Report: Trump allies were (are?) looking to buy Newsmax

Anything that gets him to stop committing rhetorical arson about phantom voter fraud and focus on life after the presidency sounds good to me.

Although, if there really is a scheme afoot to buy Newsmax and convert it into a full-fledged Trump propaganda channel, it’s strange that the World’s Greatest Negotiator has already begun trying to convince Fox News viewers to make the switch. All he’s doing with that is bidding up the selling price, helping Newsmax build up a viewer base. According to this WSJ report about a potential sale, the network saw its primetime audience increase by 156 percent during election week and its 7 p.m. show drew more than a million viewers, far more than it ever has before. Fox isn’t going to go bankrupt, but a meaningful portion of its audience seems willing to hold a grudge over the network’s early call of Arizona for Biden and its projection that he’s won the presidency.

Which means this seems like another case of Trump’s spite ultimately damaging his own interests. The moment to start hyping Newsmax is after it’s been acquired by your allies, not before. But he couldn’t resist lashing out at Fox.

The Newsmax pursuit is being led by private-equity deal-making pioneer and Trump supporter Thomas Hicks. The family’s private-equity outfit, Hicks Equity Partners, is looking to raise at least $200 million for its efforts in right-leaning media and has spoken with wealthy conservative families about the deal, people familiar with the matter say.

One of Mr. Hicks’s sons, Thomas Hicks Jr., co-chairs the Republican National Committee. He is unlikely to participate in any deal while he holds an RNC post, said a person close to the Hicks family…

An acquisition of Newsmax, which is based in West Palm Beach, Fla., would be part of a larger plan to assemble a network of channels aimed at conservatives, according to a pitch that was made to investors. Another channel would provide family-friendly entertainment programming. The Hicks group has identified a team of executives who would help manage the network if the deal were completed, the people familiar with the matter said.

An interesting footnote: The Hicks group reportedly talked to Megyn Kelly about possibly coming aboard when it considered buying OAN earlier this year. That’s what a fledgling competitor to Fox needs, a brand name to signal to viewers that the network intends to compete at the varsity level. Trump is the ultimate brand name, although in a way he’s the opposite of Kelly. Kelly would bring news credibility to a network, suggesting that it’s going to function as a semi-serious journalistic outfit. Trump TV would be the opposite, a place where nothing gets reported if it happens to damage the president’s interests. It’d be out-and-out propaganda.

Chris Ruddy, the owner of Newsmax (and a Trump ally himself), says he’s not selling:

“Newsmax would never become ‘Trump TV,’” Christopher Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax, told Variety in an interview Sunday evening. “We have always seen ourselves as an independent news agency, and we want to continue with that mission. But we are open — [Trump] is going to be a political and media force after he leaves the White House, and we would be open to talking to him about a weekly show.” The executive also said “we are not actively selling” the company at this time, though he notes he has had expressions of interest from “investors, investment banks and strategic players” in the recent past.

It’d be silly for Ruddy to sell at a moment when conservative mainstream media is more unsettled than it’s been in years. *Maybe* the recent audience defection from Fox News to Newsmax will stick. And if it does, *maybe* Trump will be willing to make a deal with Newsmax to do exclusive commentary on a daily or weekly basis. His only other alternative to Fox is OAN, but OAN has always seemed especially fringy. Newsmax is more established and, importantly, it has some traction right now with right-wing viewers. Trump could always start his own network, be it on television or via a streaming platform, but I doubt he wants to be bothered with the logistics of building and overseeing a new channel. He craves attention; he wants to be in front of the camera, not behind it like Roger Ailes. Ruddy can give him a soapbox at any hour of the day or night that he wants, the minute he’s out of office.

So why would Ruddy sell? He’s two months away from what may be a gamechanging development in the world of righty media. His focus right now, I’d assume, is how to finance an exclusive deal with Trump, not whether to cash out.

The Guardian has a useful read today on the “existential crisis” that Fox is suddenly facing. That’s waaaay overselling the threat to FNC from Newsmax and OAN, but even if it’s not existential, it is a crisis. Partisan media has two functions: Tell the truth and serve the cause. In the best of times, those two functions coincide. But sometimes they don’t, and that’s when an outlet either decides to clearly prioritize one over the other or it takes on a bizarre split personality in which it tries to do both simultaneously, which is what’s happened to Fox as Trump goes about insisting that the election was rigged. The news side and the opinion side at FNC have always been at odds to some degree but Trump’s “I was cheated!” nonsense is unprecedented in how squarely it pits them against each other. For the news guys like Eric Shawn, who feel duty-bound to tell the truth, there’s no way to let that claim pass without fact-checking it:

For the opinion guys, who feel duty-bound to serve the cause, there’s no choice but to support Trump’s alternate reality in which the outcome of the election is in grave doubt. Three days after the election, for instance, Hannity was calling for a “do-over” in Pennsylvania on the theory that we could never trust a result so hopelessly tainted by irregularities. I can’t remember a case — certainly not with the stakes this high — when the news side and the opinion side at Fox were each dug in on information that directly conflicts with the other’s. And because Trump has now made denying the reality of Biden’s victory an absolute loyalty test, there’s no elegant way for Hannity, Tucker, and Ingraham to admit eventually that the news side is right. Because Trump won’t concede, they can’t concede. And so Fox marches on, trying to hold onto viewers who demand propaganda that the election was stolen while also trying to hold onto its reputation as a serious news outlet. Can’t wait to see how this turns out for them.

Update: It should go without saying, but in case it needs to be said, Fox remains a freaky ratings juggernaut despite the rising number of viewers for Newsmax. Not only are they crushing their direct competitors in primetime, they were actually the highest-rated network on television in primetime since Memorial Day. Not the highest-rated news network or the highest-rated cable network. The highest-rated network, period. Whether that’ll continue now that the election is over, especially if Trump throws in with Newsmax, is another matter. But as I say, FNC isn’t going bankrupt anytime soon.