Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch
Fox News chief Roger Ailes, left, and Rupert Murdoch (Richard Drew/Associated Press)

In a very popular segment last Friday, Fox News host Megyn Kelly shredded the comments of some male commentators in her network family. Guys including Lou Dobbs, Erick Erickson and Juan Williams had said some alarmist things about a Pew Research Center study that concluded mothers are the sole or primary provider in 40 percent of U.S. households with children. In the segment, Kelly replayed the controversial statements, the better to tee up a lively conversation about family and work in modern America.

So Fox News had no problem reairing the sexist meanderings of Dobbs and Erickson and Williams.

Until that material came in a different package. As Laura Bassett of the Huffington Post has reported, Fox News rejected an advertisement from UltraViolet, an anti-sexism group. The advertisement used the footage of Dobbs, Erickson and Williams, though not in the most flattering of ways: It asked for their firings for expressing alarm over the rise of female breadwinners. “Tell Fox to retire Lou Dobbs, Erick Erickson and Juan Williams — and spare them the pain of equality.” (See ad at foot of this post).

When asked what rationale Fox News used to reject the advertisement, UltraViolet co-founder Nita Chaudhary forwarded an e-mail from the group’s media buyer, Buying Time, LLC. Here’s what it said:

Team – Just heard back from Fox Business. Unfortunately, Fox has rejected the ad. Due to their copyright rules, they can’t air an ad that uses their material in a spot.

A more thoroughly logic-defying explanation the Erik Wemple Blog hasn’t seen in some time. Our layblog’s understanding of copyright is that it allows you to use your own material in any way you wish. An e-mail appeal to Fox News regarding how Fox doesn’t control Fox material hasn’t yet fetched a response. Perhaps Fox has its own set of internal “copyright rules.”

The weirdness doesn’t stop there, however. Watch the ad. It’s a simple 30-second spot and makes highly selective use of Fox News programming; it singles out the Fox news commentary for criticism and advocacy, not for commercial gain; and it in no way competes with or substitutes for Fox News programming; that is, no one would watch the ad instead of tuning into Fox News for their dose of news and commentary.

There! The ad in question thus appears to comply with the multi-part test for fair use under U.S. copyright law. What this means is that UltraViolet would be within its rights to place this advertisement not only on Fox News but other video platforms as well. “It would clearly be protected under fair use,” says Clay Calvert, an University of Florida professor who’s often quoted in this space. “They’re really searching for a rationale or a reason” to turn down the ad.

And such a rationale isn’t hard to fathom, either. Why wouldn’t Fox News be a little more direct here? As in: We’re a billion-dollar cable news network, and we don’t need your money.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.