Following a month that saw Newsmax hailed as the right’s latest “cancel culture” martyr, Chris Ruddy, the network’s chief executive, received a hero’s welcome at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday. Ruddy, who spoke on the main stage alongside embattled CPAC head Matt Schlapp, portrayed DirecTV’s decision to end its relationship with Newsmax as a corporate attempt to “deplatform” conservatives.
“Our view was that it was censorship,” Ruddy told the conservative crowd gathered at a convention center near Washington, DC. To support this claim, the network head cited DirecTV’s decision to drop One America News––another smaller right-wing channel––from its cable lineup last year. He went on to claim that “liberals and the left basically own everything in the media world” and said that DirecTV’s last lone conservative option is now Fox News. “Fox, in my mind, is good,” Ruddy added, “[but] Fox, let’s admit it, is changing, and it’s good to have more voices and Newsmax plays a very critical role in offering those.”
Ruddy did, however, note that hope is not lost. “The nice thing is about two weeks ago they announced that they would consider bringing Newsmax back on and they are working I think to that end. We’re hopeful that we can come to some agreement,” he said, clarifying that a new deal is “not for sure.”
Fox, for its part, has not offered this year’s CPAC the same coverage it typically does and did not return as an event sponsor. In the channel’s absence, Newsmax has set up shop with a media booth and ads that were played on the venue’s big screen between speeches.
As for Ruddy’s claims against DirecTV, the cable TV provider has said its January decision to drop Newsmax came out of a standard carriage dispute, as Tom Kludt reported in Vanity Fair this week. The South Florida–based channel, which can still be streamed online for free, was seeking an annual fee of about $1 per cable subscriber per year, according to Ruddy. It’s unclear how much that proposal would have cost the provider. But DirecTV, which has an estimated 13.5 million subscribers, has said keeping the channel would have cost it tens of millions. Ruddy, for his part, has denied that assertion, arguing the deal would amount to a fraction of that number.
Earlier this month, in a letter to Republican senators, DirecTV characterized the cancellation as completely apolitical. “Ultimately, contracts require an agreement between parties. That’s what the free market is all about,” the provider wrote, adding that it was among the first to pick up the conservative channel when it launched in 2014. “We continue to be willing to negotiate with Newsmax in good faith, but believe it is our duty to protect our customers and preserve our right to provide the network at the right price, if we choose to do so.”
One inconvenient detail often left out of the right’s narrative is DirecTV’s January decision to pick up The First TV, a conservative channel that airs programs hosted by Bill O’Reilly and other right-wing personalities. The addition was made two days after the provider and Newsmax failed to reach a new deal.
Unsurprisingly, Republicans still suspect foul play. House Oversight Chairman James Comer—who is hosting his own panel at CPAC on “The Biden Crime Family”—has signaled that Republicans are preparing to investigate the provider for supposedly targeting a network that he and his colleagues are “huge fans” of. “I’m very concerned. I’m very upset that DirecTV does not have Newsmax on there,” Comer told Newsmax on Friday. “I’ve been in constant communication with the leadership at AT&T and DirecTV. I have strongly encouraged them to meet with your CEO, Mr. [Chris] Ruddy, to get this worked out—or else.”
To close his Thursday speech at CPAC, Ruddy made sure to thank two Republicans for taking the fight to DirecTV. “I just want to give a shout-out to Ted Cruz, he’s been tremendous, and Jim Comer on the House side,” he said.
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