From the May 27 edition of CNN's Smerconish:
MICHAEL SMERCONISH (HOST): Fox News Sean Hannity has been pushing a conspiracy theory about the killing of DNC staffer Seth Rich tying his death to the WikiLeaks email hack. After the Rich family complained, as did several of Hannity's own colleagues, Fox retracted a story from its website saying it was “not initially subject to the high degree of editorial scrutiny that we require.” But Hannity didn't back down, he merely pledged to stop talking about it “for now,” out of respect for the be bereaved.
SEAN HANNITY: The unsolved murder of former DNC staffer Seth Rich continues to get a huge amount of attention. However, out of respect for the family's wishes for now, I am not discussing this matter at this time.
SMERCONISH: Enter Media Matters, the politically progressive media watchdog group that has already spearheaded the advertiser boycott of Fox anchor Bill O'Reilly over his sexual harassment leading to O'Reilly's departure. This week, they published 75 things to know about Sean Hannity, providing links to his other controversial stances and published a list of his advertisers. Hannity then responded on air and on Twitter by labeling the move, quote, “liberal fascism. Media Matters for America is targeting my advertisers to silence my voice, they hope to get me fired. Rush, O'Reilly, Beck, Imus, and now me.”
Joining me now the president of Media Matters, Angelo Carusone. Angelo, you say you're not leading this campaign, I read your statement, but that he is essentially running a campaign against himself, I'm paraphrasing, but you're certainly goosing it along, right?
ANGELO CARUSONE: I am trying to provide information about Sean Hannity to people that have to make business decisions about their relationship with Sean Hannity. And I think that if there was nothing objectionable or concerning to both the businesses as well as to Sean Hannity, I don't think you would have seen the reaction from him or the advertisers that you've seen.
SMERCONISH: I'm referencing the posting of a list of his advertisers. We can put that up on the screen.
SMERCONISH: My question is why not run a campaign that says hey, what he's saying is offensive, turn him off, instead of trying to exert leverage on the advertisers -- because you and I had this conversation before relative to Bill O'Reilly. To me it gets to the realm of censorship. Why can't you reach the audience instead.
CARUSONE: I don't think that it is censorship if a company doesn't want to associate with or give money to a personality. I'm not saying Sean Hannity shouldn't be able to say the things he says, I'm just saying that businesses should have some intentionality behind their advertising. One thing that happened during the Bill O'Reilly flair up was that it was very clear that advertisers weren't being intentional about where they were putting their money. So, what we have been doing is working with media buyers to say, look, just ask yourself the question, do I know where I'm advertising, and is it intentional. And if the answer is yes, fine, then they'll have to deal with the volatility or the consequences if that's who they choose to associate themselves with. But if the answer is no, I don't know that, then at least inform yourself, and then see if you're comfortable with your decision. And that's sort of where we're at right now.
SMERCONISH: But it kind of presupposes that they don't know what they're buying, right? I would think that if I'm one of the advertisers, I've investigated the product and I've made some value judgment, that is until Media Matters leans on me.
CARUSONE: We agree. They actually don't know what they're buying. That's been the exact issue. That's why you see the reaction that you see. That's why a campaign or attacking the advertisers or criticizing them or pressuring them to leave Sean Hannity was not necessary because they actually don't know. Many of them do not know that their ads are running on programs like Sean Hannity. To the extent they become aware of that, they don't really know the depth of volatility or riskiness associated with Sean Hannity's programming. They might think of him as just another conservative talker, they don't fully recognize just how volatile he actually is. He's at war with both Fox News right now and his own advertisers that are still on the program. The guy is an incredibly volatile and a bad bet.
SMERCONISH: I want to ask you which of two headlines is more accurate. Put them up on the screen. Both from yesterday. One from The New York Times which says, “In Controversy, Hannity Isn't Seeing Advertisers' Exodus That O'Reilly Did.” The LA Times, Stephen Battaglio, “Sean hannity goes on vacation as some advertisers drop out of his show.” What's the deal according to Media Matters? Are advertisers fleeing Hannity like they did O'Reilly?
CARUSONE: So, I think both of those headlines are accurate. No, advertisers are not leaving Sean Hannity's program at the speed at which they were leaving [Bill O'Reilly's], that's just the case. That's good, there actually isn't a massive campaign here, it's literally just asking the question. All we have done is hold up a mirror. However, it is true, advertisers are leaving Sean Hannity's program. The moment that many have become aware of that, they have made the decision that's not what they want to be associated with. In fact one company, Crowne Plaza were so upset that their ads were running in the first place, that they fired their media buyer. And I think it's a lesson to all media buyers out there, that if you're going to place ads, just do it intentionally. That's all I'm saying here, is just have some intentionality behind your advertising strategy.
SMERCONISH: Final question: has it occurred to you that you may create yet another conservative behemoth, because if you're successful in dislodging Hannity, maybe he pals up with O'Reilly and heads over to, say, NewsMax.
CARUSONE: That very calculus further reassures the idea that I am not out there just trying to drive these people away, or have censorship or shut them down. All I want is some intentionality behind where people put their money. And I do think that, frankly, I think that media buyers are grateful for what we're doing right now. Because what we're doing is educating them and informing them about a risky business association that they have right now, and they have a chance to avoid the next controversy. Because what Sean Hannity did with Seth Rich's story, resurrecting this oldconspiracy from last summer and hurting these people's families -- this is not a one off, this is part of his business model, and it is a bad business model. And many of the companies that are paying for that business model don't even know it. I'm not trying to shut them down, I just think if you're going to, you should have intentionality in this market place. And I think Sean Hannity leading a campaign to pressure advertisers, and stoke it as he's been doing, and launching this 'we go if he goes' boycott that he started is not going to help matters at all, and is only going to further antagonize and inflame the situation, and lastly reinforces and proves the point that Sean Hannity is volatile and bad business.