AT&T starts running ads on Fox News amid Dominion mess and DirecTV-Newsmax feud
AT&T began running ads on Fox News this month for the first time since last September, according to Media Matters’ internal ad database. The ad buys come as Fox became embroiled over the damaging revelations produced in recently released legal filings – and as Republican politicians threatened investigations of DirecTV, which is majority-owned by AT&T, for dropping a Fox competitor from its satellite TV lineup.
Fox aired 71 AT&T ads in March through Wednesday, more than any other Fox advertiser that did not run ads on the network in January or February. AT&T’s ads primarily aired on “news side” programs like Fox News Live and America’s Newsroom, though some also ran on “opinion side” shows including Jesse Watters Primetime (during AT&T’s five month Fox hiatus, that program’s host promoted conspiracy theories about the violent assault on then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband).
It’s an unusual time to launch an ad campaign on Fox. In February, filings in Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion lawsuit against the network revealed that its stars and top executives did not believe the fraud conspiracy theories that Fox promoted following the 2020 election, and that Fox Corp. Chair Rupert Murdoch wielded its operations for the explicit purpose of electing Republicans. Lou Paskalis, a leading advertising executive and the founder and CEO of AJL Advisory, has written that the revelations “‘present a moral hazard for advertisers’ and recommended they cease sending money into the right-wing talk channel's pockets,” CNN’s Oliver Darcy reported.
But AT&T has a unique problem. DirecTV, a satellite TV provider which is 70% owned by AT&T, dropped the right-wing network NewsmaxTV from its lineup in January over an apparent carriage fee dispute (the company says Newsmax, which is available for free online, was “seeking significant fees” in a new deal). Newsmax executives and hosts responded by portraying themselves as victims of political censorship, and Republican politicians rallied to the outlet’s defense, with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and House Oversight Chairman James Comer (R-KY) threatening to hold hearings.
Fox and its right-wing corporate cousins typically love to amplify allegations that conservatives have been victimized over their speech – but apparently not when the purported victims are their competition. Newsmax hosts have lashed out at Fox for failing to come to its defense, and the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, another Murdoch-controlled outlet, wrote last month that “it’s bewildering why many Republicans are getting involved” in the squabble and criticized Newsmax’s CEO for “trying to bring political and government pressure to bear on DirecTV to force the satellite operator to carry the channel on Newsmax’s terms.”
Update (3/16/23): Language in this piece has been updated for clarity.