There is a dangerous new trend within the world of opinion media — and theatrical arts — and that is the public pressuring of advertisers to pull support from political foes. While it has occasionally proven effective, it is a tactic that should worry both conservatives and progressives alike. If we don’t stop the madness, it will destroy us.
Roughly a month ago we saw Fox News part ways with cable ratings leader Bill O’Reilly after a concerted effort by Media Matters to encourage advertisers to pull support of his show. The former Fox News cash cow was targeted after the New York Times published a salacious report outlining numerous settlements for alleged sexual harassment cases.
On the other side of the political spectrum, we’ve recently seen CNN part ways with Kathy Griffin (as a result of a remarkably offensive photo she took with a bloodied and disembodied head closely resembling President Trump.). CNN also dropped a production deal with documentary host Reza Alslan after he tweeted his belief that Donald Trump was a “piece of shit” and a “disgrace to humanity.”
Yes, actions have consequences —I tell my two sons that nearly every day — but that is not what this is about. Reasonably holding people accountable for irresponsible journalism and commentary is fair, but the aggressive calling for advertising boycotts over ideological differences is nothing short of political censorship, and sets up a very dangerous precedent.
The trend of advertiser intimidation has been around for some time, but it’s current mass media incarnation more or less began with Angelo Carusone who first started targeting Glenn Beck‘s sponsors on his Fox News show roughly 7 years ago. Carusone also began an online campaign encouraging Macy’s to part ways with Donald Trump in 2011 over the later’s promotion of Birtherism
Now, as chief of the liberal Media Matters, Carusone has already collected O’Reilly’s scalp and is avidly hunting Fox News host Sean Hannity over his coverage of the debunked conspiracy theory surrounding Seth Rich‘s death.
In a bit of slippery doublespeak, Carusone claims that he is not calling for a boycott, but rather “informing” advertisers about who they are sponsoring. “I am trying to provide information about Sean Hannity to people that have to make business decisions about their relationship with Sean Hannity.”
Right, right — just like President Trump wasn’t really asking James Comey to drop the investigation.
It doesn’t take a genius to see that the genie Carusone has let loose will not be controlled by him, or confined to the world of media.
Just last night, Delta Airlines and Bank of America pulled their financial support of Shakespeare in the Park’s production of Julius Caesar after conservative outrage from a final stabbing (spoiler) of a Caesar presented to look like Trump.
In this increasingly brutal advertiser proxy war, two surprising voices of reason have emerged from this from both sides of the aisle.
One is MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who has inarguably become the leading voice for the progressive movement. How has she handled this story? By ignoring it. As she did with the O’Reilly debacle, she has passed up calls for boycotts against her foes and instead stays laser focused on the raft of news coming out of the White House. Maddow has both a very large and loyal audience and a significant bully pulpit from which she delivers her show. If she were to join in the “focus on the advertiser” campaign, rest assured it would have a big impact. But she has wisely kept her powder dry, knowing that there are bigger fish to fry.
The other thought leader to stand against this brewing cancer, believe it or not, is Sean Hannity. The Fox News prime time host has consistently defended the career of every single political foe when critics have called for them to be fired in the past few months: Stephen Colbert, Kathy Griffin, Bill Maher and even Reza Aslan. This, despite the fact that he himself has been the target of a recent campaign led by Carusone and his Media Matters minions.
With a keen sense of the ghosts of Bill O’Reilly, Hannity has taken the opposite approach, and has elected to fight fire with fire. While he has not called for any advertising boycotts of his political foes, he has featured on his show a group that calls themselves the Media Equality Project, who have also listed sponsors of Maddow’s show. One senses that if the effort to attack Hannity’s advertisers continues, then he will eventually use his bully pulpit to demonstrate just how unfair this tactic is against his ideological counterparts.
This is a very dangerous trend, and if it continues, will end to not just silenced voices, but mutual destruction, and a more poorly informed electorate.
Television programs and media personalities should be held accountable by the audiences who watch them and objective metrics like ratings. Brands like Delta and Bank of America shouldn’t get a veto over the likes of Sean Hannity or Rachel Maddow. The people can vote with their remotes when it’s time for them to go.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.