Turning the tables on Media Matters, which has rallied advertisers against several top conservative talk show hosts, two conservative groups are launching new initiatives aiming to adopt the left’s tactics against liberals like Rachel Maddow.
The groups plan to pressure advertisers for left-leaning shows like Maddow’s on MSNBC, in hopes that the sponsors will pull their ads. They charge that Maddow and other liberal hosts are peddling conspiracy theories and smearing conservatives with personal attacks.
They cited reports of alleged coordination between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russian agents as an example of the smears.
Media Research Center, the long-running conservative media watchdog, and a new group called Media Equalizer say for too long the left has successfully pressured advertisers to stop advertising on shows featuring hosts like Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck, who were eventually forced off Fox News, and Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, who have so far fought off their critics.
“Fighting fire with fire is just to point out this can go both ways,” said Brian Maloney, a former conservative radio host heading up the Media Equalizer movement. “We’re trying to show [that] if you’re going to play this game, live or die by this sword. I don’t think the left is used to the right firing back on this.”
MRC President Brent Bozell said in a statement his group will closely monitor “leftist opinion programs” and when the hosts go “beyond political commentary and engage in smear, hate and political extremism,” they will encourage advertisers to push back.
“[W]e will be publicly listing the advertisers of these programs and asking them to defend their decision to continue airing ads on these shows,” Bozell said. “Every time one of their on-air personalities go beyond political commentary and engage in smear and hate, we are going to unleash an army of activists to contact these advertisers by phone and through social media to ask them why they are advertising on programs that are so biased, repulsive and morally bankrupt.”
Maloney and Melanie Morgan, the two figures behind Media Equalizer, are former conservative radio hosts and Fox News regulars who launched their campaign specifically to defend Hannity. At least four advertisers have dropped Hannity’s Fox show because of his pursuit of undocumented theories that murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich was somehow connected to the DNC emails posted by WikiLeaks. A Fox News story that supported the theory was ultimately retracted. Last week, Hannity said he would stop covering the theories “for now” out of respect for the Rich family, which pleaded with Hannity and others to stop politicizing their son’s death.
Hannity and others said such theories would prove that there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
“All Hannity has been doing is asking questions, if there is no Russia-Trump collusion, then is there another source?” Maloney said.
One of Hannity’s advertisers, the veterans’ financial services outlet USAA, reinstated its ads on Hannity’s shows on Tuesday. The group was criticized by conservatives and members of the military, and for a brief moment pulled ads from all opinionated programming including Maddow’s show as well as MSNBC’s “Hardball” and “The Lead” on CNN.
MRC’s effort is targeting the advertisers for MSNBC shows featuring Maddow, Chris Hayes, Al Sharpton, Joy Reid, Chris Matthews, Lawrence O’Donnell and CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Don Lemon, and Fareed Zakaria.
Maloney said Maddow’s constant coverage and insinuations that Trump and his associates are coordinating with Russia has tipped the MSNBC host into conspiracy theory territory, though he did not specifically call out a story or segment that Maddow covered. At least one of the advertisers listed, BP, is not actually an advertiser for Maddow and has been working to clear itself from the list. A special prosecutor recently was named to investigate connections Trump and his associates had with Russia during the campaign, but Maloney said Maddow is taking it a step further.
“Maddow has created a cottage industry out of linking every oligarch in Russia to Trump. It’s more conspiracy mongering than Alex Jones could ever imagine but it’s mainstream because it’s on MSNBC,” he said.
Both Maloney and Morgan have personal history with such campaigns. Maloney said both he and Morgan were fired from previous jobs after pressure campaigns were launched on the local level aimed at their radio shows.
An MSNBC spokesperson declined to comment. A CNN spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.