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The charity arm of the conservative Daily Caller offered donors the opportunity to “propose topics f͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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March 27, 2023


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Ben Smith
Ben Smith

Welcome to Semafor Media, where we break the news behind the news.

I don’t spend enough time in this media newsletter bragging about Semafor. We’ve been around for five months now, and I’ve been gratified by the (generally!) positive reaction to our new attempts at transparency in journalism, and amazed at how much my colleagues’ work has cut through.

Friday was a particularly good day: Steve Clemons broke the news that Rwanda would release Paul Rusesabagina of “Hotel Rwanda” fame, and Reed Albergotti revealed the untold history of Elon Musk and OpenAI.

This has also been a learning experience for me. I rode the social media wave from 2012 to 2020 at BuzzFeed and then spent a couple of years at the New York Times with my hand blissfully off the tiller.

I can’t get over how much digital media has changed since then. The web is shrinking, and the people who remain are older and more conservative than they were. Facebook, once the main source of audience to news publishers, is barely relevant to a startup. Twitter is fading more slowly. TikTok is the last place news can really go viral.

And our most engaged audience is here in email — a space where I’m constantly worried that I’m wasting your time!

We’ve also found an enormous eagerness to gather in person again. Semafor just announced our inaugural media summit April 10 at Genesis House in Manhattan, where I’ll be interviewing Chris Licht, Jen Psaki, Barry Diller, Stephen A. Smith, Kara Swisher, and Group Black’s Bonin Bough. Stay tuned for news, and let me know if you’ve got any ideas for questions.

Also in today’s newsletter: Max Tani has a leaked document offering insight into The Daily Caller’s unusual nonprofit arm. Nobody seemed to notice when an expensive U.S. soft-power program got hacked. Politico’s Sam Stein texts Max advice for harried political journalists. And editors dream of replacing their staff with ChatGPT.

Obviously we had to get this newsletter out before Succession’s final season begins on HBO. The first episode tonight features Kendall Roy’s startup dreams, and I talked to Kara for the official Succession Podcast about how much Semafor is looking forward to working with Roy. The episode drops after the show. Listen here.

Box Score
Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

Washington: The brutal reception for TikTok’s CEO on Capitol Hill made the prospect of some kind of ban on the app, always plausible, feel near at hand. Ryan Broderick suggests that consumers might not care all that much — there are other places to watch short videos — but that many creators won’t survive the transition.  — Garbage Day

Silicon Valley: Elon Musk says he’s getting rid of free verification of notable accounts on April Fools’ Day, another step for the app away from being central to the news business, though it’s been the resilient home for conversations about tech, AI, and of course, Elon Musk. — The Verge

Tel Aviv: Protests against Benjamin Netanyahu are intensifying. The great correspondent Barak Ravid, currently of Walla News and Axios, joined the civil disobedience against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and “notified my commanders that after the events of tonight I will not be reporting to reserve service anymore.” —Twitter

Max Tani

Donors could steer coverage at Daily Caller nonprofit


The charity arm of the conservative Daily Caller offered donors the opportunity to “propose topics for coverage” and news beats for reporters in exchange for financial contributions.

“News or policy beats that you care about can be the focus of a new project,” a document circulated by the Daily Caller News Foundation between 2016 and 2017 offered. It priced a single reporter on a beat at $200,000, adding: “Together, we can decide on a specific area that you want to see covered.”

“Investors can recommend topics of interest for our editors’ consideration,” the document says.

The pitch also said the Caller maintains “complete editorial control” over the site’s content.

The document is more than five years old, and it’s unclear how closely it matches current practices. Before Semafor was able to authenticate the document, Daily Caller co-founder and publisher Neil Patel suggested to Semafor that the pitch document was fabricated, citing “many inconsistencies in the document which make it suspect and appear false.” After Semafor authenticated it, Patel didn’t respond to a request for further comment.


The Daily Caller, co-founded by Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, remains one of the biggest names in conservative news, sharing red-meat culture, politics, and sports stories. It’s also been the launching pad for many conservative pundits and staffers, and for journalists. But few understand that much of the content on the site comes from the publication’s nonprofit sibling.

The Daily Caller News Foundation is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization that operates separately from the Daily Caller, but has often shared some of the same staffers, offices, leadership, and general editorial views.

The nonprofit creates a free wire service of articles, which the for-profit version then often syndicates, and sells ads against. Other digital news organizations also syndicated DCNF articles, and the pitch document boasts to donors that some of these stories could be picked up by partner sites at mainstream news outlets, including Business Insider and Yahoo.

But the Daily Caller relies heavily on DCNF articles. When I checked on Saturday evening, five out of the top six stories touted on the website were written under the Daily Caller News Foundation brand.

Tax experts interviewed by the Washington Post in 2017 said that the foundation’s structure “appears to violate the spirit of a federal law governing nonprofits.”

Other experts consider the arrangement acceptable as long as the articles are offered for free to all. The Caller weathered a complaint in 2020 from a watchdog group alleging that its for-profit and non-profit arms are inappropriately mingled.

“I think the guardrails against improper donor or sponsor influence on reporting are found in journalist ethics, not in nonprofit law,” said Benjamin Leff, a professor at American University who specializes in US federal tax law and nonprofits.

The group’s donors also include conservative organizations and figures that receive regular coverage in the Daily Caller, the Daily Beast reported last year after obtaining a list of donors to the foundation.


It’s not unheard of for nonprofit newsrooms to accept tax-exempt donations with the purpose of covering certain beats. Many nonprofit news organizations are explicitly ideological, and attract donors who agree with their organizing principles, and who wish to encourage certain types of coverage.

But the DCNF document details how agenda-driven donors could have granular influence over the organization’s editorial coverage, down to the number of stories published on a specific topic, and the cost of running those journalists.

Donors have a say over the types of beats and stories they would like to see on the Daily Caller. And these articles won’t just be on the website itself: Numerous websites publish the Daily Caller’s work, meaning some of the donor-suggested stories were likely republished by other outlets where there are no disclosures or hints about the financial links between donors and the articles.


In an email to Semafor earlier this month, before he challenged the authenticity of the document, Patel wrote that “it’s pretty clear in that language that our editors retain complete editorial control and independence.”


  • Tucker Carlson sold his stake in the Daily Caller in 2020, leaving Patel the majority owner. The late Republican megadonor Foster Friess was also an investor.
  • The Caller began as a voice of the conservative establishment, but shifted with the party’s base. “Whatever sort of was fashionable among smart young conservatives tended to be the trend in the office,” said Jim Antle, a former editor and writer at The Caller, said in a long Times series on Carlson that documented the site’s ties to covert white nationalists. “When The Caller started, most smart young conservatives were libertarian. Within a few years after that, a lot of them were populist, nationalist types — which also meant that they were sometimes attracted to things that were much worse than that.”
One Good Text

Sam Stein is the deputy managing editor of Politico.


A U.S. government-backed Arabic-language broadcasting group was the subject of a serious ransomware attack that exposed employee information and hindered newscasts.

Two sources told Semafor that the attack on the $112 million Middle East Broadcasting Networks, which operates the television station Alhurra and Radio Sawa, interfered with its ability to broadcast live from bureaus around the region.

Mary Zoorob, a spokesperson for the network, confirmed that MBN was the subject of a ransomware attack, but said that the network was able to maintain its live broadcasts.

Alhurra TV, a leading arm of America’s soft-power campaign in the region, claims to have a weekly audience of nearly 30 million people. But its recent problems don’t appear to have been widely noticed.

ALSO: A prominent editor thinks that between a third and a half of their publication could be written by ChatGPT … And ESPN told staff that while it is “working with Twitter on a company-wide approach” for Twitter Blue, the company will not be reimbursing staff who choose to get accounts to maintain their check-marks to beat impersonators sharing fake injury or trade news…

— Max

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— Ben