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Project Veritas Fights Back

Project Veritas filed a lawsuit against the New York Times late last year, and Sean Hannity invited O’Keefe on his Friday radio program to share the details of recent developments.

Rick Schultz

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James O’Keefe leads perhaps the most successful undercover journalism operation in the country today, Project Veritas. Time and time again, he and his group have done the job most in the media no longer want to do – holding those in power accountable and uncovering the truth that these entities hide from the public.  

It is true that many Americans feel that today’s mainstream media serves as little more than an advocacy appendage of the liberal left.  O’Keefe and his supporters, meanwhile, believe it is his organization that does the job the media no longer cares to do.

Project Veritas filed a lawsuit against the New York Times late last year, and Sean Hannity invited O’Keefe on his Friday radio program to share the details of recent developments.

Last month, a New York judge refused to dismiss the suit, implying that it had “substantial basis in law to proceed.” The move in no way foreshadows the suit’s ultimate outcome, but it was such a big development in favor of Project Veritas that former president Donald Trump personally congratulated O’Keefe in a video recorded at Mar-a-Lago. 

Fox News reported online in March that thejudge denied the paper’s motion to dismiss the suit by the right-wing guerilla news outlet over the Times’ portrayal of Project Veritas’ reporting on alleged voter fraud in the congressional district represented by Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. last fall. Times reporters Maggie Astor and Tiffany Hsu described Project Veritas’ reporting as “deceptive,” “false,” and “with no verifiable evidence.” Fox News also quoted the judge as saying, “The facts submitted by Veritas could indicate more than standard, garden variety media bias and support a plausible inference of actual malice.” 

“James O’Keefe comes under constant, never-ending, non-stop fire. There have been more lawsuits, attempts to silence, cancel, shut down his operation,” Sean Hannity pointed out on his radio program last week. “The untold story here is that every single time that these accusations are made against his organization, or they’ve tried to take Project Veritas to court, that’s just another tactic of trying to silence people…they’ve won. They’ve never once lost a lawsuit against them.”

Hannity also mentioned the high price O’Keefe has paid so far to fight back in this particular battle against the well known newspaper.

“Yes it costs a lot of money, it’s cost us a quarter million dollars to get to this phase of the litigation,” O’Keefe said. “We’ve taken on the New York Times and their army of lawyers and we’ve won this historic motion in the State of New York Supreme Court. This judge, Sean, this is like one of the first times ever, one of the few plaintiffs since the 1960’s, unlike the Sarah Palin case, she sued the New York Times over the Op-Ed page. We sued the New York Times over a news article in the A Section, Sean, where they called our voter fraud videos deceptive. They said that we used unnamed sources, which we did not. They said we had no evidence. We did have evidence.”

Hannity has long been a public supporter of Project Veritas, often promoting their work and sharing their reporting on both radio and television. A frequent critic of the mainstream media, for both their overt and covert liberal bias, Hannity offered O’Keefe a chance to air his side of this confrontation.

“The judge in this historic 16-page order has said that it was the New York Times that acted deceptively. That they used misinformation by putting their opinions in the news article.” said O’Keefe.

Ironically, the decision in New York last month came the same week a federal judge said “we are very close to one-party control” of the media.

The lawsuit will now proceed with discovery and depositions, and time will tell where the facts lead.  

Sean Hannity will undoubtedly keep us posted.

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Saluting Black Broadcasters: Gee Scott Sr., KIRO Newsradio

“The most important thing is belief. Belief is more important than talent. Because if you believe, whether you’re right or wrong, it doesn’t matter.”

Garrett Searight

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In his 11th year detailing cars for players of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, it would have been understandable for Gee Scott Sr. to never envision a career in the talk radio world.

After all, Scott had previously worked as a door-to-door salesman before a chance meeting led to him working as “just a guy washing cars” for players and employees of the franchise, never giving a career in any media, let alone a news/talk radio format, a second thought.

But, as is often the case, life had other ideas for Gee Scott Sr.

Using his connections with the Seahawks, Scott began hosting a podcast, which led to an interview with the popular running back Marshawn Lynch. After the interview with “Beast Mode” went viral, Scott began to see more media opportunities.

After a stint hosting on then-710 ESPN in Seattle, Scott Sr. moved to sister station KIRO Newsradio 97.3, becoming the first regular Black voice on the venerable station. After joining the station in 2018, he now hosts The Gee Scott and Ursula Reutin Show from 9 AM-Noon on the Bonneville International outlet.

Despite his success and ascension with the Seattle news/talk station, Scott Sr. admits he struggled in the space, mentally, until the final months of 2023 after being in the medium for more than a decade.

“I did not truly believe that radio was for me until about the last three to six months. I’ve had impostor syndrome this entire time,” Scott admitted. “I’ve been in a space where I’ve been trying so hard just to make sure that I don’t fail…This is no one else’s fault. This was my fault. In life, the most important thing is belief. Belief is more important than talent. Because if you believe, whether you’re right or wrong, it doesn’t matter.”

When asked about the process of finding his voice on the air, the Seattle midday host shared a shift in mindset included embracing his personality and what set him apart from others in the community to begin with.

“It took almost 10 years. It almost took the entire time that I’ve been in radio, and I’ve just recently realized that ‘Oh, I don’t have to sound like that person. I don’t have to be as smart as that person. I don’t have to know this specific topic like this person. Oh, wait, you mean to tell me that there is a space for me?’ So, I believe right now, in what I do, nobody can do what I do. Wanna know why? Because they’re not me,” he said.

“That’s why they can’t do what I do. So it took me almost 10 years to realize that the most important thing in this space is to be you. You can’t be this person or that person. It took me almost 10 years to realize that ‘Oh, I’m enough.’ And so when people open up that folder, and whenever your favorite soda is, if it’s right if it’s Dr. Pepper, if it’s Mr. Pibb if it’s a Pepsi whatever it is. So you have to be you, and there’s gonna be people that don’t like you. And you gotta be okay with that.”

Many in the business have aspirations of eventually reaching a national audience with a syndication deal. Gee Scott Sr. admits he couldn’t be less interested in the development of his career.

“I’m staying local. I’m staying with my people. I will tell you that they couldn’t pay me enough to go on a national level and do this. I’m staying local,” Scott declared. ” Why? The reason why I believe that the platform that I’ve gotten today is because of the people here that are local. That’s why I always want to stay living with them.”

Scott was quick to note he — in his view — isn’t a trailblazer for other aspiring Black hosts in Seattle. He argued outlets like Converge Media and former radio host Eddie Rye Jr. as pillars of hope for Black media members in the Seattle market.

He did say, though, that a deep belief in oneself can carry even the most disadvantaged and unlikely people to great heights.

“The only thing that separates me and someone else, I actually believe I can do it. Somebody else might have more talent than me to actually do it. So I don’t think it’s necessarily me that does that. The motivation might be that employers and people looking to hire folks like me, maybe it might be easier because they’ve seen it happen with me,” said Scott Sr.

“I was a car detailer for the Seattle Seahawks for 11 years, man. That was my experience for radio. So maybe this will encourage news stations or program directors across the country to be like, ‘You know what? That person doesn’t have a background, but I like that person. And he or she has an opinion.’ That’s all it is.”

Having the experience of working for the Seahawks, especially during the franchise’s heights as a Super Bowl winner and contender, helped shape the view of his potential future. And despite being gone from the organization for more than a decade, Gee Scott Sr. shared he still carries lessons and values he learned from his time with the NFL club.

“I watched all of those young men come in, and I saw regular people coming in every single day, working as a day to do something spectacular. People ask me all the time ‘What did they do?’ They came to work every day. That’s all they did. It really is that simple,” said Scott Sr. “You just gotta come into work all the time. That 11 years, being behind the scenes, really gave me a lot of courage to understand ‘You just gotta work hard.’ I attack doing radio the same way I watched those guys attack football.”

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Another New CNN Strategy Won’t Change Anything

CNN isn’t just the third-place cable news network; it’s the second-place liberal, “anti-Trump” network. Fox has more viewers than CNN and MSNBC combined.

Andy Bloom

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A photo of Mark Thompson and the CNN logo
(Photo: Ståle Grut)

In October, Mark Thompson became CEO of CNN, following the rocky tenure of Chris Licht.

Thompson’s credentials are impressive. He was previously president and CEO of The New York Times, where he successfully developed the organization’s digital portfolio. Before that, he was the BBC’s director general (CEO and editor-in-chief).

After a listening tour at CNN bureaus worldwide, Thompson released a memo outlining his vision for the network’s future to the staff.

His memo recalls CNN’s heritage, acknowledges the difficulties facing linear television, announces his leadership team, and calls for risk-taking and innovation – while preparing the staff for change as CNN adapts to focus on digital  – where he sees the network’s future.

The memo doesn’t offer specifics about the plan for digital, or as an analysis by CNN’s Oliver Darcy reports, “[The] 2,300-word memo that said both a lot and very little at the same time.”

The glaring omission is the memo’s failure to acknowledge CNN’s content. It’s as if Thompson believes CNN’s issues are mainly from linear television’s challenges, consumers’ moves to digital, and the network’s failure to embrace these changes quickly and creatively.

And Nero fiddled while Rome burned.

Thompson seems satisfied, at least with CNN’s primetime. He writes: “After a difficult transitional period last year, we now have a promising new primetime line-up.”

Huh?

The Nielsen ratings tell a different story.

In January 2024, primetime Nielsen ratings, Fox News averaged 1.983 million viewers, compared to MSNBC with 1.094 million and CNN’s 605,000. Fox has more viewers than MSNBC and CNN combined. It’s the same in the A25-54 demo. To be fair, CNN sometimes beats MSNBC A25-54.

It’s the same month after month and week after week.

Among all cable networks, Fox News typically is first. When it isn’t, it’s second to ESPN during football season. In January 2024, CNN was behind Fox News and MSNBC. HGTV, Hallmark, History, and TBS were also ahead of CNN.

Fox usually has all of the top ten programs among all viewers and A25-54. In January, MSNBC scored one show at number 10 among all viewers.

Thompson is smart. Maybe his actions tell us what his memo doesn’t. His first significant change visible to viewers occurred this week with the removal of Poppy Harlow and Phil Mattingly from CNN This Morning.

The show Early Start will become CNN This Morning, airing from 5 to 7 a.m. (all times ET), followed by CNN News Central from 7 to 10 a.m. Two new shows will debut at 10 a.m.: CNN Newsroom with Jim Acosta (moving to weekdays from weekends) and The Bulletin with Pamela Brown (initially hosted by Wolf Blitzer while she is on maternity leave).

Mornings reportedly will focus on straight news coverage and less happy talk. Does that offer insight into Thompson’s thinking? Nielsen data consistently shows CNN This Morning averaging around 325,000 viewers, while Morning Joe on MSNBC usually averages in the high 900,000s. Fox and Friends is first, averaging over a million viewers.

There’s little to lose, and Thompson believes mornings are critical. His memo includes: “For many people today (consuming news on smartphones), their news primetime is in the morning, not in the evening.”

However, the three main cable news networks currently average less than 2.4 million viewers during their morning shows, while primetime delivers closer to 4 million viewers nightly. Throughout the memo, Thompson writes about developing new audiences, new sources of revenue, and new ways of storytelling. Perhaps he sees an opportunity in mornings beyond linear television.

Time will tell if the changes improve CNN’s ratings, revenues, or develop new audiences, but they will immediately cut costs. The morning shows will be produced from CNN’s Atlanta corporate headquarters. The New York production team was “disbanded.”

In the memo section “THE FUTURE OF TV AT CNN,” Thompson writes: “We also need to address the long-range economics of TV at CNN.”

Multiple sources state Thompson needs to cut $50 million. The Wrap reports those cuts “will not spare the network’s formidable talent roster.”

On the other hand, Ben Smith, in Semafor Media, writes, “In speaking to people in and around CNN, I think Thompson’s approach may be less obvious. He knows as well as anyone that news is shifting toward talent, not away from it.”

Legacy media outlets have spent big money on stars forever. CNN follows that recipe. The Wrap reports that Anderson Cooper makes an estimated $20 million a year, Wolf Blitzer about $15 million, Jake Tapper around $8.5 million, etc.

Beyond the longtime established talent, CNN’s more recent anchor additions and primetime hosts have made no impact. They have so many people on their shows during the evenings that it’s sometimes hard to know whose hosting. Frequently, they throw it back and forth between Washington and New York, confusing matters even further. Thompson could achieve significant cost savings by reducing the tedious extended panel-driven programs.

CNN’s issues extend beyond ratings. A YouGov survey of the most popular brands (Q4 2023) shows that 97% of all adults are familiar with CNN. However, only 49% have a positive opinion about it, making it the 809th most popular brand in the survey.

When I did news/talk radio focus groups in the mid-90s (CNN’s heyday), I used to ask: “If you woke up and opened the blinds and saw a giant mushroom cloud over the horizon, you’d want to find out what’s going on. Where would you go for information?” Of course, this was early in the internet era and long before smartphones, but the answer was universal: CNN.

Thompson understands and writes about CNN’s history in his memo: “Soon audiences learned to turn to CNN first whenever something big happened.”

The network has damaged its brand horribly.

Thompson’s memo also sets his executive team. It’s the same committee of four who have been in their positions since Licht’s departure in June: Amy Entelis – executive vice president of talent; Virginia Moseley, executive vice president of editorial; Eric Sherling – executive vice president of programming; and David Leavy – chief operating officer). Retaining the same team at least suggests more of the same.

In his memo, Thompson announced the four will now become five with the addition of Alex MacCallum. The two previously worked together at The New York Times. Thompson’s memo says she will focus on “Developing the products and the subscription and other relationships with users that will make CNN once again indispensable to younger, as well as older audiences, and secure our economics into the future.”

The memo suggests that rather than fixing a broken product and brand, the strategy for improving CNN is through the areas MacCallum will address by building digital, mobile, and subscriptions. Thompson hopes to duplicate his success in creating The New York Times digital news and subscription model at CNN, but the two have fundamental differences.

Whatever challenges The New York Times had when Thompson took control, it was still the “paper of record.” The Times was respected, and newsrooms around the country made editorial decisions based on its front page. In contrast, CNN has horrible ratings, and its image is in tatters.

The thought should send shudders down the spines of CNN’s parent company, Warner Bros/Discovery CEO David Zaslav, its board of directors, and shareholders. The company previously invested $300 million in CNN+, which attracted less than 10,000 daily users, and it was shuttered a month after its launch.

Again, CNN has product and image problems.

Further, the timing for launching subscription streaming services, at least without unique prized content (i.e., the NFL), isn’t great either. A Wall Street Journal article from January (paywall) reports: “About one-quarter of U.S. subscribers to major streaming services—a group that includes Apple TV+, Discovery+, Disney+, Hulu, Max, Netflix, Paramount+, Peacock and Starz—have canceled at least three of them over the past two years, according to November data from subscription-analytics provider Antenna.

Two years ago, that number stood at 15%, a sign that streaming users are becoming increasingly fickle.”

Thompson recognizes how people’s habits of receiving and consuming news are changing, but building out platforms for a product people don’t use puts the cart before the horse. It’s an issue more suited for linear TV networks in leadership positions like Fox News and MSNBC.

If Warner Brother Discovery invests another $300 million in digital solutions, mobile platforms, and more content from its current talent, it won’t have any more impact than CNN+. CNN’s problems stem from its content, not its delivery methods.

CNN is a dumpster fire. If CNN were a radio station, we’d be well into discussions about a format change.

CNN isn’t just the third-place cable news network; it’s the second-place liberal, “anti-Trump” network. Fox has more viewers than CNN and MSNBC combined. Purely on an audience basis, it might be better to battle over the larger total audience. Further, Gallup surveys consistently show that more Americans identify as conservative than liberal.

What are some options?

If CNN took the enormous salaries it pays talent delivering minuscule ratings and lured Tucker Carlson to the network, it could turn around instantly. It might not be the right answer, but it’s an option.

Here’s another:

When sports teams are on losing streaks, they talk about getting back to basics and their roots. Maybe CNN should get back to what made it famous. The basics start with positioning. Thompson and Zaslav should read (likely re-read) Al Ries and Jack Trout’s seminal marketing book: “Positioning: The Battle for the Mind.”

Rather than being the second liberal or conservative station, CNN should be where people go to discover what is happening. That is not the same as being moderate or representing both sides. It means focusing on news and events, not positions. Rebuilding that image is going to take a total remake of CNN.

Remaking CNN isn’t possible when Anderson Cooper rolls his eyes during every story about Donald Trump or Jake Tapper cuts off his live speech because he disagrees with what he’s saying. Giving Jim Acosta more airtime reinforces the network’s image as the second anti-Trump network.

If Thompson believes CNN is where people go when events happen, then his research (or beliefs) contradict Nielsen. The network has no position. Until it has one that is unique and people care about, all the investment in digital strategies, mobile apps, and having the current talent do podcasts won’t change much. Hopefully, for CNN, there is more to Thompson’s strategy than is in his memo.

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Is the Nielsen Paper Diary on Its Death Bed?

This is a good move considering the growth of these newer audio sources and also gives Nielsen some new sales opportunities, reflecting changes in the business.

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A photo of a laptop displaying the Nielsen logo

Last week, I wrote about the issues surrounding response rates in the Nielsen diary service.  This week, word came out that the company is working on a new system to replace the paper and pen/pencil diary system. In the immortal words of Lizzo, “It’s about damn time.”

First, though, it’s always good to study history.

If you’re a regular reader, you know that Arbitron tried an online diary back in 2007.  The design worked, but caused an issue with return rates, the percentage of diaries that are returned from households that agreed to participate in the survey. The postmortem determined that some diarykeepers had completed the online diary but failed to use the “submit” button to send the diary back electronically, meaning their diaries were not included.  Work on an online diary didn’t resume for a number of years and those results were not promising.

While I do not have any special knowledge of Nielsen’s plans, the trade press comments from Jon Miller suggest that participants will be able to enter listening to streamers, podcasts, and essentially anything audio and do it online. This is a good move considering the growth of these newer audio sources and also gives Nielsen some new sales opportunities, reflecting changes in the business.

Back around 2002, Arbitron proposed changing the definition of “radio” to FCC-licensed AM, FM, and DARS band stations (Canadian and Mexican licensed stations are included as well).  The DARS band refers to satellite-delivered radio meaning SiriusXM. You won’t see any estimates for SiriusXM in the diary service (the service is not encoded so does not count in PPM), but the reported listening counts in the diary PUR. Arbitron also announced that streams of broadcast stations would be included.

The change started a firestorm with the Arbitron Radio Advisory Council. Of course, SiriusXM was seen as a major challenge to the industry and the argument against streaming was that all you needed was a pea-shooter in a small market and a big promotional budget in a major market to create a competitive station at a serious discount to the then-high cost of entry.  Arbitron stood its ground and proceeded with the changes.

You may not be aware, but there has been a reference to satellite and internet listening in the diary for many years. If you look at the example page, you’ll see entries for “Alpha Satellite” and another one that says “Internet” with a set of call letters. The instructions say, “You may be listening to radio on AM, FM, the Internet, or satellite”. You would be surprised how many diarykeepers do read the directions.

Let’s look at the audio clientele today. Just about every company streams their stations. Just about every company is into podcasting. Having the ability to have a potentially larger Nielsen number against these audio sources could mean greater revenue, although you can expect that Nielsen will charge more for access to the data about more audio sources.

Other than the extensive testing required, what is standing between the end of the paper diary and an online system? The main sticking point will be how the estimates change. Any time you change the survey method, the results change as well. In this case, it comes down to multiple points:

  • Did overall radio and audio usage increase or decrease versus the present system?
  • Where do we see the most change?  Demos, race/ethnicity/dayparts?
  • How does sample proportionality look compared to the current system?
  • Are any specific formats helped or hindered compared to the current system?
  • What are the response rates?
  • Can the edit rules be applied the same way as in the present system?

I’m sure this list misses a couple of comparisons, but you get the idea. The ideal result would be no change to the current results or that estimates for radio increase with similar or better response rates and proportionality. That’s unlikely to happen.

Assuming the new system doesn’t look the same, it may come down to a matter of which company’s “ox is being gored”. If one or more of the majors decides not to play, the new system could be dead on arrival unless Nielsen simply chooses to go ahead based on gaining new clients and taking the attitude of “go find another rating service, oh wait, there really aren’t any!” 

This confrontation happened once before. Arbitron tried to develop a better system of measuring streaming audio and the effort continued after the Nielsen acquisition. The new system could produce demos based on a combination of “real” data and modeling. In my view (and I was involved directly), it was a better system, but it had one problem. The overall estimates were lower than what the incumbent company was producing. 

At least one major group owner said “no” because even with demos, lower numbers were not acceptable. You haven’t heard about that effort, but Nielsen holds a patent on the process (full disclosure: I’m one of the names on the patent). 

The trade press will do their best to keep you updated on the progress, but now you have insight into how the process will proceed. 

Let’s meet again next week.

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