Pressured by the left, Fox News drops the hammer on Judge Jeanine

March 20, 2019

Pressured by the left, Fox News drops the hammer on Judge Jeanine Peter Bond / CCL

Fox News’ apparent decision to suspend Judge Jeanine Pirro for two weeks over “Islamophobic” comments indicates that the network is in a tough spot.

As the conservative media giant fends off separate advertiser boycotts against Pirro and Tucker Carlson, some see signs of capitulation in Fox’s decision making.

On the one hand, Fox risks upsetting its fan base — including President Donald Trump — by caving to the radical left. But the network is also under intense pressure from protesters, and a separate primary debate ban from the Democratic party, that is hitting them where it hurts.

Fox in a bind over Pirro controversy

Justice with Judge Jeanine did not air last weekend in the wake of an advertiser boycott against the Fox host, who has been under fire for comments attacking Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN). CNN reported that Pirro won’t be back for a couple weeks after Pirro questioned whether Omar’s practice of wearing a hijab was an indication that she cannot be loyal to the United States. Carlson faced a separate search-and-destroy effort led by progressive group Media Matters over offensive comments he made on a shock jock radio program years ago.

Fox stood with Carlson, but threw Pirro under the bus. Their divided decision-making shows the network struggling to navigate a difficult political calculus, as they work to avoid the wrath of the far-left without giving up their best and brightest pundits to the mob.

By firing Pirro, Fox stands to upset some of the network’s biggest fans. President Trump urged the network to stand by Pirro in a Sunday tweet blast, warning, “Don’t hand it to them on a silver platter. They can’t beat you, you can only beat yourselves!”

However, it may not be so simple for Fox, which has been shedding advertisers from both Carlson’s and Pirro’s shows. The network was forced to hold an “emergency meeting” this week to figure out how to stem the outflow of ad revenue.

And an emergency it is. As advertisers flee, the leftist Media Matters hasn’t wasted any time going in for the kill shot. The group sent demonstrators to protest outside Fox’s headquarters this week demanding that advertisers cut ties with the network.

Media Matters has long waged a personal war against Fox, and its recent attacks on the network show a marked escalation in the group’s efforts to take the network down. And Fox seems to be feeling the pressure.

An offering to the mob?

Fox is caught in the crossfire of an increasingly polarized media environment, as left and right-wing groups look to poach, or protect, journalists over political speech. Fox now faces separate pressure campaigns: one from left-wing groups seeking to destroy Pirro and Carlson, and another from their own viewers. Some 20,000 people have signed on board with lobbying group Act for America’s call to write to Fox CEO Suzanne Scott demanding Pirro’s reinstatement.

It follows a pattern that is becoming increasingly frequent in today’s scorched earth activist politics: left-wing groups instigate boycott, conservatives respond with counter-boycott, and networks like Fox get caught in the middle. Through it all, Media Matters and their ilk seem to be increasingly emboldened in their efforts to dominate discourse and bring the few islands of dissent like Fox to heel. Are their efforts working?

Another decision on Fox’s part may give a hint. It came as an insult to Pirro supporters when, even as Fox disciplined Pirro, the network hired Democrat Donna Brazile as a contributor (liberals weren’t happy either).

Some might read this hiring decision within the context of the Democratic party’s recent snub against the network. Indeed, the twin Carlson and Pirro controversies came just after Fox lost an opportunity to host Democratic party debates, a coveted job for any news outlet, over what party chairman Tom Perez denounces as an inappropriately close relationship between Fox News and the president.

Pirro is a friend of Trump, and Fox rebuked the host in the fall when she appeared with Sean Hannity at a Trump rally. That event demonstrated Fox News’ independence from its pundits while, at the same time, presaging bigger problems for Fox when it comes to managing its opinion talent.

Things only seem to be getting trickier for the network. Is Fox giving up Pirro because of pressure from the left? If so, they will only incur the wrath of their viewers.

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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.