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Christopher Ruddy, founder of Newsmax

Meet Chris Ruddy, the conservative media owner who wants to steer Trump to the center

Meet Chris Ruddy, the conservative media owner who wants to steer Trump to the center

A friend of the president, he is a lesser known but rising star on the right. The founder of Newsmax Media says Fox’s formula of “weaponized” news is imploding ... and he plans to cash in. He caused a stir this week for comments about 'Russia-gate.'

Christopher Ruddy, founder of Newsmax
Christopher Ruddy, founder of Newsmax

BOCA RATON, Florida - When political heavyweights flock to Mar-a-Lago, the private club in Palm Beach owned by Donald Trump, some take a short detour to visit the president’s longtime friend Christopher Ruddy, a conservative journalist and successful businessman.

His home is only 15 miles away, in West Palm Beach, and his office at Newsmax Media, a growing national media company, is 30 minutes south in Boca Raton.

Just as Trump put this tony area of Palm Beach County on the political map, Ruddy is hoping to turn his studios here into a major media powerhouse to challenge Fox News’ virtual monopoly of right-wing cable news. The Newsmax founder is expanding his TV operation, launched only two years ago on the back of a digital news website that has four million unique visitors per month according to comScore, a web analytics company. Newsmax also has a lucrative newsletter business focused on health and financial services.

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Fox has dominated cable news for a generation. But Ruddy and other pundits predict an imminent shakeup in the balance of media power. The New York-based company has been embroiled in one scandal after another, and it has lost some of its top names, including late founder Roger Ailes and star host Bill O’Reilly.

Fox’s viewership numbers have also begun to be challenged by the liberal-leaning MSNBC, which might be benefiting from a “resistance” effect after the election of Trump.

“It’s a big turning point. Fox is imploding,” Ruddy told Univision News during a wide-ranging interview in his Newsmax office.

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“They had $2.4 billion in revenue last year, $1.4 billion in profit and no market competition from the center right. So this is, to me, almost like blue ocean territory,” he said, smelling blood.

Fox rejects the idea that it is imploding. A spokesperson pointed to recent data showing it topping all of cable news in total viewers for the 185th consecutive month, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Even with its recent personnel problems, Ruddy knows that Fox still rules when it comes to conservative cable. But Ruddy believes his carefully-crafted center-right approach could appeal to a large audience that is tired of partisan politics.

Though he writes often and appears on CNN, he kept a relatively low profile until recently, in large part because his brand of conservative news is less combative than the ideological, take-no-prisoners style of Fox and the even more extreme Breitbart News.

No fixed ideology


Newsmax office lobby in Boca Raton features an image of Abraham Lincoln
Newsmax office lobby in Boca Raton features an image of Abraham Lincoln

While he is Trump’s friend, he openly disagrees with him on some key issues, such as immigration and the border wall with Mexico.

“We don’t come out with a fixed ideology,” he said. “Fox News has sort of weaponized politics. We don’t do that, that’s not our thing."

Hardly a new kid on the block, Newsmax has been around for 18 years, but largely flew under most people’s radars until Ruddy's friend took the political landscape by storm.

Newsmax was overshadowed during the 2016 election campaign by Breitbart, which captured headlines due to the dogmatic style of its former chairman Steve Bannon, who ended up joining Trump’s campaign and is now White House chief strategist.

Breitbart’s image has been hurt by accusations of a lack of journalistic standards for fairness, balance and accuracy. Not so much Newsmax. That’s in large part because Ruddy, an affable and somewhat portly 52-year-old, is a rare breed in the conservative news business, combining his entrepreneurial talents with high level political access and a solid career background in journalism.

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“He created a must-visit landmark in Florida for Republicans from around the country,” said Justin Sayfie, who was a top advisor to former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and publishes the political bulletin the SayfieReview.com.

"Any elected Republican official would be wise to seek counsel from Chris because of his media juggernaut as well as having his finger on the pulse of grassroots Republicans across the country.”

Suddenly everyone is taking Newsmax more seriously. On Monday, Ruddy made headlines when, shortly after visiting the White House, he gave an interview to PBS Newshour in which he said Trump was considering firing Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating possible ties between the president’s campaign and Russian officials.

“He doesn’t seem like a traditional journalist. He's a confidant and an advisor,” said David Folkenflik, media correspondent for National Public Radio.

Conservative news media

FOX NEWS

est. 1996

HQ: New York. Reach: Available in 98 mln homes. TV and website. Fox News, part of the media network controlled by Rupert Murdoch, has long dominated conservative political debate. But Fox News is in disarray after several scandals saw the departure of long time CEO, Roger Ailes, and its star host, Bill O’Reilly. Newscorp also owns the Wall St Journal and the New York Post.

CEO

Rupert

Murdoch

NEWS MAX

est. 1998

HQ: Boca Raton, Florida. Reach 10 million. TV and website. The Newsmax founder is expanding his TV operation, launched only two years ago on the back of a successful digital news website that boasts four million unique users per month as well as a lucrative newsletter business focused on health and financial services. Annual revenue $100 million according to Ruddy.

CEO

Chris Ruddy

BREITBART NEWS

est. 2007

A far-right news, opinion and commentary website founded in 2007 by conservative publisher Andrew Breitbart. It is famous for promoting conservative conspiracy theories. Closely aligned to Trump after its former chairman, Steve Bannon, joined his campaign and now serves as White House chief strategist. In recent months Breitbart lost advertisers and visitor traffic has fallen largely due to a boycott campaign.

CEO

Larry Solov

SINCLAIR BROADCAST GROUP

est. 1971

HQ: Hunt Valley, Maryland. Founded by Julian Sinclair Smith in 1971, it has grown steadily and now has a market value of $3.4 bilion. While it has little name recognition its 173 local TV stations reach a quarter of American homes with a right-leaning agenda. The Smith family are donors to the Republican Party.

CEO

Chris S. Ripley

ONE AMERICA NEWS NETWORK

est. 2013

HQ: San Diego, California. Reach: Available in 35 million homes. TV owned by Herring Networks, Inc., a San Diego family run video production company. OAN features news programming and political talk shows, with a stated goal of promoting strong conservative views with a patriotic flavor. The channel was launched on July 4, 2013.

CEO

Robert Herring

INFO WARS

Founded by Alex Jones an American far-right radio show host, writer and film maker based in Texas. His website, InfoWars.com, is a major propagator of right wing conspiracy theories, such as the alleged faking of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The Alex Jones Show is broadcast nationally by the Genesis Communications Network to more than 90 U.S. radio stations.

Founder

Alex Jones

FOX NEWS

est. 1996

HQ: New York. Reach: Available in 98 mln homes. TV and website. Fox News, part of the media network controlled by Rupert Murdoch, has long dominated conservative political debate. But Fox News is in disarray after several scandals saw the departure of long time CEO, Roger Ailes, and its star host, Bill O’Reilly. Newscorp also owns the Wall St Journal and the New York Post.

CEO

Rupert

Murdoch

NEWS MAX

est. 1998

HQ: Boca Raton, Florida. Reach 10 million. TV and website. The Newsmax founder is expanding his TV operation, launched only two years ago on the back of a successful digital news website that boasts four million unique users per month as well as a lucrative newsletter business focused on health and financial services. Annual revenue $100 million according to Ruddy.

CEO

Chris Ruddy

BREITBART NEWS

est. 2007

A far-right news, opinion and commentary website founded in 2007 by conservative publisher Andrew Breitbart. It is famous for promoting conservative conspiracy theories. Closely aligned to Trump after its former chairman, Steve Bannon, joined his campaign and now serves as White House chief strategist. In recent months Breitbart lost advertisers and visitor traffic has fallen largely due to a boycott campaign.

CEO

Larry Solov

SINCLAIR BROADCAST GROUP

est. 1971

HQ: Hunt Valley, Maryland. Founded by Julian Sinclair Smith in 1971, it has grown steadily and now has a market value of $3.4 bilion. While it has little name recognition its 173 local TV stations reach a quarter of American homes with a right-leaning agenda. The Smith family are donors to the Republican Party.

CEO

Chris S. Ripley

ONE AMERICA NEWS NETWORK

est. 2013

HQ: San Diego, California. Reach: Available in 35 million homes. TV owned by Herring Networks, Inc., a San Diego family run video production company. OAN features news programming and political talk shows, with a stated goal of promoting strong conservative views with a patriotic flavor. The channel was launched on July 4, 2013.

CEO

Robert Herring

INFO WARS

Founded by Alex Jones an American far-right radio show host, writer and film maker based in Texas. His website, InfoWars.com, is a major propagator of right wing conspiracy theories, such as the alleged faking of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The Alex Jones Show is broadcast nationally by the Genesis Communications Network to more than 90 U.S. radio stations.

Founder

Alex Jones

FOX NEWS

est. 1996

NEWS MAX

est. 1998

HQ: New York. Reach: Available in 98 mln homes. TV and website. Fox News, part of the media network controlled by Rupert Murdoch, has long dominated conservative political debate. But Fox News is in disarray after several scandals saw the departure of long time CEO, Roger Ailes, and its star host, Bill O’Reilly. Newscorp also owns the Wall St Journal and the New York Post.

HQ: Boca Raton, Florida. Reach 10 million. TV and website. The Newsmax founder is expanding his TV operation, launched only two years ago on the back of a successful digital news website that boasts four million unique users per month as well as a lucrative newsletter business focused on health and financial services. Annual revenue $100 million according to Ruddy.

CEO

CEO

Rupert

Murdoch

Chris Ruddy

BREITBART NEWS

est. 2007

SINCLAIR BROADCAST GROUP

est. 1971

HQ: Hunt Valley, Maryland. Founded by Julian Sinclair Smith in 1971, it has grown steadily and now has a market value of $3.4 bilion. While it has little name recognition its 173 local TV stations reach a quarter of American homes with a right-leaning agenda. The Smith family are donors to the Republican Party.

A far-right news, opinion and commentary website founded in 2007 by conservative publisher Andrew Breitbart. It is famous for promoting conservative conspiracy theories. Closely aligned to Trump after its former chairman, Steve Bannon, joined his campaign and now serves as White House chief strategist. In recent months Breitbart lost advertisers and visitor traffic has fallen largely due to a boycott campaign.

CEO

CEO

Chris S. Ripley

Larry Solov

INFO WARS

ONE AMERICA NEWS NETWORK

est. 2013

Founded by Alex Jones an American far-right radio show host, writer and film maker based in Texas. His website, InfoWars.com, is a major propagator of right wing conspiracy theories, such as the alleged faking of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The Alex Jones Show is broadcast nationally by the Genesis Communications Network to more than 90 U.S. radio stations.

HQ: San Diego, California. Reach: Available in 35 million homes. TV owned by Herring Networks, Inc., a San Diego family run video production company. OAN features news programming and political talk shows, with a stated goal of promoting strong conservative views with a patriotic flavor. The channel was launched on July 4, 2013.

CEO

Founder

Robert Herring

Alex Jones

FOX NEWS

est. 1996

NEWS MAX

est. 1998

BREITBART NEWS

est. 2007

HQ: Los Angeles. A far-right news, opinion and commentary website founded in 2007 by conservative publisher Andrew Breitbart. It is famous for promoting conservative conspiracy theories. Closely aligned to Trump after its former chairman, Steve Bannon, joined his campaign and now serves as White House chief strategist. In recent months Breitbart lost advertisers and visitor traffic has fallen largely due to a boycott campaign.

HQ: New York. Reach: Available in 98 mln homes. TV and website. Fox News, part of the media network controlled by Rupert Murdoch, has long dominated conservative political debate. But Fox News is in disarray after several scandals saw the departure of long time CEO, Roger Ailes, and its star host, Bill O’Reilly. Newscorp also owns the Wall St Journal and the New York Post.

HQ: Boca Raton, Florida. Reach 10 million. TV and website. The Newsmax founder is expanding his TV operation, launched only two years ago on the back of a successful digital news website that boasts four million unique users per month as well as a lucrative newsletter business focused on health and financial services. Annual revenue $100 million according to Ruddy.

CEO

CEO

CEO

Chris Ruddy

Rupert

Murdoch

Larry Solov

INFO

WARS

ONE AMERICA NEWS NETW.

est. 2013

SINCLAIR BROADCAST GR.

est. 1971

Founded by Alex Jones an American far-right radio show host, writer and film maker based in Texas. His website, InfoWars.com, is a major propagator of right wing conspiracy theories, such as the alleged faking of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The Alex Jones Show is broadcast nationally by the Genesis Communications Network to more than 90 U.S. radio stations.

HQ: San Diego, California. Reach: Available in 35 million homes. TV owned by Herring Networks, Inc., a San Diego family run video production company. OAN features news programming and political talk shows, with a stated goal of promoting strong conservative views with a patriotic flavor. The channel was launched on July 4, 2013.

HQ: Hunt Valley, Maryland. Founded by Julian Sinclair Smith in 1971, it has grown steadily and now has a market value of $3.4 bilion. While it has little name recognition its 173 local TV stations reach a quarter of American homes with a right-leaning agenda. The Smith family are donors to the Republican Party.

CEO

CEO

Founder

Chris S.

Ripley

Robert

Herring

Alex

Jones

UNIVISION

While he enjoys being close to politicians, Ruddy also remains committed to traditional fact-based journalism. While Newsmax TV features a lineup of highly opinionated talking heads, its website sticks to a more neutral format of daily breaking news and analysis.

On the website, “you’ll find five stories supportive of President Trump and five others very critical of him,” Ruddy said, noting he had just interviewed the author of a book critical of Trump’s China policy.

Ruddy also promotes some of the fringe ideologues on the right, like David Horowitz, who has been described as “a driving force of the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-black movements” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that monitors hate speech. Horowitz appears on Newsmax TV and subscribers to the magazine can get a free copy of his latest book, Big Agenda, in which he presents Islam as a threat to America.

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New York journalism roots

The son a of New York Irish cop, Ruddy grew up in a working class family - the youngest of 12 children - in Nassau County on Long Island, barely five miles from Donald Trump's mansion in Queens.

Ruddy says that proximity to the president’s upbringing has helped him figure Trump out. “I sort of understand him, although we grew up on the other side of the tracks,” he said.

“His father was an incredibly hard working guy. His mother was a Scottish immigrant. Trump never lost those roots even though he grew up a rich kid,” he said.

After a brief stint as a high school teacher in the South Bronx, Ruddy began his media career at a conservative monthly in 1991, before moving on to the New York Post. He gained notoriety as one of the more dogged journalists digging into conspiracy theories swirling around President Bill Clinton.

His book 'The Strange Death of Vince Foster' on the 1993 suicide of the Clinton’s friend and Deputy White House Counsel was hailed by Clinton critics for its questioning of the circumstances of Foster's death, fueling suspicions of a cover up of Watergate proportions. At the time his book came out Ruddy was working for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review paper owned by billionaire conservative Richard Mellon Scaife, one of Clinton’s most vehement critics.

But after Clinton left office Ruddy’s view of him changed. They met over a long lunch and hit it off, he said. In 2007 he published a positive interview with Clinton, writing that the former president was “doing exemplary work and is acting as a positive force for the United States.”

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Ruddy later said that he and Scaife had never suggested Clinton was involved in Foster's death. In fact, he now calls Clinton a friend, and has donated $1 million over the years to the Clinton Foundation.

"I really respect his patriotism, his sense of civic duty," he told Univision. "He's the type of guy who gets up every morning thinking about ways of making America a better, stronger country."

Ironically, it was a mutual interest in Clinton that Ruddy says helped forge his relationship with Trump. “He would call me all the time and we would chat about Bill Clinton, and how much he liked the Clintons,” said Ruddy.

Ruddy’s respect for Clinton is both personal and political. Despite being a self-described center-right Reagan Republican, Ruddy supports some federal welfare programs, including Medicaid for those struggling on low incomes. He opposed the Republican Party's famous budget plan in 2011 that threatened to make deep cuts to social spending.

In a March 14 Newsmax op-ed, Ruddy criticized the “phony” private health insurance market saying a lack of competition among insurers had created near monopolies in some states.

While traditional conservative Republicans are fundamentally opposed to a single payer system – what some deride as socialized healthcare – Ruddy does not see it through an ideological lens. Instead, he aligns himself with Trump's populist appeal to defending the interests of American workers. In his opinion, expansion of Medicaid is the only pragmatic way to achieve Trump’s goal of universal coverage.

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“Trump won the presidency by trusting his own instincts and ignoring the GOP establishment, including its views on healthcare,” he wrote.

This week, Trump appeared to answer Ruddy's appeal on health care, surprising Republicans by describing the House's ObamaCare repeal bill as "mean," and adding that he favored a more generous solution. That came only a month after Trump called it "a great plan," during a Rose Garden ceremony.

Florida move


Nesmax's Chris Ruddy with President Trump in the Oval Office.
Nesmax's Chris Ruddy with President Trump in the Oval Office.

Ruddy moved to Florida in 1998 to launch Newsmax with $300,000. Today it’s a highly profitable $100 million company that has built its revenue base on news about health and financial planning for the over 50s, sprinkled with ads for Viagra and weight loss.

Ruddy met Trump in 1999 after the real estate mogul bought his sprawling 20-acre oceanfront estate, Mar-a-Lago, and turned it into an ultra-exclusive club. “I would see him at charities … I don’t think he really connected with who I was or what I was doing,” Ruddy said.

He didn’t get on Trump’s radar until 2005 when he sponsored a Red Cross ball at Mar-a-Lago and was invited to join the club, as well as the nearby golf club.

Newsmax steadily gained notoriety and quickly began to turn a profit, with growth rates of 35 percent for the first 15 years, he says. Besides the website, Newsmax has more than a dozen print publications as well 70 separate email lists with more than six million subscribers, he adds. Newsmax also sells access to its email lists to other companies and politial campaigns.

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Univision was unable to independently verify Newsmax's newsletter numbers, but industry sources say its lists are highly sought after.

In 2014, Ruddy took a gamble and launched a 24/7 cable news channel with his sights set on challenging the conservative broadcasting dominance of Fox. The fledgling TV channel is not yet widely available on cable providers, though Ruddy says he is working to triple its reach to 35 million homes.

Most other conservative media are small and not as profitable as Newsmax, which has carved out its own niche, said Ruddy, highlighting data that showed 70 percent of its viewers were not Fox viewers. “Chris has really found a sweet-spot for conservatives with a certain perspective,” said NPR's Folkenflik, “That’s the beauty of Chris. He’s so understated.”

But his expansion plan naturally involves some risk-taking. Ruddy confirmed to Univision he is considering bringing former Fox host Bill O’Reilly on board. Enormously popular with Fox viewers, O’Reilly was fired in April over new revelations regarding a string of sexual harassment lawsuits.

“We're open to having discussion with O’Reilly. We think he’s a very great TV news talent and we hope he can join us,” Ruddy said. “Obviously we’d have to discuss some issues that have been raised about him,” he added, in reference to O'Reilly sexual harassment lawsuits.

He also stressed that he considered O’Reilly more politically-aligned with his own center-right views, unlike other Fox hosts such as Sean Hannity.

“We’re independent, we’re open to Democrats,” Ruddy said, noting that liberal law Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz has a blog on Newsmax and is a contributor to its TV channel.

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“He's very open-minded, willing to discuss different views ... that’s the difference between him and Fox,” said pollster John Zogby, a liberal Democrat who calls Ruddy a friend and has appeared on Newsmax.

JFK: "Part of our DNA"

One recent magazine cover featured John F. Kennedy with a glowing tribute inside for what would have been his 100th birthday. “I can’t tell you how many people have told me how much they love this cover. It’s very positive about JFK. It’s part of our DNA,” Ruddy said, holding up a copy.

“If Breitbart had a magazine it would be about what a bastard JFK was,” he added, to emphasize his disdain for extremism.

While its audience is pro-Trump, Ruddy said one of his email lists is for “progressives” and earns Newsmax a tidy sum. “We’re very bipartisan when it comes to making profits,” he laughed.

While he has his differences with Breitbart News, Ruddy says he has good relations with Bannon, though they are not particularly close. “I just spoke with him yesterday on the phone for about a half hour, and I saw him at the White House a week ago,” he said.

Despite the White House access, Ruddy is critical of Trump and Bannon on a range of issues from healthcare to immigration and free trade. Protective tariffs are what “led to the Great Depression,” he said. “It creates a tariff war. It helps your industry in the short term but in the long term it hurts.”

He opposes Trump’s border wall, although he gives the president high marks for reducing Illegal border crossings by tougher enforcement.

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He’s also a supporter of greater legal immigration. “We are only allowing about one million people (a year), we probably need three to four million. I think there have been some studies that you probably need five or six million just to keep up with population decline,” he said.

Trump would also do well to improve his administration’s relations with Univision, according to Ruddy. “It’s got a great reputation. I think Trump made a mistake not engaging with you more,” he added.

He recalled Trump telling Newsmax after the 2012 presidential election that Republican candidate Mitt Romney had made a mistake calling for undocumented immigrants to self-deport, instead of broadening the party’s appeal to Latino voters.

Trump would later harden his position and come out strongly in favor of deportations, a shift that Ruddy said he has not explored with the president. Ruddy said his own position remains unchanged. “I would give all the illegals right now some form of path to citizenship over a period of years,” he said.

He cited data showing that every year more than two million whites over 50 die, and calculated that out of the eight million who will die between 2016 and 2020, Trump would suffer a net loss of three million potential voters.

“They are being replaced by new millennial voters, 49 percent of them from households (whose) native tongue is not English. These are not Republican voters,” he said.

Fresh off his newmaking Monday over Mueller's possible firing, Ruddy rejected the idea he was floating a trial balloon for the President and says he was just doing his job as a journalist.

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"I don't ask the president for green lights or red lights, I just speak my mind," he said in a follow up call on Tuesday.

"Sometimes he's happy, sometimes he might not be."

In photos: Conservative media owner Christopher Ruddy of Newsmax is Trump's friend, but offers criticism too.
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