NEW YORK — More than a month after a liberal advocacy group publicly called on advertisers to boycott Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News Channel, luxury carmaker Cadillac has been the only new company to publicly back away from the program.
While Hannity has appeared largely impervious to the efforts against him, opponents say they’re not giving up.
Meanwhile, Hannity is ascendant at Fox. His show, which averaged nearly 2.7 million viewers in August, was the second most-popular program in cable news behind MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, according to the Nielsen company. Starting Monday, Hannity moves back to the 9 p.m. Eastern time slot he previously occupied, taking Maddow on directly.
Fox wouldn’t discuss his advertising.
Cadillac pulled its commercials after becoming aware of commentary on Hannity’s program following violence at a rally held by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“In the strongest possible terms, we at Cadillac condemn any form of racism or discrimination,” company spokesman Andrew Lipman said. “We have a zero tolerance policy as it pertains to any of our employees and business partners.”
Angelo Carusone, president of the media watchdog that called for the boycott, Media Matters for America, said other luxury carmakers Land Rover and Mercedes Benz have also abandoned Hannity. A Land Rover spokesman, Stuart Schorr, said that while the car is currently not being advertised on “Hannity,” it is not participating in a boycott and that its advertising strategy “evolves and changes.” Mercedes representatives did not return queries about the company’s plans.
Media Matters said some dozen advertisers have told the organization they will not purchase commercials in Hannity’s show in the future; some have current contracts and are staying put until those commitments are completed.
Efforts against Hannity were partly triggered by his promotion of a story suggesting that a Democratic National Committee staffer who was killed last year may have been involved in a leak of Wikileaks documents. Hannity is the most visible and vehement supporter of President Donald Trump on the most influential media outlet for conservatives.
Carusone said Hannity had gone beyond mere commentary, pointing to the frequent appearance of Trump attorney Jay Sekulow on the program. He said he wouldn’t attack a media figure’s commercial viability because of just one or two comments.
“It’s one thing to have political perspective,” he said. “It’s another thing to see it as a political campaign.”
Boycott efforts frequently go nowhere, but Carusone’s track record made this one worth watching. He was involved in trying to get advertisers to back away from Bill O’Reilly this past spring, following reports of settlements made in sexual harassment cases against him. Advertisers, and Fox, quickly abandoned him.
Prior to that, Carusone helped persuade advertisers to stay away from Glenn Beck’s Fox News Channel show. That effort took more than two years, but Beck’s show was slowly choked to the point where it had too few advertisers to be feasible financially.
That’s the methodical strategy he’s employing with Hannity, trying to convince media buyers and companies that the show is too controversial for their products. His prediction: “As long as he continues the same kind of programming he’s been providing the last couple of years, I think that he is not commercially viable by Christmastime.”
However, the number of people who clicked on a FireHannity.org website – in the thousands during the summer – has slowed to a trickle, said Nate Lerner of the Democratic Coalition Against Trump, which operates the site. That group hopes to regain momentum with a new app.
“The energy of the boycott Hannity movement has definitely died since the announcement of the last month,” Lerner said.
The boycott call angers Hannity’s supporters. Members of the Tea Party Patriots responded with their own protest calls to companies that said this spring they were backing away from Hannity’s show. The financial services firm USAA felt the backlash and responded by taking advertising off all opinion-based programming. It then reinstated it on all the shows days later.
Many Trump supporters feel Hannity was one of the few people in the media who had their backs, and they want to be there for him, said Jenny Beth Martin, president of the Tea Party Patriots.
“What we’re seeing from the left is an effort to bully people to silence them,” she said. “They want people to agree with them or not say anything at all.”