Billionaire Democratic donor Tom Steyer bought two weeks of air time on Fox News to run a commercial advocating for President Trump's impeachment at the cable news behemoth. But after one week, Fox News yanked the impeachment ad, saying it could not "in good conscience" accept more of Steyer's money. Jack Abernethy, Fox News' co-president, said the decision came after viewers expressed a "strong negative reaction" to the ad, according to Politico. No details about how such viewer discontent was measured have been offered yet, though.
According to Oliver Darcy at CNN Money, pulling an ad for the reason Abernethy described is "highly unusual." Though networks can — and do — select and sometimes pull advertising for a variety of reasons, citing consideration for the feelings of a news audience is pretty bizarre.
It's no secret that Fox News viewers are of a conservative bent. Forty percent of Trump voters listed Fox News as their primary source of election coverage, with the second-place finisher, CNN, coming in with just eight percent.
So it's not a stretch to assume many Fox viewers might share Trump's own dislike of Steyer's "Need to Impeach" ad. The president appeared to respond on Twitter after the ad ran during Fox & Friends, which he's known to watch religiously. Trump called Steyer "wacky & totally unhinged," and added that he "never wins elections."
Brad Deutsch, a lawyer for Steyer, sent a letter to Fox News co-president Jack Abernathy, claiming Fox News was in breach of contract for pulling Steyer's ad. In it, Deutsch accusing Fox News of catering in the extreme to their viewers' wishes, at the cost of "journalistic integrity." Deutsch also claimed the removal of Steyer's ad represented a "suppression of constitutionally protected speech, and likely a consequence of inexcusable political pressure."
In a statement, Abernethy said the following: "Due to the strong negative reaction to their ad by our viewers, we could not in good conscience take their money." Fox News has not provided any specifics about how they measured these extraordinary levels of "negative reaction."
In the ad, Steyer unequivocally calls for Trump to be impeached. Steyer alleges that Trump has "brought us to the brink of nuclear war, obstructed justice at the F.B.I.," and "taken money from foreign governments, and threatened to shut down news organizations that report the truth." If the government doesn't deem all those actions worthy of impeachment, Steyer then asks: "What has our government become?"
Watching the ad, it's plain to see why the majority of Fox News viewers would find reason to object to it. However, Steyer had a contract with Fox News to run the ad, he had paid to run the ad, and Fox News made the decision to forego that advertising money due to an apparently unusually high negative reaction.
Steyer released his own statement on the ad's cancellation. He noted that "millions of Americans" have chosen to oppose Trump. Steyer also said: "If Fox News is siding with Trump and trying to silence us, they must be afraid of what we have to say. It shows no respect for democracy."
Not everyone is on board with Steyer's goal of impeaching Trump. When House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was asked her thoughts on Steyer's ad, and whether or not Democrats would pursue impeachment should they become the majority in 2018, Pelosi demurred. "It's not someplace that I think we should go," she said. Pelosi has also reportedly called the "Need to Impeach" campaign a "distraction" in private conversation.
But for those who are interested less in partisan outcomes and more in democratic norms, the pulling of an ad strictly because it made viewers upset is a troubling development, regardless of the political aims of the ad itself.