Courtesy of Tribune News Service

Opinion: Free market, not liberals, behind Hannity advertiser pullout

Sean Hannity is a man who thrives on controversy. It fuels viewership, and Hannity’s particularly combative and divisive take on current events has made his show one of the most consistently popular on cable television. However, the controversy can get away from him sometimes. Last Thursday, on his radio show, Hannity appeared to defend Republican senate candidate Roy Moore against allegations of sexual misconduct towards minors during his time as assistant district attorney in Alabama. The backlash was swift. Despite later clarifying his statement, calls went up for advertisers to ditch Hannity’s show over the comments. As it currently stands, Hannity has lost 11 advertisers, including Volvo and Keurig.

In response to this loss of advertisers, some conservative pundits and commenters have taken a particularly interesting approach to the backlash — boycotting Keurig. What’s more, some have even destroyed their Keurigs. While going as far as destroying a product that cuts ties with Hannity or other conservative media outlets is beyond the norm, criticism and calls for boycotts are not.  

When Bill O’Reilly’s show lost over 50 advertisers and was subsequently canceled over allegations of sexual harassment, conservative pundits and commenters complained that it was an attack by the left. When Hannity lost advertisers over his continued support for the debunked conspiracy theory on the murder of Seth Rich, a democratic staffer, pundits and commenters complained that this was, again, some sort of left-wing plot to silence conservative media. This most recent controversy has been viewed, yet again, as a plot of sorts. These hot takes miss something however, the mechanisms of a free market.  

Conservatives from Ron Paul to Paul Ryan love the buzzwords free market. Whenever there seems to be an issue in this country, conservatives believe that a free market solution will sort it out. Yet, in these cases of advertisers executing their rights in a free market to pull content that disagrees with their position or casts their brand in a bad light, conservative pundits and commenters work themselves into a tizzy bashing the left for what really amounts to a sensible business decision.  

Media figures and shows, left or right leaning, have no right to force companies to advertise with them. Companies advertise where they believe their product will get the most exposure to a population willing and able to buy their product. Political ideology is rarely taken into account. What does matter, however, is the context in which these ads are viewed. Companies may be less inclined to air advertisements on a show, network or website that generates a lot of controversy. Stormfront, a white supremacist message board, is almost entirely devoid of ads. Infowars, home of conspiracy-theorist-in-chief Alex Jones, advertises mostly useless survivalist gear. There’s a reason for this. From the perspective of these companies and many consumers, advertisements and sponsorships can be viewed as abject support for the message or content of where they advertise. In many ways, it can be seen as taking a side.

With that in mind, it's not at all surprising that companies pulled their ads from Hannity’s show. His peddling of conspiracy theories and perceived support of Roy Moore was far more controversy than they were willing to deal with. This isn’t some isolated trend with an inherent bias against conservatives either. Google lost advertisers earlier this year when advertisements for AT&T and Verizon, among several others, appeared next to videos they considered hate speech. Earlier this month, Papa John’s “scaled back” some of its links to the NFL in response to the issue of kneeling during the national anthem.  

It’s also worth noting that some companies have political views. Exercising these views within a free market, such as pulling advertisements from outlets that don’t align with them or pandering to specific political orientations, is well within their rights. It’s not some grand conspiracy, rather, it’s capitalism.  

So, go ahead, break your Keurig, boycott Volvo, utilize your rights as consumers within a free market. This is what that beloved free market is about, companies attempting to make money and consumers voting with their wallet. Just realize that this isn’t some liberal conspiracy against Hannity, Fox or any other conservative, this is just the invisible hand of the free market giving you the finger.  

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