TALKERS founder Michael Harrison and Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy engaged in a phone conversation this week (2/8) to discuss the bruhaha buzzing through conservative news/talk radio triggered by AT&T’s recent decision to remove the popular conservative channel from its subsidiary, DirecTV. Ruddy, grateful for the support Newsmax is receiving from radio hosts, wanted to speak out directly to the medium further explaining his position. (NOTE: Newsmax also has a footprint in the news/talk radio space as syndicator of the daily Rob Carson midday program.)
Late in January, DirecTV, owned by AT&T, “deplatformed” Newsmax from more than 13 million of its subscriber homes calling it a “business decision.”
News of this stunned Washington, fueling GOP lawmakers with more evidence that big tech media was closing down conservative voices for political reasons.
This was the second time in just the past year AT&T moved to cancel a conservative channel, taking OAN off their platforms last April.
However, Newsmax is not OAN. Newsmax has, in breathtaking time, became the fourth-highest-rated cable news channel reaching 25 million Americans, according to Nielsen.
Major Members of Congress, Senators and newsmakers dot its programming lineup every day. Even First Lady Jill Biden made a prime-time appearance to discuss her cancer initiative last October and former President Donald Trump is a regular participant.
According to Ruddy, “The fact that AT&T was willing to take down Newsmax as Republicans take control of the House was yet another sign for America’s right that ‘wokeness’ remains in high gear.”
In the conversation, Ruddy described AT&T’s decision a “blatant act of political censorship” and “effort to restrict conservative voices before the ’24 election.”
Here are some takeaways from Chris Ruddy:
“We know from ‘The Twitter Files,’ that Twitter worked in collusion with federal agencies, including the FBI, to censor and restrict the speech of news media and public figures,” said Ruddy.
“Why,” he asked,” would we not think that was happening” in Newsmax’s case, too?
(During testimony on February 8 before the House Oversight Committee, former Twitter executives admitted they handled the Hunter Biden matter poorly, but also said they were not in contact with government officials over the matter.)
Ruddy points to a 2021 letter penned by Democratic Members of Congress Anna Eshoo and Jerry McNerney, addressed to AT&T’s CEO and other cable operators, clearly aimed at removing OAN, Newsmax and FOX News Channel for spreading “misinformation.”
Harrison asked, “With two channels down, is FOX News a target next?”
Ruddy said it clearly is a target, but that cable operators will have a more difficult time “deplatforming” it.
Harrison asked, “When AT&T dropped OAN and Newsmax, didn’t the company say both moves were the result of cost-cutting?”
Ruddy responded that this claim makes no sense when Newsmax is concerned, “because they keep over 100 channels that have far less ratings and are more costly than Newsmax.”
A business approach, he said, would be for DirecTV to remove low-rated channels that are costly, not highly rated channels like Newsmax that are inexpensive.
He said AT&T’s unusual decision to cut Newsmax demonstrates a “political motive.”
Newsmax has produced a chart that shows 22 liberal-leaning news and information channels. Almost all have lower ratings than Newsmax – and all get fees higher than Newsmax was seeking.
Ruddy says Newsmax sought a very modest license fee of $1 per year per subscriber. CNN gets $14 a year from DirecTV. And almost every channel in the top 100 gets a multiple of the $1.
Harrison asked, “So, what’s the problem for DirecTV, which I understand raked in $2.7 billion last year in profits?”
Ruddy’s response: “DirecTV says that Newsmax is simply ineligible for any license fee, not one penny let alone $1.”
And here he seems to make a strong case AT&T is targeting Newsmax – by denying it any fees when almost everyone else gets paid a fee, especially liberal channels.
“AT&T DirecTV is being super clever,” Ruddy explains. “They tell Newsmax they’ll carry us for free, but we can’t get a license fee.” But, Ruddy adds, “Since all cable agreements, according to industry standards, get the lowest rate, that means all go to zero fees with no license fee for Newsmax.
“Since cable news channels need license fees to operate, DirecTV is effectively putting Newsmax out of business,” he said.
“This claim that Newsmax alone can never get a fee simply doesn’t seem to work for a lot of people in the public as well as Congress,” Ruddy said.
“Many conservative leaders in America – and some fair-minded independents and liberals – have already concluded that AT&T’s motives with Newsmax were largely driven by politics, and not by dollars and cents.”
New House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said he called AT&T and informed the company that “Newsmax should not be treated any differently based upon them being a conservative news outlet.” McCarthy has vowed there will be hearings on the removal of Newsmax.
Even Alan Dershowitz, one of America’s famed liberal lawyers, agrees with McCarthy that Newsmax’s removal doesn’t pass the smell test.
“Clearly, they used economic reasons as a cover for political reasons,” Dershowitz told Newsmax’s Greta Van Susteren last week.
Dershowitz said he believes AT&T’s decision “had elements of partisan and ideological and political bias directed at stations that don’t adhere to the views of the company.”
“Anybody who believes that this was purely an economic decision should buy a bridge in Brooklyn,” he said, adding that A&T DirecTV “ought to reconsider and put Newsmax back on.”
When AT&T DirecTV deplatformed OAN, a relatively hard-right channel with a relatively small viewership, it received little attention. But the executives at AT&T may have awoken a sleeping giant by taking on Newsmax.
Newsmax’s reach is extensive, reaching 40 million Americans through online, apps, emails, and a huge social media network – not to mention that its content is highly utilized by many radio talk show hosts and producers.
Ruddy told Harrison, “For a long time Newsmax’s audience has been aligned and interconnected with the talk radio audience. We are seeing tremendous synergies across all media platforms, including talk radio.” Ruddy has been speaking out on this subject on a number of radio talk shows across America.
On the same day of the Ruddy-Harrison conversation, the Newsmax CEO appeared on Mark Simone’s top-rated show on powerhouse WOR in New York to discuss the censorship of his channel. Demand is so great for interviews, Newsmax analysts Dick Morris and Hogan Gidley are also doing interviews about the AT&T matter.
The End Game
Ruddy said he’d like Newsmax to be back on DirecTV. Initially, DirecTV said they had no intention to bring Newsmax back on air. But last week, the company reversed course and said they are open to do so.
However, according to Ruddy, so far DirecTV has not changed their position that Newsmax is not entitled to any license fees.
“We are willing to negotiate but DirecTV has to do so in good faith,” Ruddy said, adding “We’re waiting.”
He said even if Newsmax stays off DirecTV, his media empire will continue to grow.
“This episode has made us stronger and AT&T is a good company for us to build against in the months and years ahead,” he said. “Everyone knows AT&T and they’re not well-liked for engaging in politics, targeting conservatives – and they even owned CNN during its worst years,” Ruddy said.
“We’ve been in business for 25 years and no matter what the controversy, Newsmax has always come out ahead. It will this time too,” he concluded.
After speaking with Ruddy, Harrison stated, “We all know that the First Amendment only applies to government censorship and privately-owned platforms have the right to present or not present whatever opinions conform to their positions. However, when government officials use the influence and prestige of their office to pressure high-level media executives to deplatform legitimate players for obvious political ends – as seems to be the case in this Newsmax scenario – that becomes a major concern for all Americans who value free speech. And even if the government wasn’t involved, massive power requires equal responsibility and even-handedness. Although in many cases the picture remains murky – for the most part, it is clear to me that conservatives claiming an ongoing imbalance of bias against them, by the informationally-vital venues of big tech, have an abundance of growing evidence to support their complaints. And that should be a major worry of all fair-minded Americans trying to negotiate the turbulent waters of this new digital era without losing at least the spirit of the First Amendment let alone the letter of the law.”