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NBCUniversal, Fox News Pull Controversial Trump Campaign Ad

UPDATED: NBCUniversal and Fox News said they would pull a controversial Trump campaign commercial from rotation on its networks after the ad sparked criticism while appearing during “Sunday Night Football.”

Both Judd Apatow, a movie director who has worked frequently with NBCU’s Universal Pictures, and Debra Messing, an actress who is one of the stars of the NBC sitcom “Will & Grace,” took to social media after the commercial ran Sunday night to criticize the decision.

“After further review we recognize the insensitive nature of the ad and have decided to cease airing it across our properties as soon as possible,” NBCU said in a statement Monday morning. The 30-second commercial plays up the purported threat of foreign migrants entering the United States. And the spot, paid for Donald J. Trump for President and approved by President Trump, attempts to link  Luis Bracamontes, a Mexican immigrant who murdered two Sacramento sheriff’s deputies in 2014, to migrants leaving Central America.

The ad had also surfaced on MSNBC; Fox News Channel; and Fox Business Network. In a statement released Monday, Fox indicated the commercial would no longer appear on its networks. “Upon further review, Fox News pulled the ad yesterday and it will not appear on either Fox News Channel or Fox Business Network,” said Marianne Gambelli, president of ad sales for both outlets.

But the commercial has already generated millions of impressions, according to data from iSpotTV, a tracker of commercial placements. The Trump campaign spot aired eight times on Fox Business Network; six times on Fox News Channel; three times on MSNBC;  and once on NBC. Of the 21.4 million impressions the ad generated, more than 20 million came from its appearance on “Sunday Night Football.”

The networks’ decisions come days after CNN said it had turned down an opportunity to run the ad, citing issues with its tone. “CNN has made it abundantly clear in its editorial coverage that this ad is racist. When presented with an opportunity to be paid to take a version of this ad, we declined,” the AT&T-owned network said in a statement issued Saturday.

A spokesman for the National Football League said the sports organization “played no role in the airing of the spot last night.” The spokesman added:  “The NFL has no approval rights regarding campaign ads. That falls to the network that is selling the advertising and airing the game.”

The commercial appeared in NBC’s national network feed. Some advertisers – particularly political campaigns – prefer to buy local time because it’s cheaper and can be bought with more precision. Advertisers sometimes opt for stations or cable and satellite systems that operate in specific geographic regions with voters or customers that may be more desirable than people in another part of the country.

Broadcast networks typically take ads from a range of political candidates as they are mandated to give various politicians fair and equal time by the Federal Communications Commission. NBCUniversal quickly realized after the commercial’s appearance that it was more akin to an issue-based ad, according to a person familiar with the matter. Networks are not required to run those kinds of ads, and NBCU realized it had the leeway to refuse the Trump spot.

Backlash to the campaign commercial is the latest example of scrutiny being placed on media properties of all kinds in an era when consumers are increasingly polarized, particularly after the 2016 presidential election. Advertisers have pulled spots from properties ranging from “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” on TBS; “The Ingraham Angle” on Fox News Channel; and even a revival of William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” produced by New York’s Public Theater at times of controversy.

Asked about the networks dropping the ads on Monday, President Trump said he was not aware of it, but felt the commercials “certainly are effective.” He also said that “a lot of things are offensive.”

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