Fox News Backlash Hits Just as It’s Making Its Pitch to Advertisers

(Bloomberg) -- Fox News host Tucker Carlson suffered another revelation of off-color commentary from his past on Wednesday, further complicating the network’s pitch to advertisers at this week’s “upfront” presentations in New York.

Carlson made a series of sexually suggestive comments about a 16-year-old contestant in the Miss Teen USA pageant while appearing on a radio show in 2007, NowThisNews reported Wednesday. The new audio follows other revelations of sexist and racist comments by Carlson on the “Bubba the Love Sponge” show about a decade ago.

The troubles come at an awkward time for Fox News. Touting a new marketing slogan -- “America Is Watching” -- the company is looking to show media buyers that it can appeal to all Americans, rather than just conservative-leaning ones. Fox News has invited advertisers to its studio on Wednesday, marking its first such event.

Fox News Backlash Hits Just as It’s Making Its Pitch to Advertisers

The network is navigating controversies beyond Carlson. Fox News censured host Jeanine Pirro this week after she implied the head covering worn by Representative Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, is antithetical to the U.S. Constitution.

Rupert Murdoch’s news organization has weathered boycott calls in the past, and it’s not totally reliant on advertising. But it’s about to become the centerpiece of a new Fox corporation that will be spun off from a merger with Walt Disney Co. later this month. That’s making the network a more important asset for Fox than ever before.

In Pirro’s case, Fox News “strongly” condemned her comments and addressed the matter with her directly, saying the remarks didn’t reflect the views of the network.

‘Bow to the Mob’

The first of the old Tucker Carlson radio clips -- recorded before he became a Fox News host -- were brought to light by the liberal-leaning watchdog Media Matters. The host said on his show Monday that Fox was backing him and he wouldn’t “bow to the mob.” Fox News representatives didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the Miss Teen USA audio.

21st Century Fox Inc. is slated to complete its $71 billion sale of entertainment assets -- including the 20th Century Fox studio -- to Disney on March 20. The remaining company will include Fox News, Fox Sports and the Fox broadcast network.

Activists such as Sleeping Giants have relentlessly targeted the network’s TV and online advertisers, part of its mission to hit the profits of outlets it believes promote bigotry and sexism. Fox News has previously said it believes Carlson is being targeted for political reasons.

This week, Sleeping Giants has been tweeting at companies such as Bayer AG, questioning why they air ads during “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” It’s also attempting organizing a protest outside the headquarters of Fox for Wednesday, the day of the upfront presentation.

AstraZeneca Leaves

The pressure seems to work on some companies. AstraZeneca Plc said on its Twitter account that it no longer advertises on Carlson’s show and won’t advertise during that hour in the future.

Fox News said it was looking forward to its advertiser presentation and wouldn’t be swayed by the campaign against Carlson.

“We cannot and will not allow voices like Tucker Carlson to be censored by agenda-driven intimidation efforts from the likes of Moveon.org, Media Matters and Sleeping Giants,” Fox News said in response to the AstraZeneca move.

In December, PepsiCo Inc.’s SodaStream and Pacific Life Insurance Co. were among the advertisers cutting ties with the show after Carlson made disparaging comments about immigrants. NerdWallet Inc., the personal finance company, said it hasn’t advertised on Carlson’s show since the end of last year.

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