinformation."
The last question served as a direct assault on the companies business decision demanding to know if they planned to continue to carry Fox News, Newsmax and OANN and "If so, why?"
We want you to cancel Newsmax and other conservative outlets because we don’t agree with their content because it makes Democrats look bad in the eyes of the public.
Borelli censored the fact that bot Newsmax and OAN did, in fact, broadcast falsehoods and misinformation regarding the 2020 election, particularly about election tech firm Dominion, who is suing both of them. Borelli also wrote:
It may well be argued that AT&T and DirecTVare feeling the sting of GOP wrath because they just added a new conservative outlet, The First, to its offerings.
Perhaps that reflects an obvious clean up aisle five move in an effort to placate the political outrage it created.
The best solution for all is for AT&T and DirecTV to bring back Newsmax.
That is only the second reference at Newsmax in the first two weeks to the fact that DirecTV did, in fact, replace it with another right-wing channel -- which, again, obliterates the argument that what DirecTV did is viewpoint censorship. The first apparent reference was in a Jan. 27 article.
Hirsen devoted his Feb. 6 column to blaming Newsmax's deplatforming on DirecTV's parent, AT&T, somehow being "woke" (translation: not filled with right-wingers):
In a nutshell, the world's largest telecommunications company (and third largest provider of cellphones) has insidiously morphed into a far-left organization that poses as a service company.
According to OpenSecrets, during the time period between 1989 and 2019, AT&T was the 14th-largest donor to United States federal political campaigns and committees, contributing tens of millions of dollars, a majority of which went straight into Democrat hands.
As Newsmax contributor Jeffrey Lord reported in the American Spectator, the company's leaders have backgrounds that link them with politicians of the liberal Democrat kind.
AT&T’s board of directors includes a chairman of the board that previously served as FCC chair, and was appointed by former President Bill Clinton. This same chairman of the board was an ambassador that was appointed to the position by former President Barack Obama.
Two board members are reliable contributors to prominent Democratic candidates, including one individual who was an adviser and supporter of former President Bill Clinton, as well as being the co-chair of the left-leaning Brookings Institution.
Did corporate heads at AT&T via its DirecTV subsidiary set out to suppress the speech of Newsmax? And was the company following the dictates of its fellow left-leaning politicians, media apparatchiks and radical activist groups?
The pieces of the puzzle seem to be falling into place.
Hirsen didn't explain how not being filled with right-wingers makes as company "woke." Nor did he disclose that DirecTV replace Newsmax with another right-wing channel, which undermines his conspiracy theory that the company was "following the dictates of its fellow left-leaning politicians, media apparatchiks and radical activist groups."
Adding the articles week 2 (articles listed here and here), that's at least 111 "news" articles Newsmax has published complaining about getting deplatformed, attacking DirecTV and threatening to sic the government on the company over a business decision.
MRC not helping much
When DirecTV dropped right-wing channel One America News last year in the wake of defamation lawsuits the channel faced over false claims about election fraud it aired during the 2020 election, the Media Research Center -- which normally loves to exploit any slight to right-wingers as "censorship" -- did surprisingly little with it, offering only perfunctory victimhood over the cancellation and a bare minimum of coverage. The MRC has taken the same approach over DirecTV dropping Newsmax in a fee dispute. It did start out strong, however, in a Jan. 25 post by Joseph Vazquez touting how MRC employees went on Newsmax to repeat the channel's talking points:
There appears to be a trend going on at liberal video programming distributor DirecTV. The company dropped Newsmax from its channel lineup just months after it nixed One America News from the platform.
Newsmax reported Jan. 25 that DirecTV “cut” the outlet’s “signal, immediately shutting the network off from more than 13 million customers of the satellite service, DirecTV Stream, and U-Verse." Newsmax said it was “seeking a fee with a 75% discount to its market value, and compared to fees currently paid by DirecTV, almost all 50 channels below Newsmax in ratings get higher fees.”
Newsmax Media CEO Christopher Ruddy didn’t mince words about the implications of what DirecTV did: “‘This is a blatant act of political discrimination and censorship against Newsmax.’”
“Is this a new form of red-lining where Big Media is trying to keep conservatives out of the marketplace?” asked MRC Business Vice President Dan Schneider. “Newsmax is a highly-rated network that has proved its market value. Conservatives should be very concerned about what’s going on.”
On Wednesday morning, NewsBusters Executive Editor Tim Graham and Managing Editor Curtis Houck joined Newsmax's National Report to react to DirecTV's decision. Speaking to hosts Shaun Kraisman and Emma Rechenberg, Houck also said it was “very concerning” and noted that Newsmax is closer to CNN and MSNBC in the ratings than the two far-left networks are to the Fox News Channel.
For his part, Graham called out the fact that, while liberals object to Newsmax being allowed on TV packages, Americans haven't had a choice as to whether their tax dollars go to fund far-left news outlets in NPR and PBS.
Vazquez noted the lawsuit OAN failed against DirecTV over getting dropped, but he didn't note that OAN lost a key ruling in the lawsuit just a couple weeks earlier.
Vazquez peddled more pro-Newsmax talking points in a Jan. 27 post:
Even a liberal media outlet raised questions about DirecTV’s standard of fairness in how it’s treating Newsmax in comparison to the leftist channels distributed on its platform.
Newsweek’s Jan. 26 headline didn’t beat around the bush: “Newsmax Ratings Compared to Vice Raises Questions About DirecTV Fairness.” Newsmax reported after having its signal cut that it was “seeking a fee with a 75% discount to its market value, and compared to fees currently paid by DirecTV, almost all 50 channels below Newsmax in ratings get higher fees.”
After propping up DirecTV’s excuse that it didn’t give Newsmax a “carriage fee” due to supposedly low ratings, noted Newsmax’s point that the leftist “Vice TV receives full carriage and license fees from DirecTV, despite having an audience of [only] 60,000, according to USTVDB figures.”
Actually, Newsweek has moved conservative in recent years, meaning that Vazquez's description of the operation as "liberal' is inaccurate. And as others have pointed out, Vice is included in a package of other channels by its owner, A&E Networks, and DirecTV pays one fee to get all of that provider's channels. Further, Vazquez failed to report in either of these posts that DirecTV replaced Newsmax with another right-wing channel, The First, which means any argument about viewpoint censorship is moot.
Jeffrey Lord served up his own right-wing victimhood spin in his Jan. 28 column:
There is nothing really new here. Whether it is barring some conservative speaker from speaking on a college campus or de-platforming an entire conservative TV channel or demanding that the late Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity or any other talk radio or TV host be yanked off the air, the objective is always the same: in the name of democracy, shut down free speech, the central pillar of any democracy.
In contrast to Vazquez, Lord gets credit for not only noting that DirecTV replaced Newsmax with another right-wing channel but also disclosing that "I am a NewsMax contributor."
The MRC then went silent for a month. But Vazquez resurfaced in a March 2 post to spread a conspiracy theory:
It appears that DirecTV dubiously dropping Newsmax and One America News within months of each other may be connected to the lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems against the two news outlets.
AT&T, which holds the majority ownership stake in DirecTV (70 percent), is overseen by its liberal Board Chairman William Kennard, who’s been accused of directly interfering in the decision by DirecTV to drop OAN April 2022. This development happened just under a year after it was reported that Dominion Voting Systems, the voting tech company that was the subject of controversy during the 2020 election, had launched billion-dollar lawsuits against both OAN and Newsmax in 2021 for spreading what NPR called “misinformation” about “rigging the ballots.” DirecTV has since deplatformed both outlets.
Kennard is one of the three executive board members of Staple Street Capital, the middle market private equity firm that along with the Dominion Voting Systems management team acquired Dominion Voting Systems in 2018. Kennard’s executive role at Staple Street Capital of which he reportedly joined in 2014 involved “principally focus[ing] on the communications and media sectors and other regulated industries.” Kennard also joined AT&T’s board in 2014, and was named AT&T chairman just three days after the tumultuous 2020 election.
In other words, the chairman of the company that owns the programming distributor that dropped OAN and Newsmax, is also an executive board member of the firm that owns the voting company that’s suing both outlets.
Note how Vazquez tried to undercut Dominion's allegations -- which are, in fact, valid enough that its lawsuit against Newsmax is continuing -- by dishonestly framing them as "what NPR called 'misinformation.'" He also didn't mention that Newsmax retracted false claims made on the channel about a Dominion official.
Vazquez didn't explain why a "news" outlet that has demonstrably forwarded false information so egregious that it's being sued over them is somehow entitled to a permanent slot on DirecTV to keep spreading falsehoods.
Meanwhile, the MRC's "news" division, CNSNews.com, has barely noted the situation, publishing only columns by Craig Shirley and Bill Donohue (both of which were also published by Newsmax) decrying the situation and devoting no "news" articles whatsoever to the story.