Of Course Ad Boycotts Are Legitimate

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More than a dozen advertisers now say that they’re jumping ship from Laura Ingraham’s Fox News show after she laughed at 17-year-old Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg for getting declined by a few colleges. Ingraham herself is on now on a “pre-planned” vacation amid the advertiser exodus, mimicking disgraced former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly’s “pre-planned”—and final—vacation last year. Hogg continues to push the ad boycott ahead, and per usual, there’s some discussion among media types about whether such tactics are cool or not.

CNN host Brian Stelter—who has chided Hogg’s rhetoric before—raised the issue with panelists on Sunday’s Reliable Sources, sharing his own view up front:

I’m personally pretty wary of this. I think it’s dangerous to see these ad boycott attempts happening more and more often in this country.

My view is let’s not shut down anyone’s right to speak. Let’s meet their comments with more speech. Lets try to respond that way.


Stelter is right that ad boycotts seem increasingly common, as critics of various outlets or programs can quickly organize people online to put public pressure on advertisers. Such efforts are at times led by media savvy figures, like Hogg, or by advocacy groups, like Media Matters for America. Fox News and its hosts have been particularly common targets.

But are ad boycotts acceptable forms of protest? The question is often asked amid such controversies—often by TV hosts who, what a coincidence, rely on advertiser support—and the short answer is: of course!


Jameel Jaffer, director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, put the argument in constitutional terms on Monday:


In other words: Ingraham has every right to use her huge national platform to make fun of high school students. But she has no ordained right to unlimited advertising revenue with no ethical strings attached. People are exercising their free speech rights to pressure brands, which are exercising their free speech rights by fleeing a tainted show. And if Fox decides its host’s position is untenable and gets rid of her, it’d be exercising its free speech rights, too. Ingraham is free to keep talking wherever she pleases.