CNN and MSNBC have separately decided to accept an ad for a film about American Nazis that Fox News rejected, the filmmakers told The Washington Post on Friday.
The news networks will run the 30-second spot during “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer” and “The Rachel Maddow Show” on Monday. The ad is for the short film “A Night at the Garden,” which has been nominated for an Oscar in the category of documentary short and contains potent footage of a 1939 Nazi rally in New York.
“We decided to dig deep and pay for television ads we weren’t planning to buy because we wanted to make the point that Fox News is out of the mainstream,” the movie’s director, Marshall Curry, told The Post, adding that he believed the network’s rejection of the ad was politically motivated. “It says something that some news channels trust their audience to interpret American history while Fox distrusts its audience and doesn’t think it can do that.”
A spokesman for NBCUniversal said the company had initially rejected the ad for MSNBC because an NBCUniversal standards group deemed the content too provocative. But the group then gave the filmmakers notes on potential changes that would make the ad acceptable for its airwaves, in particular saying the ad would need context before diving into the Nazi footage. The filmmakers responded by adding a title card explaining the footage was part of an Oscar-nominated film. The ad was then accepted.
“We wanted to make sure viewers had full understanding and appropriate context of this ad. And the filmmakers were open to feedback to make a change,” the spokesman, Joe Benarroch, told The Post.
A CNN spokeswoman did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Asked about the new developments, a Fox News spokeswoman re-sent a statement from earlier in the week by president of ad sales Marianne Gambelli which said the “ad in question is full of disgraceful Nazi imagery regardless of the film’s message and did not meet our guidelines.”
Curry’s film is a vérité look at the New York rally held by the Bund, an American Nazi party, which drew 20,000 supporters to Madison Square Garden on Feb. 20, 1939, almost exactly 80 years ago. According to its filmmakers, it is intended as a warning about demagoguery in the current political climate under President Trump. The ad is meant to spread the word about the movie and increase digital viewership ahead of the Oscars later this month.
Curry said filmmakers had paid Charter Communication’s Spectrum in Los Angeles to run an ad during “Hannity” on Monday specifically to reach Trump supporters and awaken them to similarities with the man they support. Fox News quickly sought to distance itself from that spot at the time, telling The Post, “We have no control over what airs locally.” (The ad was bumped because of breaking news and was scheduled to air Thursday.)
Curry and producer Field of Vision, through the marketing firm Cinetic, then sought to buy national ad time for the spot directly from Fox News. They were rejected.
Anna Barnes, an executive at Cinetic, said the decision to buy national ad time happened as online views for the ad began coming in Monday. She said that the ad had garnered a larger audience than anticipated, and it resulted in a bigger budget to fund the national Fox play. When that was rejected, the group took the ad to other news networks. The Oscar campaign is being financed by Field of Vision, which is owned by First Look Media, the company co-founded by journalist Glenn Greenwald.
Filmmakers initially wanted the ad to air during “Hannity” because they believed it would have more impact with Trump supporters than with viewers of other networks. “The point of the spot is less about rallying people who are already worried [about demagoguery] than reaching people who don’t realize how dangerous this tactic is,” Curry said Monday. But he said Friday that he believes a broad audience also brought benefits.
“Maddow” trails “Hannity” in total viewers, but the gap has not been large during the Trump era; in 2018, the shows averaged 2.9 million and 3.3 million viewers, respectively. “The Situation Room” lags further behind.
The controversy over the “Garden” ad touches on debates about Trump’s presidency and the most effective way to discuss its policies. Curry said he hoped Fox News and those who supported the network would watch the spot and embrace it.
“Anyone who’s fair-minded would see there’s nothing offensive about it,” Curry said. “I’d love to get a call from Fox saying they rethought this and will air it. But I’d also love for viewers to hear about this and say, ‘Wait, what is it about this ad that I need to be protected by it from Fox News?’”