Hello. It looks like you�re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best Tortoise experience possible, please make sure any blockers are switched off and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help, let us know at memberhelp@tortoisemedia.com

It’s all gone wackadoodle at Fox

It’s all gone wackadoodle at Fox

Welcome to the Weekend Sensemaker from Tortoise – making sense of who and what is shaping culture now

Long Stories Short

  • Ian Fleming’s estate defended the decision to remove racist references from the James Bond novels.
  • “Vermeermania” will return on 6 March when Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum releases the next batch of tickets. 
  • Culture secretary Lucy Frazer named Leamington Spa “one of the video game capitals of the UK” in her first public speech.

It’s all gone wackadoodle at Fox

Rupert Murdoch, Chair of Fox Corporation, has admitted that star news anchors on his US media channel endorsed Donald Trump’s claims of election fraud in 2020 – and that he could have stopped them, but didn’t. 

The boss’s deposition, published last week, is the mustard on the hotdog of last month’s extensive discovery filing in the $1.6 billion defamation case brought by Denver election technology company Dominion Voting Systems against Fox News. The two documents reveal how the Fox News sausage gets made: with angry tweets and panicked text messages, advertiser pressure and owner interference. 

So what? The case pits the right to freedom of speech against the responsibility for truth in hand-to-hand legal combat. When is a newsroom not a newsroom but a profiteering propaganda machine? And who gets to decide?

  • Dominion, which manufactures the electronic voting machines at the heart of the “stolen election” conspiracy theory, is emphasising the responsibility for truth. It argues: “news networks should not knowingly broadcast lies. […] Fox asks the Court to hold that it has no legal responsibility whatsoever for broadcasting even the most horrible allegations that it knows to be false, as long as they are ‘newsworthy’.”
  • Fox’s defence is freedom of speech, saying “the First Amendment protects the right of press to cover and comment on allegations that are inherently newsworthy because of who made them.” 

Pass the popcorn. Purely by coincidence, the Big Lie real-life drama seems straight out of Succession (note: the fourth and final season airs in the UK from 27 March). Here are some of the stars:

Tucker Carlson, one of Fox’s lead news anchors, wrote in a group chat when Jacqui Heinrich, Fox’s White House correspondent, refuted voter fraud allegations on Twitter: “Please get her fired. Seriously… What the fuck? I’m actually shocked… It needs to stop tonight immediately, like tonight. It’s immeasurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.”

Sidney Powell, AKA The Kraken, is a pro-Trump attorney. She was invited onto megastar Fox Business Network presenter Maria Bartiromo’s show on 8 November – five days after the election – to repeat claims of election fraud she’d read in an email from an anonymous tipster. Said tipster also mentions in the email that she’d been “internally decapitated” and that the wind talks to her. Powell admitted its contents were “pretty wackadoodle” but repeated them on air anyway.

Mike Lindell, CEO of MyPillow, is a paranoid pillow salesman, Trump ally, election denier, anti-vaxxer and recovering crack addict on a mission to rid the USA of evil voting machines (his recent interview on Jimmy Kimmel is a jaw-dropper). Lindell has turned the Big Lie into a pillow marketing initiative using his million-dollar advertising deal with Fox to offer viewers discount bedding using promotional codes such as “FightforTrump” and “QAnon”. The Big Lie Down, you might call it.

John Poulos, CEO of Dominion Voting Systems, isn’t taking this lying down. His company has launched a separate $1.3 billion suit against Lindell, and others against Rudy Guiliani, Sidney Powell and Newsmax Media. He told CNBC that his aim was to “get the facts on the table in front of a court of law where evidence is properly judged” because “the reputational damage alone has been devastating to us.” Poulos and members of Dominion staff have reported receiving death threats and online harassment from Trump supporters.

It’s not a done deal. Luckily for Fox, US legislators still have the hots for the First Amendment, so the legal bar for defamation is high and the burden is on the plaintiff to prove “actual malice or reckless disregard”. It’s up to Delaware Judge Eric M. Davis to decide how much of Dominion’s case holds water when he opens the hearing on 17 April. That’s not all, folks.

The Nibs

(News in brief)

It’s complicated

A bit of a brow beating
“My mama don’t like you,” goes the chorus of Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself”, presumably about his ex Selena Gomez. It seems he might be right. Mama Bieber, Pattie Mallette, waded into the feud between her daughter-in-law, Justin’s wife Hailey Bieber, and Gomez last week. “Hate is ugly. Don’t be ugly,” she tweeted. It all comes down to eyebrows and Instagram. Last week, Gomez pinched the coveted Most Followed Woman on Instagram crown from Kardashian sister Kylie Jenner. Then Kylie, who is pals with Hailey, appeared to throw shade at Selena’s “over laminated” eyebrows – and Instagram simply could not bear it. Gomez has since gained 10 million followers (now at 392 million) in solidarity, while Jenner has lost 500,000 (to a mere 379 million). So what? Jenner’s multi-million dollar beauty empire, half owned by Coty since 2019, runs on Instagram. Even a whiff of bullying is bad for business.

Power players

The mystery Medici
Not to be confused with Cosimo de’ Medici, influential Florentine banker and Renaissance patron of the arts, Cozomo de’ Medici is the anonymous and self-proclaimed “grand patron” of the digital art renaissance. The trouble is, nobody knows who they really are. What we do know is that they’re not Snoop Dogg. The NFT-collecting rapper claimed to be Cozomo on Twitter in 2021, but a later photo tweeted by Cozomo with singer-songwriter Jason Derulo, their faces covered by NFT avatars, debunked that theory. Such is the power of The Medici Collection, the auction house Christie’s “sat down” with them for an interview last month. Which begs the question: does Christie’s, which launched its Christie’s 3.0 platform dedicated to selling NFTs last September, know the secret?

Who is…

Esther Crawford
The dangers of sleeping on the job were underscored this week as Esther Crawford, director of product management at Twitter, was fired in the latest company-wide cull. When Musk sacked half of Twitter’s employees last November, he told the remaining half to embrace a new “extremely hardcore” working culture. Crawford leant in so far she wound up on the office floor and was snapped in a sleeping bag catching 40 winks by a desk. “When your team is pushing round the clock to make deadlines sometimes you #SleepWhereYouWork,” she tweeted. Her relentless positivity in the face of Musk’s maniacal work-life imbalance culture was, ultimately, fruitless. But Crawford refuses to put her positivity to bed: “The worst take you could have from watching me go all-in on Twitter 2.0 is that my optimism or hard work was a mistake.” Brace for self-help books and Ted Talks. 

It touched us

Keeping Colin cosy
Eighty-three-year-old Delia Barry from Greystones on Ireland’s east coast has been knitting all her life. Following the death of her husband Paddy in 2009, she went to Greystones Cancer Support Group for help. There, she struck up a friendship with Eimer Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh, who just happens to be a Best Costume Design award winner. Eimer commissioned Delia to make knitwear for The Banshees of Inisherin, including Colin Farrell’s now iconic red jumper with its statement collar. Delia donated part of the fee for her work on the film to Greystones Cancer Support as a thank you for the care they gave to her husband. “The group provided me with support, visited him and there was always someone there to talk to,” she told the BBC. 

It tickled us

Creatures of habit
First came Cocaine Bear, Elizabeth Banks’s horror/comedy about a bear that munches a mountain of charlie, goes on the rampage and kills a load of people. Now Asylum, the production party behind cult B-movie Sharknado, has announced that Attack of the Meth Gator is in the works. Like Cocaine Bear, it’s loosely inspired by true events. In 2019, a Tennessee police department found a drug dealer trying to flush his meth down the toilet, prompting a statement warning that “if it made it far enough we could create meth-gators… They’ve had enough methed up animals the past few weeks without our help.” Sounds like a genre that could run and run. Stand by for the inevitable sequels Gak Badger, Wizz Hippo and Shroom Skunk. 

Thank you and farewell

Bye bye, Blumenthal
No more hidden orange Christmas puddings. Waitrose won’t be renewing its 12-year contract with Michelin-starred chef Heston Blumenthal. Responsibility for food innovation will instead fall to Martyn Lee, their in-house executive chef. The Daily Mail reported that Heston “was unpredictable” and “too distant”. Heston, in turn, has called the decision “disgusting”. Whatever the relationship politics, it’s a commercial decision that reveals a shift in aspirational eating trends. In the midst of a cost of living crisis, recipes that require gold leaf are in poor taste. Declaring the “Heston From Waitrose” range past its sell-by date is to normal people what the forthcoming closure of Copenhagen restaurant Noma is to the super rich. Last year’s deliciously savage comedy horror film The Menu is right: fiddly, fancy, expensive food isn’t cool.


Daisy Jones and the ballad of big bucks
Daisy Jones & The Six steamrollered the internet this week, with Riley Keough smouldering as the fictional band’s eponymous singer and Sam Claflin sulking as her love triangle bandmate. It’s Amazon’s big budget adaptation of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s New York Times bestseller. Loosely based on the emotional drama involved in Fleetwood Mac’s hit album Rumours, there’s an album of original music by The Six released this week called Aurora, partly written by Marcus Mumford. It’s kinda Rumours-ey. Reviews have been tepid, but the book brings a vast fan base, so Reese Witherspoon will do just fine.

So what? Reese Witherspoon isn’t in it. Witherspoon bought the screen rights to the book before it had been sold to a publisher. Released in March 2019, the novel was the pick of the month for Witherspoon’s book club – 2.5 million followers on Instagram – and sailed onto the bestseller lists. Witherspoon had already shopped the screenplay to Amazon as a book, e-book, music and merch bundle. Amazon took two days to say yes. It’s the latest mega deal for Witherspoon and her company Hello Sunshine. Last year she sold 82 per cent of the company to private equity giant Blackstone for $900 million.

It’s a long way from Legally Blonde. Reese played Elle Woods in 2001. Her Oscar for Walk the Line was 2005. In 2012 the New Yorker named her an actor who was “big 10 years ago”. She started buying books by female authors and filming them with female casts – Gone Girl and Wild in 2014 made over half a billion dollars and won three Academy Awards. Big Little Lies, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Little Fires Everywhere and Where the Crawdads Sing – among others – followed. 

Last year Forbes named her the world’s richest actress. “Witherspoon understands how social media and data help bypass gatekeepers,” says one Hollywood strategist. “She knows her audience using social data and book sales. Women make 85 per cent of purchase decisions and 52 per cent of the box office. She brings them in like no-one else.”

It’s a Hollywood power shift. “In the past stars got paid to promote crap,” says Tom Harrington at Enders Analysis. “Now they own the crap and the money goes back to their production company worth hundreds of millions of dollars. They’ve moved up the chain. They now have equity.”

It’s not just Reese. Ryan Reynolds makes his stand-up comedy debut at London’s O2 tonight. His production company Maximum Effort made Deadpool 2 and Spirited plus ads for Peloton, R.M. Williams, Reynolds’s own Aviation Gin and his mobile phone company Mint. It also made Welcome to Wrexham, the Disney documentary about Reynolds buying Wrexham FC. Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop is valued at $250 million, with Gwyneth’s stake worth $75 million – outperforming her highest earning acting year in 2014 at $19 million. See also Gal Gadot, Kristen Bell, Blake Lively, Snoop Dogg and more.

The Ribs

(Reviews in brief)


The Home Child, Liz Berry, Chatto and Windus (2 March)
In 1908 – aged just 12 and newly orphaned – Eliza Showell was ripped from her Black Country home and sent to Nova Scotia where she worked as a maid, never to return. This new novel in verse, written by Showell’s great niece, the poet Liz Berry, mines the bewilderment of that amputation: “her shorn hair russet as a young fox/ Beneath her eyes – blue moons” and contrasts it with the official documentation of her removal, reproduced at intervals on the page. For while Showell’s story unfurls with mesmerising intimacy here, it is not unique. More than 100,000 orphaned or impoverished “Home Children” left the UK for lives of servitude abroad between 1869 and the 1970s. Showell’s flimsy inventory of belongings speaks for the cruelty all suffered: “2 pairs boots, 1 brush and comb, 3 pocket handkerchiefs, 1 bag, 1 Bible, 1 Common Prayer Book, 1 case 2 ft by 1 1/2 ft to hold everything.”


The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling: episode three
Speed through the first two episodes of this much-hyped podcast. The third and latest is where things get interesting, opening with Rowling quoting sexually and violently explicit threats hurled in response to her views on trans rights. There follows a section that could have profited from a Privet Drive-style pruning, as Rowling’s interviewer Megan Phelps Roper goes back in time to narrate the concurrent evolution of social media and Potter fandom from inclusive utopia to divisive dystopia. But Phelps Roper – herself raised in the hateful extremism of Westboro Baptist Church – now has a beatific calm rendering her the perfect reporter for this story. Neither hobbled nor riled by the toxicity of the subject, her crusade is for open, cordial – even kind – debate. It shouldn’t be so refreshing.


Selective Outrage, Netflix, Live Streamed (5 March 3am GMT)
Chris Rock’s comedy stand-up special Selective Outrage tonight is expected to be the first time he talks in detail about Will Smith walloping him at last year’s Oscars. It’ll be the first global live-streamed show on Netflix and, if it works, might end up a high-profile milestone in Netflix history – the streaming giant plans to introduce live competitions and ultimately, many believe, sports. It had better be good, as Netflix is paying Rock $20 million. In the UK, you’ll have to get up at 3am if you want to go the whole hog including the pre-show build up The Show before the Show and after-party The Show After The Show, which according to Variety will feature appearances and commentary from the likes of Amy Schumer, Ice-T, Jerry Seinfeld and Paul McCartney.


Shrek Rave, multiple UK dates in March and April
A new touring club night is taking the UK and Europe by storm – and everyone’s accidentally in love. Inspired by the Oscar-winning film franchise of the same name, Shrek Rave kicked off its UK tour in London last Saturday, complete with “swamp juice” cocktails and performances from the West End cast of Shrek the Musical. There are giveaways and singalongs, everyone is in costume, and the 4pm start means you can be back in bed by 11pm. If you’re a believer, tickets are still available for dates through March and April.


This week: Music to help you do the weekly shop, inspired by supermarket shortages of tomatoes, peppers and broccoli (tap your toes while buying turnips)

At a Tortoise pace

Narrow boat, wide future
Last month, Sebastian Hervas-Jones, 24, jacked in his job as a Tortoise reporter, binned his smart phone and set off on a renovated barge to spend 365 days discovering Britain. His first postcard just arrived.

Dear Tortoise,

This morning I felt a bit like Frodo Baggins leaving the shire; I slipped my mooring in Kings Cross and puttered along the Regent Canal towards the West… towards the unknown, towards adventure. It’s going to be quite a year. I’ll travel the UK’s 2,000 miles of canals in my little narrowboat that – in proper Tortoise style – goes a top speed of three miles per hour. I’ve left my smartphone behind; instead of scrolling social media, I’ll speak with people and find stories. I’ll keep in touch and write each week.

Wish you were here,


Coming up

6-31 March – Volunteers at V&A South Kensington hold ‘Remarkable Women Tours’ to celebrate International Women’s day, 07/03 – Michelle Obama’s new podcast, Michelle Obama: The Light Podcast, is released on Audible, 08/03 – Sephora’s first UK store opens at Westfield White City in London, 17/03 – 18/06 – An exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts celebrates Black artists from the American South, 23/03 – Former Navy cook Daniel Heffy opens fine dining restaurant NORD in Liverpool, 24-26 March – London Transport Museum welcome the public at a Depot Open Day, 29/03 – 15/10Portraits of Dogs: From Gainsborough to Hockney opens at The Wallace Collection, 30/03 – Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York discusses her latest book at Tortoise Lates: Modern Love, 01/04 – 17/06Hamnet, a fictional play about Shakespeare losing his son to the plague, makes its world premiere at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon, 05/04 – The largest exhibition ever staged at Kensington Palace, Crown to Couture, opens with over 200 objects including historic court dresses and red carpet couture.

If you know someone you think would enjoy the Weekend Sensemaker, invite them to sign up here.