Confider #81: Michael Wolff Book Backlash, Fox Picks New Favorite

The Daily Beast
The Daily Beast

Welcome to this week’s edition of Confider, the media newsletter that pulls back the curtain to reveal what’s really going on inside the world’s most powerful navel-gazing industry. Subscribe here and send your questions, tips, and complaints here.

Photo illustration of Rupert Murdoch, Lachlan Murdoch, and Michael Wolff collaged with images of Wolff’s new book, “The Fall, The End of Fox News.”
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Reuters/Getty

EXCLUSIVE—CRYING WOLFF: Questions continue to swirl about the credibility of the sourcing for Michael Wolff’s latest book, Confider has learned. The Fall: The End of Fox News and the Murdoch Empire will be released tomorrow but was never fact-checked with Fox News or Fox Corp—and despite Wolff’s claim that he reached out to all principals in the book, neither Sean Hannity nor Laura Ingraham were contacted for comment—according to two people familiar with the matter.The book contains no footnotes or citations, raising concerns about the validity of several of its key claims. Chief among them is the assertion that Tucker Carlson was fired by Fox as part of the Dominion settlement—a claim strenuously denied by both Dominion and Fox. Another controversial passage in the book has also been called into question, with both Carlson and Ron DeSantis denying a claim that DeSantis shoved and possibly kicked the TV host’s dog. (Wolff, showing how easily he will throw his sources under the bus, outed Carlson on Monday as the alleged source of the incident.) Meanwhile, in interviews with eight people who have dealt with Wolff in his previous books, a pattern has emerged of how he uses flattery to gain access and then takes real events and allegedly embellishes them. “It’s like when you are watching one of those adapted-for-TV movies and it says it’s based on real events. It’s not saying it’s based on the truth. That tells you everything about the way he writes,'' former White House press secretary Sean Spicer, who dealt with Wolff when he was writing Fire and Fury, told Confider. Spicer claimed that Wolff’s Trump books were riddled with “falsehoods, inaccuracies and exaggerations.” Among those include insinuationsNikki Haleywas having an affair with Trump and that special counsel Robert Mueller had drawn up a draft indictment for Trump. “It’s not about journalism. It’s about him reporting his impression of facts,” said a person who has direct knowledge of how Wolff works. The Fall is seen by publishing insiders to be a “contract filler,” a book Wolff needed to produce to meet contractual obligations with his publisher. Wolff had been considering writing a book about former British PM Boris Johnson, Confider has learned, but the pandemic and Johnson’s eventual ouster nixed that idea. “You can’t trust anything he writes because … he needs headlines, because headlines mean more money,” a publishing insider told Confider. Wolff and a rep for his publisher, Henry Holt, did not respond to a request for comment.

EXCLUSIVE— WAPO HEADHUNTING: It seems to be prime Media CEO Season. Less than a month after CNN completed its quick turnaround with the hiring of CEO Mark Thompson, The Washington Post’s interim CEO Patty Stonesifer has told multiple Post staffers that the search for a new publisher has sped up, with the candidate pool narrowing from more than two dozen to the single digits, Confider has learned. It’s unclear when a successor could be named, particularly as we get closer to the impending 2024 primaries. But the news comes about a month after Post mainstay Fred Ryan stepped down to spearhead the Reagan Foundation’s Center on Public Civility (which is also backed by Post owner and billionaire extraordinaire Jeff Bezos). It also follows months of Stonesifer’s amicable tenure at the Post, as staffers have expressed their high regard for her throughout the summer. A Post spokesperson declined to comment.

EXCLUSIVE—YOU REALLY LIKE ME?: Ahead of this week’s second Republican debate, it now appears that former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has moved ahead of pharmaceutical bro Vivek Ramaswamy in Fox News’ Trump-alternative GOP primary. Prior to last month’s debate, which GOP frontrunner Donald Trump skipped to do a Twitter video with Tucker Carlson, Ramaswamy had seemingly become the conservative cable giant’s preferred Republican hopeful to go head-to-head with President Joe Biden. However, following the debate, which featured Haley blasting Ramaswamy over his lack of experience, Fox quickly touted the ex-guv as the winner and said “she ran away with the show.” While she’s since enjoyed extremely friendly sit-downs on Fox & Friends and the primetime shows, Ramaswamy has found himself grilled at times during his Fox News hits. For instance, during a Fox News Sunday interview this month, anchor Shannon Breamnoted that Ramaswamy is seen by voters as “annoying” while straight up asking him “what’s the point of your campaign?” Additionally, mentions of Haley on Fox News airwaves have surged since the last debate. The month prior to the event, Haley had been discussed 188 times on the network, compared to 367 for Ramaswmay, according to media monitoring service TVEyes. Since the debate, however, her name has been mentioned 444 times as of Monday morning. Coincidentally, that is the same number of times Ramaswamy has been brought up on Fox since the debate. Besides her strong debate performance, the Fox News embrace of Haley appears to coincide with her polling strength. Though she is still largely in single digits in national GOP polls, she has recently surpassed Ramaswamy in the latest surveys. Besides the conventional wisdom that she would absorb most of Ron DeSantis’ supporters if the struggling Florida governor were to drop out, she has also shown herself to be the strongest candidate head-to-head with Biden. (The network devoted a large chunk of airtime to a CNN poll showing Haley would beat the president by six points, while other candidates were tied with or trailed Biden.) Additionally, Haley’s campaign strategy appears to largely revolve around softball sitdowns while avoiding reporters on the trail. Several campaign reporters grumbled to Confider about the candidate’s unwillingness to hold press gaggles or even answer journalists’ questions following campaign events, while simultaneously arranging sympathetic TV appearances centered on her latest press releases. “Notable because DeSantis now talks to the campaign press corps and Haley never does,” one reporter said, while another noted that Haley appeared carefully “stage-managed.” A representative for Haley did not respond to a request for comment.

Photo illustrative gif with Nikki Haley and a moving scroll behind her reading, “Am I Fox’s Favorite?”
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Reuters

EXCLUSIVE — A MEEK REQUEST: Federal prosecutors recommended to a judge last week that ex-ABC News producerJames Gordon Meek be sentenced to anywhere between twelve-and-a-half to nearly 16 years in prison and pay at least $10,000 in fines, according to court documents obtained and reviewed by Confider. Two months after he pleaded guilty to possessing and transporting child pornography, prosecutors once again detailed how Meek consumed and hoarded multiple devices’ worth of the material, using victim testimony to bolster their request for the lengthy prison term. One victim detailed the extent of how they suffered from their exploitation in such material: “The first time was being abused and the second time is the ongoing anxiety due to the images of my abuse forever accessible.” Meek, meanwhile, argued for the mandatory minimum sentence of five years behind bars, citing supportive letters from numerous ex-military officials and journalism colleagues. Some of those who wrote missives include Andrew Fredericks, a documentary filmmaker who promised to “stand will [sic]by him, and try to help him overcome and grow,” and former Washington Post reporter Allan Lengel, who wrote that he worked to reconcile Meek’s crimes, “came to accept the situation, and still care deeply about James as a friend and remain supportive as he makes his journey through the criminal justice system.” His attorney pointed to the trauma Meek said he went through in covering war zones, along with his refusal to seek out help for his crimes. “While the foregoing issues by no means excuse Mr. Meek’s conduct, they help to explain the constellation of factors that compromised his decision-making and contributed to conduct that was completely out of step with his history of kindness and service to others,” his attorney wrote. Redacted portions of Meek’s sentencing request included what appeared to be excerpts from his psychological report, which noted that Meek appeared to experience “disinhibition,” defined in the report as “the finding that individuals behave in far more risky and harmful ways in the virtual world online than they would in the real world.” “It appeared that Mr. Meek experienced some degree of disinhibition when he was engaged in online interactions, and this is commonly reported by individuals who have accessed [child sex abuse] material online, particularly when they were spending extended periods of time isolated and engrossed in internet engagement with pornography and sexualized chat,” according to the redacted portion of the document. A lawyer for Meek would not comment on the redacted portion. A sentencing hearing was not listed on the docket as of Monday.

EXCLUSIVE — TOO MUSK HATE: Nearly 100 Jewish organization leaders, journalists, and rabbis have signed onto a letter calling out Elon Musk for making X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter, a “breeding ground for some of the most dangerous antisemitic discourse in America.” According to the letter, which can be read in its entirety here, it isn’t just the lack of content moderation and Musk’s reinstatement of unapologetic antisemites to X that has sounded the alarm. It is also the Tesla founder’s willingness to spread “overt antisemitism” while attacking the Anti-Defamation League that has raised serious concerns. “We are alarmed by his targeting of the ADL: not because of our views of the organization (we represent a wide range of views, including some who fundamentally oppose the ADL as well as staunch supporters), but because of the way he has used the organization as a very clear stand in for an antisemitic representation of Jewish power,” the letter reads. Noting that Musk has actively engaged with the neo-Nazis that launched the #BanTheADL campaign and peddled antisemitic conspiracy theories, such as claiming Jewish philanthropist George Soros “hates humanity” and is connected to the Rothschilds, the letter’s signatories noted the spike in anti-Jewish hate speech “represents one of the largest dangers to Jews in years.” Adding that they are “deeply disappointed in the failure of media organizations and others in telling this story,” the signers called on “all companies and governmental organizations” to “end their relationships” with Musk’s various businesses. In particular, the letter singles out Disney, Apple and Amazon, imploring them to “stop funding X through their ad spend” while also demanding Google and Apple remove X from their app stores. Musk did not respond to a request for comment. A request sent to X’s press email address was returned with the company’s standard auto-reply.

Tips? We’re all ears: confider@thedailybeast.comor call/text us 551 655 2343.

WE HEAR WHISPERS: After Confider first reported MSNBC plans to shake-up its weekend lineup with Symone Sanders, Alicia Menendez and Michael Steele fronting a political ensemble show, 30 Rock insiders have been joking it should be called “Morning Joe Lite”...Gizmodo’s Blake Montgomery is headed to The Guardian to be its U.S. tech editor.

IN PLAIN SIGHT: Despite explicitly saying its poll showing Trump up by 10 points over Biden was an “outlier,” ABC News centered its Sunday show on the survey results and the sky-is-falling rhetoric surrounding it. Four years ago this month, however, the same poll showed Biden up 15 points against Trump and This Week barely covered it at all…Roger Ailes’ one-time snoop Bo Dietl wants to kiss and make up with Fox News. Dietl, who was booted as a Fox contributor in 2016, offered up an olive branch tweet to new Fox boss Lachlan Murdoch. Dietl, however, notonly spelled Murdoch “Murdock,” but tagged former Daily Beast reporter Lachlan Markay in his typo-laden congrats. Hopefully Lachlan Murdoch still got the message, Bo!


—Attorney General for England and Wales Victoria Prentis was accused of “shocking overreach” after warning media outlets that their coverage of the sexual assault allegations against comedian Russell Brand was being scrutinized and could open them up to “contempt of court.” Read more here about this heavy-handed attempt to “curb investigative journalism.”

New York Times stuffed-shirt David Brooks was absolutely roasted over his ill-advised tweet moaning about the high price of his airport restaurant meal, all in an attempt to decry the state of the American economy. Online sleuths, however, revealed that Brooks’ expensive tab was largely due to liquor, and even the restaurant got involved in the fun—announcing a new special in Brooks’ honor. Read more here and here.

—Recently retired Fox mogul Rupert Murdoch spent most of his storied career bending politicians to his will—but in the end, Donald Trump was just too much for him to handle. Check out Clive Irving’s take on how Trump ultimately destroyed Murdoch.


—Wheee! After nearly 150 days the Writers Guild and Hollywood studios have reached a tentative deal to end the strike. Our de facto Hollyweird correspondents, Bloomberg’s Lucas Shaw and The Ankler’s Richard Rushfield, break down how it happened and what comes next. Read that here and here.

—We always wonder what our old friends, husband and wife media defamation law firm Clare Locke are up to. As Felix Salmon reports, one half of the dynamic duo, Tom Clare, has been busy sending scary letters on behalf of Bridgewater founder Ray Dalio and Citadel’s Ken Griffin. Find out who is on the receiving end of Clare’s love letters here.

—Only Anna Wintour would agree to join the FT for their fixture “Lunch with the FT” interview and not eat…lunch. But the Conde Nasty top dog, who just won a power battle with nemesis Edward Enninful, did serve up her one rule for hiring staff: “Someone I am pleased to see when I see them in my office or if I bump into them in the street.” Whoever could she have been referring to? Read that lunchless interview here.

Singer Taylor Swift watches the Kansas City Chiefs take on the Chicago with the mother of Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce, Donna Kelce, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023, at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium
Getty/Kansas City Star


Under normal circumstances, we here at Confider would have devoted this section to the neverending tirade from the right-wing industrial-outrage complex about John Fetterman’s hoodies, which culminated in a New York Post reporter engaging in trollish cosplay for Fox viewers’ amusement. Unfortunately, last week’s “Outraged” already covered this, which does show just how ludicrously obsessed conservative media has been with the Senate dress code. Instead, in the interest of providing fresh content to our dear readers, we’re spotlighting a perfect example of how weird and terminally online the culture war has become. Clay Travis, a conservative radio host and founder of the right-wing sports site Outkick, decided to take aim at one of the NFL’s top stars this week. “Travis Kelce is doing Bud Light and covid shot commercials,” Travis tweeted on Sunday. “He needs to fire all his marketing agents. Or he needs to just go ahead and cut his dick off, become a chick, and endorse Joe Biden.” The silly message that a football player who appears to be dating the most famous woman on the planet and has hosted Saturday Night Live needs to fire his PR folks sparked instant mockery. “MAGA Mindset: Winning the Super Bowl, getting paid to shill beer and getting it on with the most famous woman in the world: Gay, Beta,” The Bulwark’s Tim Millerreacted. “Being a fat slob who tweets his feelings about celebrities: Masculine. Alpha.” Anyway, this is your brain. This is your brain on faux-rage grievance politics. Any questions?

Confider will be back next week with more saucy scooplets. In the meantime, subscribe here and send us questions, complaints, or tips here.

Photo illustration of Nikki Haley in an old tv with Vivek Ramaswamy coming out behind either side
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty/Reuters

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Get the Daily Beast's biggest scoops and scandals delivered right to your inbox. Sign up now.

Stay informed and gain unlimited access to the Daily Beast's unmatched reporting. Subscribe now.