By Peter Barry Chowka
A major social media backlash may have saved the Fox News host from another unfair leftist attack – but for how long?
An avalanche of mass defections of advertisers from Sean Hannity’s Fox News program appears to have been staunched – at least for the present. Over the weekend, initially five, and then more, major sponsors were about to bolt. On Monday, the CEO of the company in the forefront of the defections, Keurig Green Mountain, apologized for his company’s threat to quit running its commercials on Hannity’s show. With that move, the tide against Hannity appeared to be turning. At least that is how Hannity positioned the news.
Monday was a day of fast-breaking developments, with Hannity’s fans, social media, and Hannity’s four hours of live shows (radio and TV) in the forefront. The sponsor defections started to gain momentum on Sunday after Media Matters for America (MMFA), a well-funded, left wing not-for-profit anti-conservative group with a long enmity toward Hannity, weighed in. MMFA construed Hannity’s reporting on Judge Roy Moore as support for the embattled Republican U.S. Senate candidate from Alabama. MMFA has been encouraging sponsors to desert Hannity’s shows for months, and Hannity’s attempt to cover the red hot Roy Moore story in a fair and balanced way gave Media Matters and its supporters a new opening to attack him.
Last Thursday, the Washington Post published an article alleging that Moore had engaged in inappropriate, or even illegal, intimate contact with teenage girls two decades his junior back in the 1970s. The following day, Hannity interviewed Moore at length by telephone on his afternoon radio show – putting Moore on the record for the first time since the Post story was published and created a firestorm.
On Saturday and Sunday, several advertisers of Hannity’s Fox News program let it be known that – at the instigation or encouragement of Media Matters – they would no longer run ads on his shows. It was a kind of guilt by association: Moore is looking increasingly unsuitable for the role as a U.S. Senator and Hannity, for having covered Moore, is guilty of something by association.
On Sunday and Monday, an unknown but large number of Hannity’s fans deluged social media with a backlash of tweets, hashtags, Facebook posts, and emails promising to boycott any sponsors who defected from Hannity’s program. Some of them produced videos showing the symbolic destruction of high-end coffee pod machines made by Keurig, the company that received the most publicity for its decision to drop Hannity.
On Monday morning, Keurig’s CEO Bob Gamgort issued a sort-of apology – his memo to employees was published by the Washington Post – blaming flawed internal policies for a corporate rush to judgment in the decision to cancel ads and promising to do better. The implication, without Gamgort explicitly saying so, was that Keurig would continue to sponsor Hannity’s television program.
Hannity took this news as a victory accountable to his strong stand in opposing the calls by the left for the censorship of conservative programs.
Around 2 P.M. E.S.T., an hour before his live radio show went to air, Hannity tweeted:
Hold on to your coffee machines
@keurig has recognized it got caught up & misled by a bigot
“Bigot” is Hannity’s term for his nemesis, Angelo Carusone, MMFA’s president. On Monday Hannity used his Twitter account to take direct aim at MMFA and Carusone.
During the last half hour of his 3-hour radio show Monday, Hannity delivered an impassioned monologue about the Moore story and his involvement in the coverage of it. A podcast of the broadcast “The Truth Behind the Hannity Attacks 11.13” is available here for free streaming or download as an mp3 file.
Hannity’s opening monologue on his prime time Fox News Channel program live at 9 P.M. E.S.T. also addressed the issues. He closed his show with these comments (a video of the entire program is here):
A special thank you again. What I saw on the Internet this weekend to push back against those who would silence conservative voices – it has moved and touched my heart and it has given me a resolve to fight harder. You give me this camera every night and microphone every day. I think you so much. Let not your heart be troubled.
As the new day Tuesday is beginning, it is unclear if the number of sponsors who are defecting from Hannity’s show is diminishing, has stabilized, or is continuing to mount. In an article on Monday afternoon, The Wrap put the number of sponsor defections at eleven. Included on the list is Keurig. Earlier on Monday there was breaking news that another woman had come forward, with the assistance of attorney Gloria Allred, to claim that Moore sexually abused her when she was a teenager. As the Alabama Media Group reported at al.com:
An Alabama woman, Beverly Young Nelson, today accused Roy Moore of groping and assaulting her about 40 years ago when she was 16.
Nelson alleges the assault happened when Moore was a 30-something-year-old prosecutor in the Etowah County District Attorney’s Office.
It’s clear that the larger story of Judge Roy Moore, which Hannity is now indelibly identified with, is not going away anytime soon.