At least seven Fox News advertisers have pulled their ads from Sean Hannity’s show over his obsession with an unproven right-wing conspiracy theory surrounding the murder of Seth Rich.
Hannity has been spreading a theory that the Clintons ordered Rich’s murder to seek revenge for reportedly leaking Democratic National Committee emails to WikiLeaks, according to BuzzFeed News, the Washington Post, and others.
Hannity is off for the rest of the week on a “scheduled vacation” and Fox may be seeing a repeat of advertiser backlash that eventually drove out its former top anchor, Bill O’Reilly, LA Times reported.
Rich, 27, was shot and killed in summer 2016 in Washington, D.C., the victim of a botched robbery, according to D.C. police, Diversity Inc reported. He worked as a data analyst for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. According to Hannity, Rich was killed after leaking private Democratic National Committee emails to WikiLeaks. Law enforcement officials found no evidence to support the DNC conspiracy theory. Fox News has retracted the story.
Cars.com, Leesa Sleep, Peloton, Crowne Plaza Hotel, Ring, Casper and USAA are among those that have pulled their advertisements from Sean Hannity’s Fox News show thanks to Hannity’s perpetuation of fake news.
Cars.com was reportedly the first company to back out of advertising, said in a statement on its website: “The fact that we advertise on a particular program doesn’t mean that we agree or disagree, or support or oppose, the content. We don’t have the ability to influence content at the time we make out advertising purchase. In this case, we’ve been watching closely and have recently made the decision to pull our advertising from Hannity.”
A representative of Fox News would not comment to LA Times on the flight of advertisers but said Hannity is off the rest of the week on a scheduled vacation.
Advertiser started pulling out of “The O’Reilly Factor” in March over reports that O’Reilly and Fox News had paid $13 million to silence women suing over sexual harassment. Every major advertiser had abandoned the program by early April.
O’Reilly left for vacation after his April 11 show and never returned to Fox. He was fired April 19 and Fox honored his $25-million-a-year contract.
The departure of O’Reilly, for years the most popular prime-time personality on Fox News, has put cracks in the ratings dominance of the top-rated cable news channel, LA Times reported. Last week, Fox News finished behind CNN and MSNBC in the 25-to-54 age group — the group most coveted by advertisers — for the first time since 2008 (outside of weeks when the Democratic National Convention was held).
On May 19, Fox News fired Bob Beckel, co-host of “The Five,” for “making an insensitive remark to an African-American employee.”
When a black IT worker arrived to work on Beckel’s computer, the TV co-host “stormed out of his office” and told “our client that he was leaving his office because he is Black,” according to attorney Douglas Wigdorhen, Diversity Inc reported.
Hannity is losing advertisers after being targeted by Media Matters, a progressive watchdog group that monitors conservative media, according to The Daily Caller. Media Matters kicked off a public campaign to pressure advertisers to leave the show as part of a shaming campaign.
Media Matters’ argument for kickstarting the shaming campaign, though, focused more on Hannity’s role as a “propagandist” on behalf of President Trump than on his conspiracy theories.
“Sean Hannity is a professional propagandist for President Donald Trump, as well as a bigot, a sexist, and a conspiracy theorist,” read Media Matter’s statement accompanying the list. “As host of Fox News’ Hannity, he has used his platform to advocate for authoritarian tactics toward the press, defend Trump’s obstruction of the investigation into collusion between the president’s associates and Russia, and attack judges who have ruled against Trump’s Muslim bans.”
The backlash against him is all political, Hannity told Huffington Post. “This is an attempt to take me out. This is a kill shot.”
Hannity has been a supporter of free speech for other TV and radio hosts who have run into controversies, LA Times reported.
When “Late Show” host Stephen Colbert recently faced criticism over a lewd joke he told on the air about Trump’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Hannity tweeted: “I will NOT support #FireColbert. I am vs ALL BOYCOTTS. He is a horrible human being, but if u don’t like him change the channel.”
In March, major brands pulled millions of dollars in advertising over extremist content on YouTube. Major brands’ content was appearing next to videos promoting extremist views or hate speech, with a cut of the advertising spend going to the creators, The Guardian reported:
Verizon’s ads were featured alongside videos made by Egyptian cleric Wagdi Ghoneim, who was banned from the U.S. over extremism, and the hate preacher Hanif Qureshi, whose preachings were said to have inspired the murder of a politician in Pakistan.
“We are deeply concerned that our ads may have appeared alongside YouTube content promoting terrorism and hate,” an AT&T spokesman said in a statement. “Until Google can ensure this won’t happen again, we are removing our ads from Google’s non-search platforms.”
Google apologized publicly and promised to give brands more control over where their ads appear.
The incident underscores growing tensions between the advertising industry and tech companies like Google and Facebook, which have become competitors, in some cases, according to The Guardian.
Facebook and Google account for 90 percent of the growth in the online ad industry, according to a 2016 IAB/PwC report. All other online media companies compete for the scraps.