Portnoy’s Complaint Could Be The Murdochs’ Solution

I was going to devote today’s musing to the fact that despite my strong belief, based in large part on my own direct experience—yes, mostly positive—with Rupert Murdoch, that although he has released a statement that insists he is technically passing the stewardship of his companies to number one son Lachlan, there is little question in my mind that as “executive chairman Emeritus”, or whatever Latin phrase is eventually attached to him, as long as he is breathing he will most certainly have a role and a voice in whatever FOX and News Corporation are. Whether or not he ultimately loses a few billion more, and perhaps his legacy, along the way will be played out over the next year or so and with an awful lot of lawyers getting rich regardless.

And like it or not, media will give it substantial coverage, much as they have been over the last few days with the seemingly endless array of articles and prognostications on how the company will be impacted, what board member gerrimandering is going on as Lachlan takes sole reins of this bronco, and the reminder that once Rupert does pass (and, yes, I’m not so blind to think he’s not eventually gonna die) there is a clause he has authored which will ultimately determine the fate of all of them. As US NEWS AND WORLD REPORT’s Helen Coster and Dawn Chmielewski reported:

The executive transition, however, does not settle another potential power play that could occur upon Rupert Murdoch’s death, as framed by a document called the Murdoch Family Trust. The Reno, Nevada-based trust lays out a scenario through which a potential takeover could occur. It is the vehicle through which the elder Murdoch controls News Corp and Fox Corp, through a roughly 40% stake in voting shares of each company. Murdoch also holds a small amount of shares of the companies outside of the trust.

Upon Rupert’s death, News Corp and Fox Corp voting shares will be transferred from Murdoch to his four oldest children – Prudence, Elisabeth, Lachlan and James – creating a scenario in which three of the children could out-vote a fourth, potentially setting up a battle over the future of the companies, even as Lachlan Murdoch runs Fox Corp and is the sole chair of News Corp.

You think Jesse Armstrong had compelling scripts reagrding succession? Once again, even the most fertile scripted mind doesn’t always match what reality offers up.

So I suppose in spite of my instincts I do have to ponder how this plane eventually lands. My roommate unsurprisingly purchased Walter Isaacson’s biography of Elon Musk which he graciously is allowing me to read, and I got through a few chapters last night. The parallels in background (a citizen of a foreign English-speaking country) and business ruthlessness are obvious. In the actual series SUCCESSION, the company is eventually taken over by Lukas Mattson, described as a “successful, confrontational tech founder and CEO”. As its viewers already know (spoiler alert), with a plotline where the Rupert-inspired Logan Roy has already died, the heirs are paid off and in the end it is daughter Shiv’s feckless hubby Tom Wambsgans who emerges on top. So it would seem easy to believe that someone like Musk would eventually emerge as the kind of predator that could swoop in at the behest of the other three older Murdoch kids (and, perhaps, some of their younger and more silent stepsiblings) to play keep-away from Lachlan.

But even Musk knows darn well that he’s not as well-versed in legacy media and business as he might prefer to be. With X (nee Twitter), he’s brought in an NBC executive to try and sell ads and already has the personality that Rupert muses he likes personally but let go a bit too far already under his umbrella. He could likely use some help a bit above the skill sets of Tom Wambsgans to run FOX.

Which brings me to Dave Portnoy. who lately is as ubiquitous on FOX News and the internet as anybody. To those unfamiliar, Portnoy is the founder of BARSTOOL SPORTS, and for the better part of the last 20 years has devoted his life to that business. Let something as unobjective as Wikipedia tell you his background:

(I)n 2003, Portnoy left the Yankee Group and founded Barstool Sports.[10] The early iteration of Barstool was a four-page sports newspaper that Portnoy handed out on subway platforms and street corners in Boston.[10][8] The paper was meant to appeal to young men and rejected political correctness.[8] Early advertisers in the newspaper included offshore betting websites such as partypoker, which was operating in the United States illegally.[8] The contents of the newspaper was originally solely written by Portnoy, but freelance writers, including Todd McShay, joined the paper.[10] At first, the paper struggled, but gained traction in 2004 when Portnoy began placing photos of women in bikinis on the front page of the newspaper.[8] In 2007, Barstool expanded to a blog.[10]. attitude.

Peter Chernin‘s The Chernin Group purchased a majority stake of Barstool in January 2016. In 2020, Penn Entertainment purchased a 36% stake in Barstool Sports for $163 million, including $135 million in cash and $28 million in Penn non-voting convertible preferred stock. Penn acquired the remainder of the company in February 2023 for $388 million.[12][13][14] Portnoy re-purchased Barstool in August 2023 for one dollar, non-compete agreements in the gambling space, and a clause that if Barstool were to be sold again Penn Entertainment would take 50%. [15]

Want to take a step back and count the parallels between Portnoy and Murdoch, right down to the fact that Peter Chernin—far and away one of the most brilliant and even-handed executives I’ve ever crossed path with—was willing to work with both?

Which is why I’m actually kind of rooting for him as he has chosen to amplify his side of a story which the Washington Post’s food critic Emily Heil, apparently along with an unnamed colleague, was working on, ostensibly as part of covering a charity event he held in Brooklyn yesterday as part of his ONE BITE PIZZA series. Let DEADLINE’s Bruce Haring pick it up from here:

Controversial Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy doesn’t like what he’s seen about how the journalism sausage is made. A screenshot Portnoy published on the Barstool website quotes the email: “We are planning to write about the festival and how some of the sponsors and participants have drawn criticism by seeming to associate themselves with Dave Portnoy, who has a history of misogynistic comments and other problematic behavior.” 

Portnoy confronted Heil in a phone call he taped and posted on social media. The video was headlined, “I Caught Wind That The Washington Post Was Writing A Hit Piece About Me And My Pizzafest So I Did What I Do. I Went On The Offensive.”

On the call, he claimed he didn’t believe the Post would give him a fair story and that Heil was trying to “shame sponsors.”

After the phone call was revealed on social media, Heil canceled a scheduled interview while they were speaking on the phone, according to Portnoy. The story ran Friday.

It is very easy to castigate Portnoy as thin-skinned and cancelable, especially in light of personal allegations that have been made against him. Not that any of that should matter to investors and consumers.

But perhaps Portnoy was especially triggered given that less than a year ago another reporter named Emily from a prominent East Coast newspaper, the NEW YORK TIMES’ Steel, authored this little nugget about him and his business:

David Portnoy, who has a history of misogynistic and racist behavior, is now a public spokesman for the sports-betting industry. Years before he became a controversy-courting media icon, gambling promoter, liquor pitchman and pizza reviewer, David S. Portnoy was drowning in debts.

He owed $59,000 to credit card companies and $18,000 to his father. In one year alone, he had lost $30,000 gambling, court documents show. In January 2004, the 26-year-old filed for bankruptcy protection.

Nearly two decades later, Mr. Portnoy rarely if ever mentions the bankruptcy. Yet he and his company, Barstool Sports, are urging their tens of millions of followers to dive into the fast-growing and lightly regulated world of online sports betting.

Mr. Portnoy, 45, rose to fame by capitalizing on misogyny and other offensive behavior. He once said that some women “kind of deserve to be raped.” He wouldn’t remove photos showing a toddler’s penis from his blog until police showed up at his door. He made what he acknowledged were racist statements, including using the N-word repeatedly. He outed women who accused him of sexual misconduct, threatened to fire employees engaged in unionizing and repeatedly incited attacks on his critics.

Sounds like someone who would have fit in nicely with the likes of Roger Ailes and John Finley, at least based upon the objective findings of their investigations. He might even have fit in with the leadership team of the free world, if one is to believe what has trickled down from Cassidy Hutchinson’s upcoming book.

Snark if you will at the crew on FOX NEWS’ OUTNUMBERED that gave rise to this issue. Jesse Watters surrounded by four attractive blonde female reporters and writers. But give a watch yourself–perhaps with slightly less of an agenda than anyone named Emily might otherwise be capable of.

Aside from the fact the man can’t accurately pronounced mis-AH-gin-ist, what did he say or do in this particular case to deserve another dose of public flogging?

Which, to me, makes him the perfect ally for someone like Musk. And waaaay more promising than anyone that, say, might be involved with Elisabeth Murdoch.

I still contend that given Rupert’s geneology and his own dating opportunities, all of this SUCCESSION speculation is more than a few years off. But at least now you know how the reality version of it will end.

Feel free to place a bet on it if that’s your bag.

Until next time…

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