On Monday’s segment of his prime-time show, Fox News host Tucker Carlson cast doubt on the reasons behind the worldwide unrest prompted by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month.
“This may be a lot of things, this moment we are living through,” Carlson said. “But it is definitely not about Black lives, and remember that when they come for you. And at this rate, they will.”
Since he made those statements and others, prominent companies including The Walt Disney Co., Papa John’s, Poshmark and T-Mobile have distanced themselves from “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” joining other businesses that have backed away from the show in recent years.
The flight of advertisers accelerated Tuesday, when watchdog group Sleeping Giants tagged T-Mobile in a Twitter post, saying that Fox News had aired what amounted to an “extremely racist segment scaremongering about the Black community.”
The telecommunications giant responded on Twitter, saying that its ads had not run on the show since early May and would not run in the future. Mike Sievert, T-Mobile’s chief executive, added a post of his own: “Bye-bye, Tucker Carlson!”
Fox News said that Carlson was referring to Democratic leaders, not protesters, when he said “they” in his remarks on Monday night’s program.
“No matter what they tell you, it has very little to do with Black lives,” Carlson had said. “If only it did.”
Advertiser disavowals of the show gained momentum Wednesday, after the newsletter Popular Information highlighted that Disney had run commercials 29 times on Carlson’s program this year. The entertainment giant responded by saying that it had asked the third-party media agency that placed the ads, which were for Disney’s ABC network, to stop doing so on the show.
Papa John’s, a pizza chain that was the center of an uproar in 2018 over a racial slur used by its founder, also backed away from Carlson. The company said that Havas, its media agency, placed a general buy for ad space across several cable news networks and left the positioning of the spots up to the networks.
Papa John’s began advertising on cable only after the pandemic began, as live sports and other content disappeared. It has run ads on “The Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC and “CNN Tonight With Don Lemon.”
After Carlson’s comments, Papa John’s said in a statement that it would stop spending on opinion shows, noting that “placement of advertising is not intended to be an endorsement of any specific programming or commentary.”
Steven Tristan Young, chief marketing officer of Poshmark, said in a statement Thursday that the e-commerce company stopped advertising on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on June 2.
“We do not agree with the comments he made on his show and stand in solidarity with those who seek to advance racial justice and equality,” Young said.
Companies are trying to be especially sensitive amid the nationwide reckoning over race. Many, including Disney, T-Mobile, Poshmark and Papa John’s, have posted messages on social media in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Others have been advertising less in recent weeks.
Carlson has spoken harshly about the unrest, urging a more severe crackdown on protests. In a segment posted to YouTube on June 1, which was preceded by a note that it could be “inappropriate or offensive to some audiences,” he chided Vice President Mike Pence for having “scolded America for its racism” and told President Donald Trump that “people will not forgive weakness.”
Fox News said the advertiser departures had not caused the network to suffer a financial hit overall, noting that the commercials that would have run nationwide on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” had moved to other programs on the network.
On Thursday night, a hashtag campaign — #IStandWithTucker — sprang up on Twitter, with his fans appending it to messages of support for the host. As the phrase made the list of the platform’s trending topics, Carlson’s detractors tweeted insults at the host and the network that employs him while making use of the same hashtag.
Carlson, who recently sold his stake in the conservative site The Daily Caller, has lost major advertisers in the past few years. Dozens of companies, including Pacific Life, Farmers Insurance and IHOP, have distanced themselves following his on-air comments about white supremacy, immigrants and women.
But his show remains a linchpin of the Fox News lineup, drawing 4.8 million viewers last week. So far this year, “Tucker Carlson Tonight” generated 16% of ad revenue for Fox News, according to iSpot.tv, the television ads measurement company. Out of $75 million in total spending, more than a third came from a single advertiser: MyPillow, a pillow manufacturer in Minnesota run by Mike Lindell, a supporter of Trump who appeared at a White House Rose Garden news briefing in March.
This month, Carlson has so far attracted 20% of Fox News’ ad revenue, compared with 11% during the same period last year. (Fox News said that figure was not accurate but declined to provide corroborating data.)
Few major brands remain on Carlson’s program. Several major media buyers said they did not have clients with recent spots on the show.
Alongside spots from the computer security brand Norton, skin care brand Proactiv and Trump’s reelection campaign, recent ads have included a beet powder company that has used gun rights personality Dana Loesch as a spokeswoman, a foot fungus treatment brand and several law firms, according to iSpot.tv.