Fox News Hosts' Sites May Cause Headache for Network
Tucker Carlson still co-owns The Daily Caller, and Laura Ingraham will remain editor of LifeZette.
When Laura Ingraham's 10 p.m. show debuts on Fox News on Oct. 30, she will be the second member of the network's primetime lineup to maintain connections to an outside digital news site.
While she won't run the site on a daily basis anymore, Ingraham will remain editor of LifeZette, the conservative news publication she founded in 2015. Fox News' 8 p.m. host, Tucker Carlson, remains a passive co-owner of The Daily Caller, even though he gave up his role as editor in chief.
But even though both anchors have sought to distance themselves, they are still associated with the publications they founded. That lingering connection could cause headaches for their employer, Fox News, which wouldn't comment for this story but pointed to press releases clarifying their reduced roles.
"There is always the potential for conflict or embarrassment, and the networks do pay a lot of attention to the potential pitfalls when they allow a talent to maintain their own side business," Jonathan Klein, the former U.S. head of CNN, told The Hollywood Reporter. But, he added, "the networks know what they're getting into when they hire these people."
The Daily Caller has gotten into hot water on numerous occasions since the Washington, D.C.-based publication was co-founded by Carlson and current publisher Neil Patel in 2010. Most recently, in late September, the site pulled down a video that mocked a New York Times reporter and seemed to have anti-Semitic undertones. (The reporter who suggested the video be made said it lacked context and was put up too soon.) Two weeks earlier, a Daily Caller reporter was forced to apologize for "racist, misogynistic writings" from several years ago. "I am assuredly not racist," the reporter told The Washington Post.
"Tucker has no day-to-day management role at The Daily Caller," Patel reiterated to THR. "He and I still own the company. Fox knows this, so I’m not worried about him in any way." Carlson said in 2015 that Daily Caller employees are not to criticize Fox News.
LifeZette, which is also based in D.C., was sued by The Associated Press for not paying the company's bill, though the suit was dropped in May.
In August, The Daily Beast reported that LifeZette CEO Peter Anthony was accused of "repeatedly making sexually suggestive comments about female employees," an issue that could particularly toxic by association for Fox News, which has taken pains to turn over a new leaf after the departures of the late Roger Ailes and primetime host Bill O'Reilly. (Anthony has rejected the allegations.)
The Daily Caller's write-up of the report mentioned the Fox-Ingraham connection: "Just as she’s on the brink of landing a gig with Fox News, her LifeZette website is clunked with allegations of the CEO sexually harassing female employees and a formal complaint from an ex-employee about the company’s payroll."
Anthony clarified Ingraham's reduced role. "Laura Ingraham will have no day-to-day responsibilities with LifeZette, but plays a general editor at large role offering occasional strategic guidance," he said.
One publisher, a friend of the late Ailes, told THR that the former Fox News chairman became very territorial after observing the success of O'Reilly's digital platform, which he has since reinvigorated following his departure from the company. While O'Reilly was allowed to maintain his website, he was largely the exception at the network.
Looking at it a different way, a digital media exec said a news site with a large audience could actually be a useful vehicle for promoting a television show. Jim Cramer, for example, promotes the financial news site he founded, The Street, on his CNBC show.
Klein agreed. "There's no reason that a well-known personality can't incorporate a network role along with their own personal media business," he said.
Ultimately, though, the digital media exec suggested that Fox News could make things easier by purchasing and taking control of The Daily Caller and LifeZette, which could be merged with the network's website. Fox News' digital operation is massive — 77 million U.S. multi-platform unique visitors in August, according to comScore — compared with both The Daily Caller and LifeZette, which brought in about 6 million unique visitors for the same month.
"I doubt that those folks who started these businesses with grand ambitions would object to an exit at this point," the executive said. "And Fox News Channel could regain control and exclusivity of all but the fan sites."