Newsmax Told Its Hosts to ‘Lay Off Criticizing’ Biden for One Night

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

MAGA cable network Newsmax exploded onto the national scene by parroting 2020 election denialism and going all-in on Trump propaganda. But at times, the network has seemingly tried to curry favor with the Biden administration.

In one such instance, the channel appeared to order its weeknight hosts to lay off the unrelenting criticism of President Joe Biden for one evening, ahead of a Newsmax interview with First Lady Jill Biden, three sources familiar with the matter told The Daily Beast.

The fall 2022 edict, which was reviewed by The Daily Beast, came from Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy and was handed down by the VP of programming, Chris Knowles, on the day of the first lady’s interview. The missive “pissed everybody off,” as one Newsmax source told The Daily Beast.

For the most part, the network’s vociferously anti-Biden primetime lineup cooperated, with a Daily Beast review of transcripts revealing that hosts who normally spent their nights railing against the president had found ways to avoid mentioning him at all.

The first lady’s office and Newsmax did not respond to requests for comment.

Newsmax’s Ratings Have Crashed From Its Post-Tucker Carlson Sugar High

The brief détente was unusual considering Newsmax’s brand—despite what their press office may claim—as a doggedly pro-Trump outlet that never misses an opportunity to bash Biden and his family. While that model benefited the network as it picked off MAGA viewership from Fox News, it has recently shown cracks.

Over the past year, Newsmax’s viewership has plunged, and many of those conservative eyeballs have returned to Fox News. With the potential for Trump to become a two-time election loser this fall, Newsmax may need to rethink its strategy altogether.

Just weeks ahead of the 2022 midterms, Newsmax surprisingly scored a sitdown with Mrs. Biden to discuss the administration’s “moonshot” initiative to cure cancer. The friendly conversation, which was first reported on by The Daily Beast, was conducted by Newsmax weekend host Nancy Brinker, who is also the founding chair of Susan G. Komen for the Cure and a former George W. Bush administration official.

While the interview first aired on Oct. 17 during the network’s 9 p.m. ET time slot, it was recorded two days prior in Florida. It followed an event the first lady held for the cancer initiative to commemorate National Mammography Day.

The Daily Beast asked Brinker that week how she managed to convince Biden to sit down with the aggressively pro-Trump network, and although she was eager to chat, Newsmax brass would not allow her to talk, offering no specific reasons. Instead, the network sent over a transcript of the interview along with bullet points arguing Newsmax is not MAGA and that it has supported the current administration’s vaccine rollout and aid to Ukraine. The same was “not true of Fox News,” a spokesperson wrote at the time.

Newsmax Trashes Florida GOP Bills Targeting the ‘Liberal Media’

More than a year later, it now appears that Ruddy went out of his way to make sure not to anger the Biden administration after nabbing the rare interview with the first lady, even if it left the conservative firebrands in his weeknight lineup miffed.

“They wanted to be able to brag about it. They didn’t want anything to take away from the moment if you will,” one source familiar with the directive said, adding that Ruddy just wanted to get through that single day before the interview aired.

In a message reviewed by The Daily Beast, Knowles reminded production staff in the morning that Brinker’s interview would air during the 9 p.m. hour and that Ruddy “is asking primetime to lay off criticizing” either the president or his wife for the rest of the evening. While primetime is generally regarded as 8 p.m.-11 p.m. ET, sources emphasized that the network regarded that span as beginning at 5 p.m. ET.

“It pissed everybody off and embarrassed everybody,” one current network staffer said, noting that decidedly MAGA host Rob Schmitt was “pissed” about being expected to refer to the first lady as “Dr. Jill Biden,” openly declaring his refusal to use the honorific phrase. (Conservative media has long chafed at calling the first lady a doctor.) Schmitt did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Newsmax is not a real news organization,” a Newsmax producer told The Daily Beast, expressing derision for the 2022 directive. “It’s a bush-league sandbox for Chris Ruddy and his friends to play news.”

The Daily Beast reviewed each of Newsmax’s programs that night, beginning with the 6 p.m. broadcast of ex-Fox News anchor Greta Van Susteren’s show, which steered completely clear of criticizing the president by name. (Van Susteren’s program is arguably the least antagonistic towards Biden. She’s hosted White House spokesperson John Kirby on multiple occasions.)

Newsmax Looks to Copy Fox News Again While Gloating About Tucker

The following hour, hosted by Schmitt, a fellow Fox News refugee, took only semi-direct swipes at the commander-in-chief, largely in defense of Donald Trump and a Truth Social post he made at the time, which criticized American Jews for voting Democrat.

“The point of the post was Trump pointing out how painfully liberal American Jews have become, and with the Biden team on the verge of dumping billions of dollars on Iran, American Jews need to appreciate having a Jewish state before it is too late,” Schmitt said. “The Biden White House and Democrat Party actively work with some of the most antisemitic people in this country.”

Eric Bolling, yet another former Fox News star who landed at Newsmax, also avoided criticizing the Bidens by name during his 8 p.m. broadcast. Instead, his show settled for maligning Democrats and liberal policies in more general terms. The only direct mention of the Bidens was to promote the upcoming interview with Jill.

Former One America News star Jenn Pellegrino, who at that time hosted Newsmax’s 9 p.m. hour, offered up a glowing monologue before introducing the pre-taped interview.

“October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and as we know, cancer is a disease that doesn’t discriminate and affects us all, regardless of social status, gender, religion or sexuality. Cancer doesn’t care if you are a Republican, an Independent or a Democrat,” she told Newsmax viewers. “The disease crosses political lines and unites those who disagree politically, like Florida’s first lady Casey DeSantis, who battled the terrible illness, and First Lady Jill Biden, who experienced the devastation of losing a son to cancer, who both support policies on cancer research. This evening, we come together as Americans on a mission to end cancer.”

Following the 20-minute interview, Pellegrino sat down with Brinker for a segment gushing over the first lady’s commitment to fighting breast cancer, a mission that is near and dear to Brinker. As the Associated Press reported at the time, the two women have known each other for years and worked together months before the interview at a cancer screening event.

Greg Kelly, the network’s cartoonishly MAGA host, also completely avoided going after the president by name during his 10 p.m. show. Instead, he spent his program ranting about Black Lives Matter and “black-on-black crime” while going after Democrats—specifically those running in the midterms. “Tim Ryan, oh yeah, he wants us dead, he wants anybody in the MAGA movement dead,” he said at one point.

While the network’s stridently pro-Trump stars have gone so far as to declare that they “wish Joe Biden no success” as president and even recently melted down over him eating salad, Ruddy himself has on occasion vocally praised the Biden administration.

In fact, the Newsmax chief absolutely gushed over the president’s COVID vaccine rollout in an astonishing June 2021 op-ed. The column, which featured Ruddy declaring his network was pro-vaccine, came at a time when the conservative media universe and Trump allies were increasingly embracing anti-vax rhetoric.

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.