What was Fox thinking agreeing to run his ad in the first place, let alone running it during “Fox & Friends,” POTUS’s favorite show? Steyer must have paid them a small fortune to make it worth their while, knowing how Trump himself and Fox’s extremely pro-Trump audience would react.
Whatever it was, it wasn’t enough.
On Oct. 27, for the first time, the Steyer ad ran during “Fox and Friends,” the morning show closely watched and frequently retweeted by the president. The next day, Trump tweeted his response to the “unhinged” Steyer, calling him a loser but ignoring the ad’s contents.
Four days later, according to a statement first provided to AdWeek, Fox stopped airing the ad.
“Due to the strong negative reaction to their ad by our viewers, we could not in good conscience take their money,” Jack Abernethy, Fox News co-president, told AdWeek.
That seems … totally plausible. Fox took a calculated risk in running the ad, it backfired when the switchboard was flooded by angry Trumpers, the network reconsidered and feared that it might end up losing money on balance if it kept running the spot, so it backed out. That’s the market in action. Boycott-happy progressives should respect what a little consumer muscle-flexing can do.
The question is, was Fox flooded by calls from angry viewers or was it a call from one angry viewer in particular who got them to back down? WaPo has a copy of the letter from Steyer’s lawyers to Fox reminding them that their agreement calls for his ad to be run seven more times and accusing them of bowing to pressure from the White House:
There’d be nothing illegal to POTUS dialing up Fox and warning them that there’ll be no more presidential interviews with Laura Ingraham if Tom Steyer gets to use their platform to agitate for impeachment. But it’d be embarrassing for a network that already gets attacked as being de facto state media in primetime for it to be known that they’re letting Trump dictate which ads they’ll run by threatening loss of access. I think that’s what Steyer’s lawyers are aiming for in warning Fox of breach of agreement — it’s not the money they want back, it’s the opportunity for discovery in a suit to find out if it was Trump himself or the pro-Trump grassroots righties who really drove the decision.
But what if it was both?
Wacky & totally unhinged Tom Steyer, who has been fighting me and my Make America Great Again agenda from beginning, never wins elections!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 27, 2017
We’ll never reach the point where Trump calls for a boycott of Fox a la his boycott of the NFL but we’ve probably already reached the point where he doesn’t need to explicitly threaten a boycott to damage a business. Simply by tweeting publicly about Steyer may have been enough to trigger viewer complaints from his fans to Fox about running the ad; a Fox boycott organized by the right, either grassroots or partly astroturfed by the White House, would have taught the network a hard lesson about running anti-Trump ads in the future. Again, though, Fox wouldn’t have been in this predicament if it had rejected Steyer’s ad in the first place. He and other critics would have called them “state media” if they had, but so what? They get called that anyway. And they’re getting called that now that they’ve yanked the spot.
Here’s the ad, followed by Nancy Pelosi dodging impeachment questions on Tapper’s show yesterday. Pelosi knows that impeachment chatter is much more likely to mobilize Republican rather than Democratic turnout. Steyer, who’s looking to build a political profile for himself in California and beyond ahead of a possible run for office, couldn’t care less.
— CNN (@CNN) November 5, 2017