Madison Avenue’s Rift With Fox News’ Laura Ingraham Widens

More advertisers are pulling their support of Fox News host Laura Ingraham after she teased one of the survivors of a horrific school shooting in Parkland, Florida on Twitter, according to media buyers and other people familiar with the matter, and few marquee sponsors are expected to appear during Friday’s broadcast of her “The Ingraham Angle.”

“It’s a big deal,” said one media-buying executive familiar with discussions around the program, with the potential for “getting bigger” if the storm growing around the popular host doesn’t dissipate.

Ingraham set off a controversy Wednesday with a Twitter post poking fun at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student David Hogg, one of the students who has spoken out about gun control prominently since a February 14th shooting incident there left 17 people dead. Her tweet  linked to a report noting Hogg had been rejected from four California colleges.  Her tweet also said Hogg “whines about” the rejections. In response, Hogg posted on social media a list of recent advertisers in her program culled from Media Matters, a left-leaning watchdog group, and urged followers to pressure them to remove their commercials from Ingraham’s show. Nestle, Johnson & Johnson,  TripAdvisor, Nutrish, Expedia and Hulu – a video-streaming company partly owned by Fox News parent 21st Century Fox – are among the advertisers who have said they would no longer advertise in her program.

Ingraham apologized Thursday via Twitter, noting that she was sorry “for any upset or hurt my tweet caused him or any of the brave victims of Parkland.” She invited the student to appear on her program.  Hogg said he would not accept her apology.

Fox News is working with advertisers, says a person familiar with the network’s ad sales strategy, accommodating sponsors who wish to move commercials elsewhere, but also maintaining a long-term view about the program and its connection with Madison Avenue. In February, “The Ingraham Angle” drew an average of more than 2.6 million viewers, according to Nielsen. Only Fox News’ “Hannity,” and “Tucker Carlson Tonight” and MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” attracted more viewers that month. With that size of an audience and following – Ingraham is also a longtime radio host – advertisers could find her program difficult to ignore in the future.

One advertiser, the online retailer Wayfair, has “permanently” sundered ties with the program, says Courtney Lawrie, the company’s director of brand marketing, in an interview. “We support open dialogue and debate on issues. However, the decision of an adult to personally criticize a high school student who has lost his classmates in an unspeakable tragedy is not consistent with our values,” she says. But the company intends to continue advertising elsewhere on Fox News Channel, she notes, calling the network “a great partner.”

Other media-buying executives said they felt the controversy could fade away eventually, meaning some clients might return to Ingraham’s show. “It might be that the apology wasn’t good enough, but there’s not a complete groundswell against her yet, from what I can tell,” said one media-buying executive. “I think this will quickly blow over with no long-term damage,” another buying executive said. “We are living in gotcha-out-to-get-you times.”

Fox News has reason to take calls for an advertiser boycott seriously. Madison Avenue swiftly yanked support for Bill O’Reilly in April of last year after revelations that several claims of sexual harassment had been made against the host over the years. Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai were among the marketers who left his program, “The O’Reilly Factor.” During his last run of broadcasts, Fox News aired longer segments of the show with fewer commercials.

Ingraham’s arrival at Fox last fall was seen as the start of a new era at the 21st Century Fox cable-news outlet, one which featured more female anchors during evening hours in comparison to MSNBC and CNN. Ingraham is part of an evening lineup that also includes Martha MacCallum at 6 p.m. and Shannon Bream at 11 p.m.  Ingraham has burnished a reputation as a firebrand unafraid to raise conservative viewpoints and make them stick with audiences. She told Variety in October that she didn’t see as much of a need to be confrontational as she had in the past. Adopting three children and surviving a breast cancer scare in 2005 have “changed me,” she said at the time.  “I’m seeing things through another set of eyes now.”


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