Fox News Channel declined to run a commercial for a documentary that used Nazi imagery whose backers were eager to win publicity by having it air during host Sean Hannity’s 9 p.m. hour – typically the most-watched slot in cable news.
Backers of the Oscar-nominated “A Night at the Garden,” a short documentary that shows footage from an actual Nazi rally in New York’s Madison Square Garden in 1939 and aims to examine the potential ramifications of adherence to abhorrent beliefs, originally hoped to get an ad (which can be viewed here) for the movie shown in local inventory available on Los Angeles-based cable systems operated by Charter Communications. But that placement was pre-empted by breaking news and rescheduled for later this week. Backers decided to try and get the commercial shown in Fox News’ own national feed.
The 21st Century Fox-owned cable-news network turned the spot down because it was not in keeping with its commercial standards.”The ad in question is full of disgraceful Nazi imagery regardless of the film’s message and did not meet our guidelines,” said Marianne Gambelli, president of ad sales for Fox News Channel, in a statement. Gambelli is slated to take over a broader array of ad sales oversight after 21st Century Fox sells many of its assets to Walt Disney Company sometimes this year. At that time, she will supervise ad sales at what will be known as Fox Corporation, which will include Fox News, Fox Broadcasting and Fox Sports.
The film’s backers said they were surprised Fox News would not run the commercial. “Anyone looking at the 30 second ad would know instantly that it is an anti-Nazi cautionary tale,” said Marshall Curry, the documentary’s director, in a statement. Laura Poitras, co-founder of Field of Vision, a documentary film unit of First Look Media that is involved with the film, said in a statement that “The goal of distributing this film and all of our advertising for it has been to reach as many Americans as we can with a cautionary tale about demagogues who attack the press and scapegoat minorities. February 20 is the 80th anniversary of this rally and we want Americans to know about this history.”
The contretemps over the commercial – social-media users had suggested Fox News had deliberately rejected an ad with an anti-Nazi message – spotlights the difficulty TV networks are having in examining advertising in a polarized political climate.
NBCUniversal, for example, in November ran into headwinds after it aired a campaign commercial from backers of President Donald Trump that played up the purported threat of foreign migrants entering the United States. The ad ran during “Sunday Night Football” as well as MSNBC before the company said it would no longer run the ad. 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, this person said.
In this case, Fox News avoided airing the ad because it contained what executives felt was abhorrent imagery, which viewers would have seen before understanding the ad’s intent or the nature of the film.
Many small advertisers like to claim their commercials were turned down by big TV networks, when what they are actually doing is seeking publicity. In many cases, the commercial in question is not suitable for air, or the advertiser can’t afford to pay the fees required for national distribution. The claims of rejection can sometimes spur some media outlets to make a bigger issue out of what is often typical business procedure.
No national TV network has run the “Garden” as of Wednesday night, according to data from iSpot TV, a service that monitors ad spending and placement.