Newsmax vs. DirecTV: A Fight for Right
The Mediaverse by Dennis Kneale, TruthDAO opinion columnist
My life in journalism was steeled by early fights for the First Amendment. In high school, a scathing concert review I wrote for the Trojan Times newspaper sparked a riot by members of the chorus, and the chorus director grabbed me by the collar and marched me to the vice principal’s office, demanding my suspension.
The vice principal refused, citing “freedom of the press.” I was drunk with power.
At the University of Florida, I joined the Independent Florida Alligator, which had been kicked off campus a few years earlier for publishing abortion referral information. Ron Sachs, the editor-in-chief in that battle, talks about it on my podcast, here.
We challenged the administration for barring reporters from covering the weekly President’s Council meeting, in possible violation of Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine law. The student editor at the time, to prove his point, had a reporter show up for a meeting and refuse to leave, so that he got arrested by campus police as a result.
That editor was Thomas R. Julin, who went on to become a respected First Amendment lawyer, handling almost 300 cases; you can hear my chat with him here. At one point in the battle, Tom’s predecessor advised him: fight back against the administration on the front page of the paper. “It’s the only weapon you have.”
It was an early lesson, and it lies at the heart of the savage battle now underway, almost 50 years later, between the Newsmax cable network and AT&T’s DirecTV satellite service, which recently bounced Newsmax off its platform.
Newsmax has been deftly deploying its equivalent of the front page and then some—on-air segments, online stories about those segments, commercial announcements, a new fight website, email blasts, and a call to arms to conservative allies—to escalate a common fight over fees into a righteous crusade against Big Tech censorship.
Newsflash: this may be the best thing ever to happen to Newsmax. Any attempt to block content results in raising the interest people have in seeing what was blocked.
I do have a dog in this fight: Newsmax.com runs my column, “What’s Bugging Me,” and I am a guest on the network, appearing on Sunday mornings on “Wake Up America.” Newsmax owner Chris Ruddy has invited me to gatherings, and he has treated me kindly. I like the man.
Under his watch, the Newsmax response has been passionate and brutally effective. It has used Twitter as a megaphone and a rallying point for supporters, and its response offers lessons for any outfit taking on a formidable foe in a public clash over private business.
Newsmax has rallied supporters to its cause. They include former President Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, former Govs. Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and rising stars in the House: Andy Biggs (Arizona), Lauren Boebert (Colorado), James Comer (Kentucky), Matt Gaetz (Florida), and Elise Stefanik (New York).
Even Joe Lieberman, the former Democrat vice presidential candidate, and Alan Dershowitz, the famed liberal lawyer, have taken up Newsmax’s cause. As have Sean Hannity of Fox News and Charlie Gasparino of Fox Business, and Prager University founder Dennis Prager. As well as Hercules (actor Kevin Sorbo) and actor Jon Voigt.
A week before DirecTV and Newsmax parted ways, 41 Republican members of congress, led by Rep. Wesley Hunt of Texas, sent a letter to DirecTV, warning that hearings would be held if it ousted the network. DirecTV shut down Newsmax at midnight on Tuesday, Jan. 24, and the next morning Newsmax.com ran its first salvo:
“AT&T’s DirecTV Cancels NEWSMAX in Censorship Move.” The story said DirecTV “cut Newsmax’s signal, immediately shutting the network off for more than 13 million customers,” and mentioned that DirecTV had jettisoned the OAN network last April.
It quoted Ruddy, Newsmax CEO: "This is a blatant act of political discrimination and censorship against Newsmax.”
There is something to this, for it is unlikely that DirecTV would have banned, say, CNN or MSNBC in a dispute over fee negotiations. Newsmax, the fourth-ranked news network, was seeking its first-ever fee payments from DirecTV, which pays fees to more than 20 other liberal networks Newsmax cites, such as MSNBC, CNN, BBC, Bloomberg, PBS, and Vice.
President Trump picked up the theme at 10:38 p.m. on Wednesday night, tweeting on his platform, Truth Social: “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.”
Rand Paul followed suit soon after, tweeting: “I would cancel @DIRECTV for censoring @NEWSMAX but I already cancelled them for cancelling @OANN.” A puckish twofer.DirecTV is within its rights, as a private platform, to vanquish a channel partner rather than submit to its demands. The question is whether this is good business, and whether the partner you vanquish ends up making it a more painful decision than you ever anticipated. In this case, AT&T miscalculated. Advantage, Newsmax.
Dennis Kneale, @denniskneale on Twitter, is a media strategist and writer in New York. He spent more than 30 years at The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, CNBC, and Fox Business. His podcast is called "What's Bugging Me."