Online auto classifieds site Cars.com said it would cease advertising on Fox News Channel’s “Hannity” after the program’s popular host, Sean Hannity, over several broadcasts promoted a largely discredited story about the murder of a Democratic National Committee staffer, then said he would halt discussion of it for the time being out of concern for the victim’s family.
“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 our advertising purchase,” the company said in a statement. “In this case, we’ve been watching closely and have recently made the decision to pull our advertising from Hannity.” A spokesman for the company, which is in the process of being spun off from broadcasting company Tegna, did not immediately respond to a query asking if it would continue advertising elsewhere on the 21st Century Fox-owned cable network. The company did not say how long it would keep its ads off Hannity’s program.
Two other small advertisers also signaled discomfort with Hannity’s program. Peloton, an exercise company, said in a statement it had directed its media-buying agency to stop placing its ads in Hannity’s program. Leesa Sleep, an online mattress retailer, said in a statement that it is “no longer advertising on Sean Hannity.”
A Fox News spokesperson could not be reached for immediate comment. In an interview with The Huffington Post on Wednesday, Hannity said the ad shifts represented efforts by progressives to silence him. “There’s nothing that I did, nothing that I said, except they don’t like my position politically,” he said. “They’ll try to ratchet up the intensity of their rationale. It does not justify an attempt to get me fired. And that’s what this is. This is an attempt to take me out. This is a kill shot.”
At issue is a widely discredited story about the death last summer of Seth Rich, a DNC staffer who was murdered in Washington, D.C. last July in what local police have stated they believe is a botched robbery. Sean Hannity has in recent days promoted an unproven theory that Rich was killed in exchange for providing internal documents to Wikileaks, prompting statements of outrage from the Rich family.
On Tuesday, Fox News said it had retracted a story, published on FoxNews.com, about Rich’s murder – believed to be one of the first times the news outlet has withdrawn an article over its more than 20-year history. The killing remains unsolved and right-leaning press outlets such as Breitbart and The Drudge Report have in posts and links bolstered the wild conspiracy. Hannity continued to promote the theory about Rich on his Tuesday radio show, noting that “this issue is so big now that the entire Russia collusion narrative is hanging by a thread.”
But on his Fox News broadcast Tuesday night, Hannity appeared to back off, at least a little bit. “Out of respect for the family’s wishes, for now, I am not discussing the matter at this time,” Hannity said.
The advertiser defection is sure to conjure up a different rough patch for the cable-news network. In April, dozens of advertisers pulled away from the outlet’s then-flagship primetime program, “The O’Reilly Factor,” in the wake of revelations that its host, Bill O’Reilly, had made approximately $13 million in settlements to women who had alleged he had sexually harassed them or subjected them to inappropriate behavior. O’Reilly and Fox News parted ways in April. Advertisers have since returned to the network’s 8 p.m. slot, which is where O’Reilly held forth. Tucker Carlson now hosts his program at that time.
“Hannity” generates millions of dollars in ad revenue for Fox News Channel. In 2016, the show brought in approximately $65.7 million, according to Kantar Media, a tracker of ad spending. That represented a 17% jump from the approximately $56.1 million the show captured from Madison Avenue in 2015.