It’s remarkable, or perhaps a function of the aggressive use of non-disclosure agreements, that the June defenestration of Paul Jay and Sharmini Peries from The Real News Network, the site they had founded and run for over a decade, has been kept under wraps for so long.
I received a fundraising e-mail from The Real News Network the day before yesterday and noticed the surprising absence of Paul Jay’s name. I went searching through my inbox to see if I had an e-mail address for him. While I came up empty, what I did see was that Paul’s name had last appeared in the “TRNN Daily” e-mails on June 17.
The “6/8” means that this was the sixth segment in an eight part series. The first segment was released on June 2, and consistent with normal The Real News Network practice, the later installments came out shortly thereafter, on June 4, two on June 11 (#4 is here), and June 13.
So what happened to the last two? They did appear, after an unusually long gap, on
August 20 and August 22. Yet “TRNN Daily” e-mail notices for those segments scrubbed all mention of Paul:
Confirming my concerns, a colleague who ought to be able to get Paul’s attention tried him on his personal e-mail and got no reply.
So I decided to try the front door. I e-mailed The Real News Network, using their Contact Us page, and chose the “Donor Relations” dropdown:
I have contributed to The Real News Network for the past five years, as well as regularly linking to and reposting your videos on my website.
I could not help but notice that Paul Jay’s name was not on the current fundraising letter. I went to the site, and I find that Paul and Sharmini Peries have been removed from the staff list. Nor have they hosted any recent videos.
What has happened to Jay and Peries? They were central to TRNN. Why should I continue to support TRNN when the people who built it and were central to its sensibility and coverage choices have disappeared, and without any explanation?
I’m sure you’ll be the first to understand my concerns – and that I’ll be making my decision about this year’s contribution based on your response.
I got this reply less than 24 hours later, from firstname.lastname@example.org headed “Your email:
Hi Ms. Webber –
Thank you for your note and request for information about the whereabouts of Paul Jay and Sharmini Peries.
Paul and Sharmini were on leave over the summer and subsequently left the organization, and are in conversations with the TRNN Board about finalizing the terms of their departure. Unfortunately we haven’t been able to comment while that process is underway.
The Board is in the process of launching a search for their successors.
All the best, and thank you for your support
The Real News Network
(410) 243-1974 (office)
(703) 798-1199 (cell)
This is an utter disgrace:
Paul and Sharmini built The Real News Network from nothing. I remember meeting them in NYC in the early years, when Paul, Sharmini, and a staffer were hauling large and awkward bags of lighting, booms, and cameras to be able to set up on a remote location. This was not just a job for them but a mission which they pursued with intensity and intellectual courage, as well as their available funds.
The Real News Network has been and continues to misrepresent the ouster of Paul and Sharmini while in the midst of a $200,000 fundraiser. Paul’s bio page listing him as “CEO and senior editor” and Sharmini as “a journalist and executive producer for the National and International News Bureaus at The Real News Network.”
Similarly, the existence Livingston as “interim CEO” is well hidden. He is on the Staff page with a photo in a white starched shirt. But even if you thought to click through, the listing is obfuscatory. It gives an idea of what he’s done, but does not give a clue as to what exactly he is doing for The Real News Network.
A teeny bit of additional digging reveals that in addition to serving at Pacifica, which his The Real News Network bio mentions Livingston has also been an interim CEO at a host of radio networks, such as AIR, WKSU, KRCC, WWNO and Capital Public Radio.
Yet The Real News has not been successful in keeping the status of Paul and Sharmini a state secret up to now. If you look at Paul Jay’s bio on Wikipedia, you will see edits in the revision history that memorialize his forced departure:3
The Real News Network has deteriorated since Paul and Sharmini were turfed out. When the cross-posting pickings were thin, I’d have to resist the impulse to hoist them more often and would feature them as Links instead. But in the last few months, I’ve mainly come up empty when looking for something good enough to showcase to our readers. With the benefit of hindsight, The Real News Network has taken a liberal turn, buying into and eagerly promoting narratives it treated in a more judicious manner under Paul and Sharmini, such as Russiagate and Ukrainegate.
My hazy impression is confirmed by YouTube traffic counts. Even though The Real News Network still has more or less the same number of subscribers, many of its recent videos have traffic counts well under 5000, which would have been a low number under Paul and Sharmini. Although I have not done a rigorous analysis, an eyeballing strongly suggests views are down considerably.
The following observations are more speculative (some people connected with The Real News Network were willing to speak in light of the information above but they were awfully chary, underscoring that lawyers were involved and they were concerned that publicity would be used against Paul and Sharmini):
The pacing of the ouster strongly suggests there was no serious financial or other impropriety. When people have their hand in the cookie jar or up the skirt (or in the pants) of a subordinate in a leftie organization the #MeToo era, they are usually booted quickly. That doesn’t mean that as part of the coup that the board hasn’t gone over Paul and Sharmini’s expense reimbursements with a fine toothed comb to see if they can depict sloppiness as malfeasance to get bargaining leverage (see the example of CalPERS board member Margaret Brown’s temporary misplacement of CalPERS equipment being depicted as a hanging crime for an example of how this is done).
The extremely attenuated “settlement” screams of bad faith dealing by the board and any significant backers that they represent. Notice that Livingston said the board was “finalizing the terms of their departure.” Huh? What could there possibly be to discuss that could go on for five months? It’s not hard to negotiate payment for gag orders and mutual releases.2 Departures of big-name CEOs, who can afford to hire big-name law firms to push back, go way way way faster than this has.
It is inconceivable that Paul and Sharmini have the financial wherewithal to be holding up a settlement (which implies payout) via a lot of legal jousting. This looks like a mean-spirited, perhaps even vindictive strategy by the insurgents to get Paul and Sharmini to accept less than they deserve by starving them out.
The change in editorial slant appears to be more “liberals” taking advantage of a crisis than the basis for the exits. It does not appear that Paul and Sharmini were defenestrated for being too leftie. An employee said that Aaron Mate’s departure in late 2018 was due to him and Paul having differences, as opposed to pressure to abandon skeptical coverage of Russiagate.
It also does not appear that ouster was the result of overspending. For one thing, you don’t see any signs of retrenchment or budget-cutting, such as cuts in headcount or programming.
However, if you’ve paid attention, The Real News has regularly had very large challenge grants, often $25,000 and if my memory is correct, even a $100,000 donor challenge. That means there is at least one very heavyweight backer. There isn’t a sign from the board roster of foundation money or a very wealthy individual or family, but it’s not hard to find representatives for that role.
Insiders indicated that a major money source backed the defenestration, but some staffers did as well; we’re not sure what the internal controversy was about.
The Real News Network looks to have gone from the frying pan into the fire. Aside from the traffic decline, the involvement of the interim CEO Tom Livingston is another cause for pause. A former board member of Pacifica Foundation was gobsmacked that he listed his work there as an accomplishment.
Livingston was hired to be Pacifica’s interim executive director for nine months in 2018. After losing the court case when the Empire State Realty Trust sued Pacifica over non-payment of WBAI’s tower rent, the board was bitterly split over whether to take out a loan or go into voluntary bankruptcy. Livingston was recommended to some of the pro-loan board members by the loan broker. Unsurprisingly, Livingston signed the $3+ million loan less than two months after being hired. His friend’s fee was estimated at $50,000.
Livingston was also instrumental in getting the Pacifica CFO to resign. From the former board member:
He took on the title of iCFO but displayed zero interest or competence in this area and did some damage, including signing a 990 he apparently never even looked at because it was full of obvious mistakes. He also recommended Pacifica outsource their accounting to a small firm he had worked with. They have performed poorly for Pacifica.
Livingston was also contracted to do a search for a new Executive Director for a fee above his generous salary. His candidate lasted only nine months, and Livingston will do a replacement search, although raising the question of why Pacifica would ask him to double down on a record of failure. Livingston will apparently conduct the search during his Real News Network gig. Has he informed the Real News Network board of this competing demand on for his time?
Livingston’s comment “The Board is in the process of launching a search for their successors” leaves open the question of whether they’ve yet engaged a headhunter. You can be sure that Livingston pitched the business hard; you can also imagine not-savvy board members being persuaded by Livingston allies that they shouldn’t demotivate him as interim CEO by giving the search business to someone else…as if his fee isn’t enough of a motivator. But there’s no evidence that Livingston has deep enough contacts in TV or online. And it’s not like he did a bang-up job of recruiting at Pacifica, which is in his bailiwick.
And is Livingston hiring cronies as he did at Pacifica?
Naked Capitalism is withdrawing its endorsement of The Real News Network as a trusted platform for interviewees, financial contributors and/or viewers. Dishonest efforts to create the impression that it is operating on a “business as usual” suggest that even more is amiss. It is our view that The Real News Network is no longer, either intrinsically or administratively, what it once was and aspired to be.
Moreover, if you are as deeply disturbed as we are by this turn of events, I strongly urge you to contact The Real News Network, give them a piece of your mind, and demand answers. The official contact form is here. Please also circulate this post widely, including featuring it on Facebook and Twitter
I have not tried to find the coordinates of board members, but if any readers have or can obtain them, please provide them in comments and I will add them to this post as an update.
1 This was escalated awfully quickly, unless one assumes Livingston handles all donor inquires personally.
2 One thing that could take some wrangling would be if Paul and Sharmini controlled the domain name and (not at all unreasonably, particularly given they created its value) are requiring the usurpers to pay to license it. But negotiating a license should not take remotely this much time.
3 Lambert checked the IP addresses of the parties making the edits (neither had an account name). The earliest one was from Brooklyn, the later one, from Mount Laurel, NJ.