Brian Stelter Is All Wrong About the Ad Boycotts

Imagine for a moment that you are Brian Stelter. Your job is to talk about how the media are performing and your platform is CNN. Do you think your employers will be pleased with you if you take the position that it’s a good thing that citizens are boycotting the advertisers on a rival network? Probably not, right? After all, once that practice becomes established at Fox News it is quite likely to be employed against CNN’s advertisers too, as soon as a member of their on-air talent says something offensive. And that’s only a matter of time even if being offensive isn’t basically the business model at CNN the way it seems to be at Fox News.

So, it’s not really surprising to see Brian Stelter’s take on the boycott of Laura Ingraham’s advertisers at Fox News. If you haven’t heard, Ingraham is on a self-imposed sabbatical after advertisers began pulling out of her show because she’d decided to be provocative and attack Parkland student and survivor David Hogg for being rejected from four separate colleges to which he had applied. Stelter is worried not so much about Ingraham’s offensive speech as the principle involved:

Stelter opened Sunday’s Reliable Sources with an explanation of the ongoing feud between Ingraham and Hogg: Ingraham mocked Hogg’s college rejections in a tweet; Hogg called for an ad boycott of her show; companies began to pull their ads; Ingraham apologized; Hogg declined her apology; Ingraham went on vacation as advertisers continued to pull out.

“Are ad-boycotts the right answer here?” Stelter asked his guests. “I’m personally pretty wary of this. I think it’s dangerous to see these ad boycott attempts happening more and more often in this country.”

“My view is let’s not shut down anyone’s right to speak. Let’s meet their comments with more speech. Lets try to respond that way.”

By suggesting that Stelter has a corporate reason for taking this position, I’m actually giving him the benefit of the doubt that he is not an idiot. Because only an idiot would sincerely believe that the host of a cable news program has any “right” to keep their job in perpetuity regardless of what they might say. Ingraham has a legal and constitutional right to criticize high school students for anything she wants, but she has no legal or constitutional right to have a television show on which to say it.

Why would Stelter be “wary” of “ad boycott attempts happening more and more often in this country”?

Obviously, it’s the exact same reason that his bosses are wary of this development. As a private citizen, he has precisely zero reason to be concerned about this. So, he’s carrying water for his bosses.

In one sense, this is okay. People do this sort of thing all the time. But it’s not a good look for someone whose job is to judge and critique the media. Media can be biased in many different ways. It can be slanted to the left or to the right. In some cases, this bias is obvious or even advertised. But it’s more insidious when the news is biased to a corporate interest.

Now, insofar as these media corporations make their money off of advertising, it’s understandable that they don’t like anything that threatens their revenues. But businesses do not buy advertising to do a favor to media corporations. They do it to reach an audience that they hope will use their products and services. And it they want to advertise their products and services to the kinds of people who approve on picking on high school students then other people have the right to take note of that and decide not to give them their money.

Everyone is chasing ratings because that allows them to charge more for their advertising, but if your model is to spread meanness and hatefulness, I think the people of this country have the right and the responsibility to fight back. When anyone injects poison into the body politic, that’s bad for the country. And if it’s media corporations injecting the poison, then they should be punished with the loss of revenue. Otherwise, it will be a race to bottom to see who can get the most viewers and readers by being the most offensive.

When citizens interject themselves into this process, they can arrest the downward spiral and make media corporations think very carefully about the pros and cons of employing people whose primary attraction is that they can make news and get attention by being the biggest pricks in the business.

What the kids from Parkland have figured out is that they can make this a better country by using the power and influence their voices have gained by them having lived through an unspeakable tragedy. And that’s not something anyone should be “wary” of or think is dangerous.

When you look at the condition of our country, you can’t deny we’ve arrived at a bad place. If you think about how we got here, it’s largely because too many citizens sat back passively and allowed things to devolve. These boycotts are a way to step in and say “we’re not going any further down this path without a fight.”

I don’t give a good goddamn if the media executives like it. And neither should you, unless you’re well-paid to say exactly what those media executives want you to say.

In that case, you might want to find a less soul-deadening line of work.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.