On C-SPAN, Media Matters' Angelo Carusone explains why advertiser campaigns can be a useful tool to hold destructive media outlets accountable

Carusone: “When your business model is to lie, or to attack, and you are then commercializing that, then yeah, I think the advertisers have a role to play”

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Citation From the May 5, 2022, edition of C-SPAN's Washington Journal

JOHN MCARDLE (HOST): The role of advertiser pressure campaigns in today's media landscape? 

ANGELO CARUSONE (PRESIDENT, MEDIA MATTERS): Boy, I both love them and hate them, because there's this perception that if you don't like something you automatically get to just burn everything down to the ground. And that's what they've done – because they provide a source of power. In a world where so much feels futile – both at the legislative level, the policy level – one thing that advertiser campaigns can do, we are a capitalist society and most of our news media is commercially driven, so the advertisers are the fuel, the life blood, of a lot of this. So if you don't like something you go after the advertisers, I don't agree with that.

Now, that said, advertisers play a role in this though. If somebody makes a mistake or says something controversial, you should fight about it. That said, if the goal – the feature is the bug – if the goal is to lie, to misinform, if the goals is to not just say something controversial but to be controversial in order to get that intention, to commercialize it, by harming, especially, marginalized people, that's the business model. That's not somebody making a mistake. So, I think we should dial down the reactionism a little bit to one-offs, and we try to do that, we have a pretty strict standard.

On the other hand, when your business model is to lie, or to attack, and you are then commercializing that, then yeah, I think the advertisers have a role to play. They are making the investments – millions of dollars to buy adds on these spaces – and they're getting pitched, they know what they're doing. You have to have a product to sell, and if the product is hate and lies, then I think it's perfectly reasonable for people to say, “Wait a minute, I buy your brand, I like your brand, you're trying to market to me but then you're doing things to hurt me. I don't know about that, I want you to change." So I think advertiser campaigns have a role when the business model is something uniquely destructive or deliberately deceptive, and the only way to get them to change or to rethink their work is to actually go over their head to the thing that's funding it. But most newsrooms will care about their reputations, most places will care if you give them evidence, they may not validate all your feelings but they may say, “Oh, we made a mistake." Or at least they'll stop doing it. But if the business model is destructive, I think it's extremely reasonable and important to make sure the advertisers are engaged.