Thanks for reading The Backstory, our weekly digest of the best new work at Puck.
It was another great week: Matt Belloni got to the bottom of an Oscars scandal, Julia Alexander charted Netflix’s future, and Teddy Schleifer detailed the plight of S.B.F.’s mom while Tara Palmeri explained the trouble the former crypto prince is causing for Biden. Meanwhile, Tina Nguyen reported on a right-wing feud, Dylan Byers unearthed a quintessential D.C. media drama, and Julia Ioffe revealed Putin’s multi-billion dollar miscalculation.
Check out these stories, and others, via the links below. And stick around for the backstory on how it all came together.
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|On Thursday evening, I got a call from my partner Dylan Byers, Puck’s peerless media reporter, who was exhilarated by the latest scoop he’d chased down. Admittedly, it was a little bit of inside baseball, which always delights me. The reporting pertained to the complex and multifaceted relationship between Robert Allbritton, the media baron who recently sold Politico to Axel Springer for $1 billion, and Fred Ryan, his former C.E.O. and currently the top executive in charge at The Washington Post.
In a recent New Yorker article about Ryan, written by Clare Malone, Allbritton had offered some cutting observations, perhaps the sort that are best kept to oneself. In one instance, Allbritton dismissed Ryan as “the perfect ambassador for a multibillionaire”—which is something that you might say about a country club president rather than an accomplished media C.E.O. who reports to Jeff Bezos. Alas, Allbritton may have believed that the comment was amusing or a love tap, but it struck many as pejorative. At the very least, it did not go unnoticed.
At the top of the pyramid, everyone knows everyone, and this is especially true in Washington. Relationships matter, and they are an often undercovered and underappreciated part of how business gets done, or doesn’t. And that’s a point that we appreciate and stress here at Puck, which is one of the reasons why I was so compelled by Dylan’s nugget.
Indeed, while calling around to ascertain the source of any potential animus between Ryan and his old boss, Dylan had uncovered a revelation. Years ago, the two men had a major row regarding the sale of Allbritton’s cable assets. Ryan’s cut of the deal was smaller than he’d believed he was entitled to. He even engaged David Boies, the super lawyer who has represented everyone from Al Gore to Elizabeth Holmes. But multi-billionaires like Allbritton are surrounded by phalanxes of deal guys, trust & estate lawyers, and tax specialists who are incentivized to protect their client’s every dollar. Their ambassadors, even with superlawyers in tow, can’t keep up. No litigation ensued, but the interpersonal dynamic offers a rare glimpse into how the media business is really conducted in this town. I highly suggest digging into Dylan’s The Way We Were: Ryan & Allbritton.
Indeed, relationships matter. Hours after Dylan and I spoke, our partner Matt Belloni published his latest fantastic piece, Was the Andrea Riseborough Oscar Campaign Illegal?, about the controversy surrounding the British actress’s recent Oscar nomination for her role in To Leslie, an obscure film that grossed $30,000. Yes, $30,000! One person who saw the picture, however, was the director’s wife, the actress Mary McCormack of West Wing fame. Through her voluminous network, McCormack urged her pals to see the film and promote Riseborough’s performance on social media. This led to a good will campaign championed by influential Hollywood eminences from Gwyneth Paltrow to Jennifer Aniston to Ed Norton to Amy Adams. In Hollywood, too, success can often come down to who you know.
And sometimes relationships really matter, as Tara Palmeri reported this week. In many ways, the Biden administration has seemed a step or two behind its own ongoing classified document scandal, with the White House comms team lagging behind the lawyers. The Biden P.R. apparatus has been largely unable to stem the tide of sour press, it seems, because they’re being hamstrung by the legal arm of the operation. Perhaps, as Tara notes, that’s because Anita Dunn, who oversees communications and so much else in the White House, is deferring to the counsel overseeing the scandal, Bob Bauer. Bauer also happens to be her husband. If you have some time this weekend, I suggest reading Tara’s excellent piece, The House of Biden, to see how the sausage really gets made in the inner sanctum of power.
Indeed, our relationships matter, but so do associations. If you only have time to read one piece this weekend, I behoove you to sit down, pour a cup of tea and imbibe Teddy Schleifer’s absorbing story, S.B.F.’s Mama Drama about the latest victim in the FTX vortex: Barbara Fried, the alleged fraudster’s mother, who used her network to build a meaningful and influential Democratic donor powerhouse, Mind the Gap, until her son’s meltdown forced her to step aside. It’s a story for our time—nuanced, complex, powerfully told—and precisely the sort of work you can only find at Puck.
Have a great weekend,