About 50 protesters and a throng of reporters gathered Wednesday in front of the Fox News mothership in Midtown Manhattan — oversized banners of Fox & Friends hosts Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt, and Brian Kilmeade flapping in the background — to rail against the latest batch of vile Tucker Carlson comments released by the liberal watchdog Media Matters.
The demonstration, also organized by Media Matters, was timed for maximum impact: huddled inside the News Corp building were more than a hundred advertisers the network is hoping to do business with in the upcoming year. It was the first time Fox News has participated in “upfronts” — the high-stakes events in which television executives present their lineups and try to convince advertisers to purchase airtime in advance of scheduled programming.
According to Media Matters president Angelo Carusone, the meeting and its timing are evidence that Fox is feeling the heat from advertisers for inflammatory remarks from Carlson and his fellow Fox hosts Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity.
“Look at last year, think about the steady stream of controversies,” Causone tells Rolling Stone while standing outside the News Corp building, which houses the network. He ticked off a list of controversies that have engulfed the network over the previous 18 months, from the infamous Keurig-smashing backlash that took place after the coffee company pulled its ads from Sean Hannity’s show, to Laura Ingraham’s attack of Parkland Student David Hogg to Tucker Carlson saying that immigrants make America “poorer and dirtier and more divided.”
Ingraham, in particular, demonstrated the trouble the network was experiencing: “She used to have 30-something commercials, now they only run 15 or 16 a show,” Carusone says, “They had a volatile year with their advertisers.” (Fox News’ head of ad sales, Marianne Gambelli, has maintained that boycotts haven’t impacted Fox’s ad revenue, explaining “[ad] inventory has been shifted to other dayparts.”)
Most upfronts take place in April and May; Fox’s event is early — one of the first to take place this season, although several other networks, including A&E, have upfront events scheduled later this month.
“This is the kick-off to their big sales event and their basic argument [to advertisers] is, ‘It’s safe to get back in the water.’ And I think there is no better way to show that it is not safe to come back in the water than what took place this weekend,” Carusone says. He didn’t specify whether he was referring to Carlson’s remarks defending child rape and calling Iraqis “semiliterate primitive monkeys” or the remarks by his fellow Fox host, Jeanine Pirro, who said on Saturday that wearing a hijab was “antithetical to the U.S. Constitution.”
“I don’t think most people realize you buy your ads a year in advance,” Carusone says. “Now is the inflection point.”
The protest took place exactly one week before the network’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, is set to sell off most of its entertainment assets to Disney.
“They’ve been insulated up until this point because 21st Century Fox has been a big company with a huge entertainment division,” Carusone says. “Starting next Wednesday, all of that goes away. It’s just Fox News and Fox Sports. So they’re not going to have the same flexibility that they once had.”
In a statement, Fox News’ Marianne Gambelli called Wednesday’s event a success. “We were extremely proud to open our doors and introduce the media buying community to our America’s Watching campaign, incredible team of talent and new state of the art studios.”