The media industry—despite its diverse array of existential problems—is somehow never in shortage of bad ideas. Pivot to video? OK! Working with Facebook? They seem nice! Building a competitor to Fox News? Cakewalk!
I sensed a new entrant to this junkyard of ploys for money and attention when reading a Hollywood Reporter story today on two former Fox News executives teaming up on yet another attempt to “fix” journalism: LaCorte News. Namesake Ken LaCorte is a former vice president of Fox News Digital and a Roger Ailes loyalist. The yet-to-be-launched site’s editor in chief is John Moody, a former executive vice president at Fox News who “retired” earlier this year after publishing a column criticizing the U.S. Olympic team for being “Darker, Gayer, Different.” I emailed LaCorte, curious about the need for a startup launched by two men from a company that has done so much damage to media and society.
I was surprised when he actually rang me soon after—“Hopefully you don’t think I’m as big of an asshole as you did before,” he explained—and launched into a fairly conventional media critique.
“Newspapers weren’t as big of assholes on things when they had a healthy profit margin,” he said. “If there was a way for companies to present good, fair, trustworthy information, and not play that A-B testing game, they would....Your crazy Uncle Freddie puts up a piece on Facebook, and people like the headline because it’s clickbait. All the sudden, everyone is reading the same shit.”
LaCorte’s solution? Some sort of platform currently being built out by “really smart people who do shit I can’t understand.” A handful of staffers—he said he’s hired five already—will aggregate other outlets’ stories and moderate discussion around them. “It’ll be heavily moderated to encourage having one place online where you can have an intelligent political debate,” LaCorte said. “It’s got elements of Facebook, a little Reddit, a dash of Matt Drudge.”
But back to the mission: Look at LaCorte News’ so-far-unpopulated site, and you’ll see a more earnest variation of the verbiage Ailes once used to announce Fox News’ entrance to the market in 1996. It was an alternative to mainstream news. Wink wink. (It also sounds like the message conservative media titan Sinclair forced its anchors around the country to recite on air.)
What is happening to journalism? It’s a rich question coming from a former executive at a news outlet that attacked the previous president without shame, and whose early morning and primetime lineups now function as de facto extension of the current administration’s press office. “I don’t think that either side of the political spectrum is without blame [for distrust of media],” LaCorte argued. “I think that Fox does a better job in divesting news from opinion in their reporting than many other outlets. I ran that site for 10 years and I’m proud of all the news content we put up. Since I left, it’s gotten a more pro-Trump and it’s gotten more salacious than it was in the past.”
More salacious than birtherism and the New Black Panthers? But I digress. The other threat to intelligent discussion among conservatives—LaCorte News’ target audience, the human LaCorte said—would seem to be the smut produced by the Gateway Pundits and Breitbarts of the world. “Cultivating a good online community is not an easy thing,” he admitted. “It was probably my biggest failure at Fox News. No major site has done it. What do you do when you have a news story from a site that’s often crazy? Our moderators will include value judgments to let people know what they’re seeing.”
LaCorte didn’t say as much, but his stated mission here isn’t far off from that of The Scaramucci Post, the faux media startup that journalists flocked to cover like a pack of content-starved hyenas in 2017. It got Anthony Scaramucci a few more precious seconds in the limelight after his illustrious 11-day stint as White House communications director. LaCorte doesn’t have a cartoonish reputation to uphold, and he said he’s funding the project thus far with cash from his and his friends and families’ pockets, so who knows.
If the idea of a curated forum for conservative discussion sounds pie in the sky to you, it is. But speaking of which: Do you remember Verrit? How about the multiple proposed iterations of a “Breitbart for the left”? Everyone is a media critic, and a little extra pocket change is all it takes to turn that criticism into bona fide disruption. Elon Musk’s Twitter tantrum yesterday sparked speculation he could put something in the works with his PayPal billions. Today’s bad media idea could be tomorrow’s bad media venture.
“I’ll have a site that will comparable or better than Fox News or CNN online, and I’ll do it for 5 percent of the costs,” LaCorte said of his baby. “Or I’ll fail.”