When Fox News host Sean Hannity came under fire earlier this month for peddling a discredited conspiracy theory about the killing of a Democratic National Committee staffer, more than a half-dozen advertisers announced they were pulling commercials from his prime-time show.
USAA was among them. The company, which provides financial services to members of the military, said it was withdrawing from several “opinion-based shows,” including Hannity’s program and its counterparts on MSNBC and CNN.
The move apparently didn’t sit well with USAA customers, some of whom accused the company of capitulating to Hannity’s critics. The left-leaning advocacy group Media Matters had published a list of Hannity’s sponsors, which many interpreted as a call to boycott his show.
Now, USAA is backpedaling. In a statement Tuesday, the company said it would resume advertising on “Hannity,” as well as “The Rachel Maddow Show” and “Hardball with Chris Matthews” on MSNBC and “The Lead with Jake Tapper” on CNN.
“We heard from our members and know the decision to stop advertising on these shows created confusion and concern among those who believe USAA was caving to pressure or abandoning someone who is a strong supporter of the military,” the statement read. “This isn’t the case. The decision was based on our advertising policy and not the result of outside pressure or related to anything done or said on these programs.”
USAA said it plans to reinstate all the previously removed ads later this week while it reviews its advertising policy. The company added that it never sought to support one set of views over another.
“We understand that the lines between news and commentary are increasingly blurred,” USAA said. “As such, the review of our policy will seek to determine how best to apply it in the current media environment.”
Hannity has doggedly promoted a conspiratorial account of the death of DNC staffer Seth Rich, who was fatally shot near his home in Northwest Washington last year in what investigators say was a robbery gone wrong.
A Fox News story published in mid-May suggested that Rich, a 27-year-old data analyst, was shot because he had supplied a trove of DNC emails to WikiLeaks. Hannity discussed the account extensively on his show, and other conservative media outlets seized on the allegation, publishing write-ups of their own.
The account has been widely denounced as false. Police say there’s no evidence that Rich had any contact with WikiLeaks. Rich’s parents have pleaded with news organizations to stop spreading rumors about their son’s death.
Facing a wave of criticism, Fox News retracted the article last week, saying it didn’t meet its editorial standards. Hannity, in turn, said that he would stop discussing Rich’s slaying “for now” but continued to tweet about it.
Several advertisers — including Cars.com, the exercise company Peloton and the mattress maker Casper — pulled out of Hannity’s show in response.
“We don’t have the ability to influence content at the time we make our advertising purchase,” Cars.com said in a statement last week. “In this case, we’ve been watching closely and have recently made the decision to pull our advertising from Hannity.”
Brent Bozell, president of the right-leaning Media Research Center, said USAA was making the right move by resuming advertisements on Hannity’s show.
“It goes without saying,” Bozell said Tuesday, “that USAA has not experienced this kind of customer outrage in its entire history.”
Hannity retweeted a friendly message from Bozell, but otherwise didn’t respond to the news on Tuesday.
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