Why’d they wait until now to cancel the ads? The agreement with the RNC was reached in April after two months of primaries had put Trump well ahead in delegates. Cruz still had a shot but there was every reason at the time to think Trump would end up as nominee. Trump had already floated all of his most controversial proposals too by the time BuzzFeed signed on the dotted line — mass deportation, the travel ban on Muslims from abroad, even the idea that the judge in his Trump University suit might be biased against him because he’s “Mexican.” That’s only gotten major media attention over the past 10 days but Trump suggested that Judge Curiel was partial due to his ethnic identity (“I believe he happens to be Spanish”) as far back as February. If BuzzFeed felt that it couldn’t in good conscience deal with a party that has Trump as its leader, why didn’t it wait until there was a presumptive nominee before talking ads with the GOP? Failing that, why didn’t they tear up the agreement a month ago, after Cruz and Kasich dropped out and left Trump as the last man standing? They … didn’t really think he was going to become “more presidential,” did they?
Alternate theory: They signed the deal thinking that if Trump did end up as nominee, they could get some cheap PR among the wider media later by making a big show of tearing it up. Right on the eve of Hillary locking up the nomination and pivoting to the general election too! From BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti’s e-mail to the site’s staff:
In April, the Republican National Committee signed an agreement with BuzzFeed to spend a significant amount on political advertisements slated to run during the Fall election cycle. As you know, we accept advertisements from both republican and democratic candidates and we were pleased to accept this advertising order from the RNC.
Since signing this advertising deal, Donald Trump, as you know, has become the presumptive nominee of his party. The tone and substance of his campaign are unique in the history of modern US politics. Trump advocates banning Muslims from traveling to the United States, he’s threatened to limit the free press, and made offensive statements toward women, immigrants, descendants of immigrants, and foreign nationals.
Earlier today Buzzfeed informed the RNC that we would not accept Trump for President ads and that we would be terminating our agreement with them. The Trump campaign is directly opposed to the freedoms of our employees in the United States and around the world and in some cases, such as his proposed ban on international travel for Muslims, would make it impossible for our employees to do their jobs.
“We don’t run cigarette ads because they are hazardous to our health,” Peretti concluded, “and we won’t accept Trump ads for the exact same reason.” The RNC responded this afternoon by claiming that while ad space has been reserved in various mediums, they never intended to use BuzzFeed. If you’re worried that this will skew coverage of Trump by BuzzFeed’s news division, Peretti insists that there’s a “wall” between the editorial and publishing sides of the site that’ll spare the news writers from business pressures. That’s standard industry practice, but news editor Ben Smith told his staff last December that, while appearances of partisanship must be avoided, it’s perfectly fine to call Trump a “mendacious racist” in social media postings because he is, in fact, a mendacious racist. If you think BuzzFeed’s in the tank, chances are it has more to do with that than with Peretti’s ad decision. Even absent Smith’s instructions, I think many Trump fans have already written off BuzzFeed’s coverage of him as biased, fairly or not. McKay Coppins wrote a withering portrait of Trump two years ago and was attacked for it in righty media; Andrew Kaczynski has dug up more damaging soundbites from Trump’s media archives than any Republican campaign managed to; and no site I know of has written more about Trump’s white-nationalist fan base, a subject his campaign obviously would rather not see broached. None of that is unfair by normal definitions of fairness, but to Trump “fairness” turns purely on whether you’re well disposed to him or not regardless of your reasoning. To his campaign team and his army of fans, Peretti’s move only confirms what they already must have suspected.
This is part of a wider trend too of companies using business dealings to distance themselves from Trump. The PGA just moved a tournament that was scheduled to take place at his course in Florida to Mexico. Under pressure from lefty activist groups, HP recently jointed Coca-Cola and Microsoft in cutting back its contributions to the GOP convention this year so as not to be seen as enabling Trump. BuzzFeed’s new ad policy comes hot on the heels of a much-remarked-upon turn towards tougher coverage of Trump on the cable news networks (especially CNN) over the past week, once again conveniently timed with the start of the general election campaign. None of this will bother Trump supporters; if anything, watching widely loathed institutions like big business and the media collude against him will shake loose some holdouts on the right who have resisted Trump so far. What the effect will be on swing voters is anyone’s guess, though. Refusing to deal with Trump because he represents something new and menacingly different in American politics reinforces Hillary’s message from last week that he’s unfit for office in ways that voters usually take for granted in major-party nominees. If you have major insitutional muscle behind that idea, it might move opinion. If nothing else, watching a megasite like BuzzFeed declare Trump a threat to the republic might help convince its younger readership that staying home in the fall because Clinton’s a charisma-less loser isn’t an option.
Exit question via Sean Davis: If BuzzFeed has the right to refuse business because a potential customer supports a policy that offends their conscience, why don’t Christian bakers who are being asked to cater a gay wedding have the same right?
If Buzzfeed's owners want to refuse advertising services for the GOP/Trump wedding in July b/c the union offends them, that's their right.
— Sean Davis (@seanmdav) June 6, 2016
Update: Good question. Will BuzzFeed take ads for Republican Senate candidates?
Question: Does the rejection of the ad deal with RNC by @Buzzfeed include down ticket? If so, I’m not sure who to be mad at. Them or Trump.
— Ben (@BenHowe) June 6, 2016
Update: Yep, they will, says Smith.
@BenHowe per the story, not downticket.
— Ben Smith (@BuzzFeedBen) June 6, 2016