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Top Messenger Executive Accused of Homophobic Slur

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

Richard Beckman, the former president of the now-defunct The Messenger, made a homophobic slur about the doomed “centrist” news site’s Editor-in-Chief Dan Wakeford in management meetings, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the matter.

Beckman, who earned the nickname “Mad Dog” over his brutish management style at Conde Nast, referred to Wakeford as a “little bitch” during these meetings, according to the sources. Wakeford wasn’t the only senior staffer who was belittled by Beckman during these meetings. Insiders told Confider that he also insultingly called a senior editorial staffer a “little weasel” just as the editor entered the meeting room, refusing to apologize afterward. Reached by Confider, Beckman categorically denied he ever made those remarks about Wakeford, and Wakeford did not respond to a request for comment.

The Messenger Didn’t Bother to Tell Staff Before Shutting Down

Beckman’s allegedly abusive behavior towards his business team and top staffers was hardly a secret among management. As CNN’s Oliver Darcy first reported last week, senior staff members went to owner Jimmy Finkelstein to demand Beckman be dismissed for cultivating a “toxic culture,” only for Finkelstein to rebuff the request. Multiple sources told Confider that several female staff members had complained about Beckman’s management last year, only for Finkelstein to step in and circumvent the head of human resources in “investigating” the complaints. “He wouldn't let people do their jobs and just wanted to do everything himself,” one senior staffer noted.

When reached for comment, Finkelstein said, “we never talk about personnel” to other media outlets. He added: “The Daily Beast has been inaccurate from the beginning and continues to print falsities.”

Finkelstein, too, repeatedly belittled the outlet’s top editors, three senior staffers noted—especially Wakeford, deputy editor Michelle Gotthelf, and politics editor Marty Kady. Multiple insiders told Confider that Finkelstein would regularly call Gotthelf at 4 a.m. to berate her over the editorial direction of the site as she was in charge of the newsroom, including telling her he didn’t want to see any Trump trial coverage on the homepage. (Before joining The Messenger, Gotthelf settled with the New York Post over her claims she was sexually harassed and retaliated against at the company.) Finkelstein’s yelling would become so bad, senior staffers said, that some employees were left shaking and crying over how “rude and aggressive” he was. “And he always seemed to be worse with women,” a senior male editor told Confider.

“I deny berating top editors in the past eight months,” Finkelstein said in a statement. “I think it’s fair to say there were a handful of disagreements, but I deeply respected the editorial team, and our conversations were civilized.”

Meanwhile, Beckman, who announced he was leaving The Messenger for health reasons just before the site’s spectacular implosion, also used his final few weeks to push some historical revisionism on his colleagues. Just before the site’s launch, he’d publicly pushed fanciful boasts about $100 million yearly revenue goals and impossibly high traffic, and also told prospective hires that The Messenger had enough funding to last three years, sources told Confider. But this past month, Beckman began telling employees that he’d urged Finkelstein to delay the launch of The Messenger for a year. Beckman, notably, was also the person sounding the alarm in the fourth quarter that the company was “out of money.”

Ex-Staff at The Messenger File Class-Action Lawsuit Against Shuttered Website

While much of the ire towards Beckman revolved around his allegedly vulgar and antiquated workplace demeanor, business-side employees also took issue with his outdated strategies and models. As Confider first reported in September, Chief Revenue Officer Mia Libby and Head of Marketing Stephanie Parker both fled The Messenger last summer over run-ins with Beckman. Multiple sources said that the well-traveled media executive was “selling [The Messenger] like it was still in the 1980s” and he was still running a glossy magazine rather than a digital startup. “Whereas in modern digital media, you present packages at much lower rates so that more brands can come in,” a senior staffer said. “So all of the sellers weren't able to do any deals because Richard wanted to only bring in millions of dollars into the company at once and thought that this was the right strategy.” Beckman told Confider that The Messenger’s “initial strategy was to seek launch partners” but that after the site was up and running, “we pivoted to all kinds of transactions.”

In the wake of The Messenger’s flame-out, Wakeford has taken a lot of heat from the site’s now-former journalists over his lack of direct communication with staff about the company’s editorial direction and financial difficulties. But senior staffers told Confider that Wakeford was given a directive from Finkelstein to only communicate to his deputy editors—and added that the top editors attempted to serve as a buffer between Finkelstein and the rest of the editorial staff. Invoking the HBO drama Succession, two insiders said that they acted as a “pain sponge” for the abrasive owner.

“My job was to protect the brand, and I spoke to the editors daily,” Finkelstein told Confider. “The editors obviously didn’t want me to speak to their reporters on a regular basis, so they served as a ‘buffer.’ I only spoke to the reporters from time to time.”

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