Advertiser boycott of Tucker Carlson’s show raises concerns over corporate censorship

March 13, 2019

Advertiser boycott of Tucker Carlson’s show raises concerns over corporate censorship Gage Skidmore / CCL

Tucker Carlson talks a lot about free speech on his show, and there’s a good reason why.

The Fox host is facing a left-wing advertiser boycott that could, if successful, effectively get him fired from his own program. The pundit is under fire after making crude comments on a radio show more than a decade ago, including remarks that women are “primitive.”

But over and above the controversy itself, the spat over Carlson is the tip of the spear in an attempt by the left to stifle free speech — and that should be alarming to everyone.

Free speech under attack?

On Sunday, Media Matters for America published a recording from a “shock jock” radio show hosted by “Bubba the Love Sponge” (whose real name is Todd Alan Clem), which Carlson reportedly called in to frequently between 2006 to 2011. On the recording, Carlson made comments that some labeled as homophobic and misogynistic.

That recording was followed by others that resurfaced this week in which Carlson called Iraqis “semi-literate primitive monkeys” and made sexual comments about a then-17-year-old teen beauty pageant contestant.

The recordings have set off a firestorm of outrage from left-wing organizations and liberal talking heads demanding that Carlson apologize and lose his job. Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and bedding company Sheex are among the companies that have pulled advertising from Carlson’s show over his latest remarks, adding to a list of now more than 30 companies that have boycotted his program over controversial comments in the last few months.

But to Carlson and his supporters, the pressure campaign to nix his show is just the latest left-wing attack on free speech. “Since the day we went on the air, they’ve been working hard to kill this show,” Carlson lamented on Monday.

Corporate censorship?

Critics argue that Carlson’s advertisers have a First Amendment right to pull their programming from his show — and they do — but the implications of this boycott are far-reaching and troubling. If successful, an advertiser boycott could effectively get Carlson fired from his own show — for comments he made more than a decade ago.

And this is not the first time left-wing groups have tried to shut him down. Carlson began losing advertisers in December amid a pressure campaign by left-wing advocates like Media Matters over comparatively mild comments: that immigration makes the country “dirtier” and “poorer.”

Meanwhile, other Fox hosts are facing similar challenges. Jeanine Pirro, who hosts the Saturday Fox program Justice with Judge Jeanine, is facing a boycott over comments she made about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and Carlson’s fellow primetime anchor Laura Ingraham was targeted last year over comments about gun control activist David Hogg.

Indeed, the Carlson spat is just the latest instance in a trend of left-wing-driven corporate censorship, as Big Tech companies with liberal leanings and advertisers fleeing Fox squeeze conservative opinion. But while corporations certainly have a right to advertise with whomever they wish, many see a double-standard at play; MSNBC’s Joy Reid, for example, never faced consequences over homophobic comments she made in old blog posts.

Left-wing attack on freedom

Some on the left argue that Carlson is not facing censorship; he’s simply being held accountable for offensive comments. But it’s not as simple as that.

As Carlson pointed out in a monologue on the scandal that savaged politically correct outrage culture Tuesday night, the mob is playing a one-sided game. While conservatives are ruined and punished for even mildly offensive comments, liberals never seem to face accountability for hateful remarks toward conservatives, Christians, or whatever other identity group it’s fashionable to hate.

Moreover, while Carlson’s comments were crude and offensive, many on the right see the Media Matters-led campaign as an attempt to intimidate and silence a talented and provocative conservative pundit. Carlson is known for his incisive commentary, which often targets the “elites,” the progressive left, and politically correct outrage culture.

Simply put, the controversy over Carlson has troubling implications: if the mob decides to ruin somebody (and let’s face it, they hated Carlson before the audio “resurfaced”), then they can, and will, leverage the power of corporations to destroy their career and reputation.

Carlson isn’t wrong to go after the left-wing mob. Him losing his program would set a dangerous precedent for free speech.

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Matthew Boose

Matthew Boose is a staff writer for Conservative Institute. He has a Bachelor's degree from Stony Brook University and has contributed to The Daily Caller and The Stony Brook Press.