On Wednesday morning, Fox News hosted advertisers at its New York headquarters for the first “upfronts” meeting in the network’s history. The goal was to convince executives to purchase airtime on Fox News programming blocks despite the network’s Trump-fueled descent into abject demagoguery. Though protesters congregated outside the network’s Manhattan offices, the meeting was deemed 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,” Marianne Gambelli, the network’s ad sales lead, said in a statement.
Fox News has indicated that the meeting was business as usual, but it’s probably not a coincidence that it made this kind of effort to woo advertisers — and did so well before most networks are scheduled to hold their upfronts — as several companies have moved to disassociate themselves from some of the channel’s programming. The latest exodus has come over the past few days, as both Justice With Judge Jeanine and Tucker Carlson Tonight have lost several advertisers as a result of controversial remarks made by their hosts.
On Saturday, Pirro suggested that Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), who has come under fire for comments some have perceived as anti-Semitic, is un-American because she is a Muslim who wears a hijab. Though Pirro defended her remarks, Fox News wasn’t happy. “We strongly condemn Jeanine Pirro’s comments about Rep. Ilhan Omar,” the network wrote in a statement. “They do not reflect those of the network and we have addressed the matter with her directly.”
The network’s statement wasn’t enough to keep at least five advertisers from fleeing or temporarily amending their relationship with the show. Allergan (a maker of Botox), NerdWallet (a personal finance website), GreatCall (a health tech company) and LetGo (an online marketplace) have all said they will no longer be advertising on Justice With Judge Jeanine. “We absolutely condemn Ms. Pirro’s comments, which are offensive and completely contrary to our values,” a LetGo spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter. “We are in the process of ensuring our ads will no longer run during her show.” Pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk told Rolling Stone in an email that they have “paused” their advertising on Pirro’s show.
Though Fox News has defended Carlson, his show’s relationship with advertisers also hasn’t fared well since a trove of racist, misogynistic and homophobic comments he made before joining the network began to surface on Sunday. Bedding company SHEEX told the Washington Post on Tuesday that “due to the inappropriate statements of Tucker Carlson that have recently come to light, SHEEX has made the decision to cease advertising on his television program, Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca bailed, as well.
AstraZeneca confirms we no longer advertise on the Tucker Carlson show and we will not be advertising on this program in the future.
— AstraZenecaUS (@AstraZenecaUS) March 11, 2019
According to independent journalist Judd Legum, on the eve of the protest outside of Fox News headquarters on Wednesday, Tucker Carlson Tonight featured no national advertisers.
There were no national advertisers on Tucker's show tonight at all. My Pillow, "masculine" supplements, conservative political groups, etc.
— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) March 13, 2019
This isn’t the first time Carlson has lost advertisers for making controversial remarks. Several companies pulled their ads from his show in December after he said immigrants “make our country poorer and dirtier and more divided,” before doubling down the next night by juxtaposing migrants with pictures of literal garbage. The network defended Carlson then, as well. “We cannot and will not allow voices like Tucker Carlson to be censored by agenda-driven intimidation efforts from the likes of Moveon.org, Media Matters and Sleeping Giants,” Fox News wrote in a statement.
It’s hard to discern a reason the network would make a show of condemning Pirro’s comments Saturday while defending Carlson at every turn outside of his relative popularity. Ratings don’t do a network much good, though, if it’s unable to sell ads. Time will tell how long Fox News sticks by Carlson’s side if MyPillow is the biggest company willing to associate with him.
This post has been updated.