NEW YORK — The USAA financial services firm is reinstating its advertising on Sean Hannity’s Fox News Channel program after receiving heavy criticism for its initial decision from many of the military members and veterans that it serves.
The San Antonio, Texas-based company said Tuesday it will also start advertising again on other programs where it had suspended ads, including “Hardball” and “The Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC, and Jake Tapper’s “The Lead” on CNN.
Following Hannity’s reporting on a discredited conspiracy theory involving the death of a Democratic National Committee staff member, the liberal advocacy group Media Matters last week posted a list of his show’s advertisers — and USAA was one of 10 to say it was pulling its commercials. At the time, the USAA said the company’s policy was to avoid politically opinionated shows.
But many of USAA’s customers reacted angrily, and it didn’t help when the company’s advertising on other opinion shows was pointed out. USAA said it wasn’t trying to favor one set of political views over another.
“We heard concerns from many members who watch and listen to these programs,” USAA said in a statement on Tuesday. “Our goal in advertising has always been to reach members of the military community who would benefit from USAA’s well-known commitment to service. Today, the lines between news and editorial are increasingly blurred.”
The advertising is returning while the company reviews its policy about avoiding the opinion shows.
Hannity was due to return to Fox Tuesday following a brief vacation. He had said he would no longer talk about the shooting death of Seth Rich last year following pleas from the man’s family, although his network had retracted an online story about Rich because it hadn’t met its reporting standards.
Brent Bozell, president of the conservative Media Research Center, said he wasn’t surprised by USAA’s decision, “given the avalanche” of protests. His group was behind mobilizing that backlash, and said its members generated more than 1,600 phone calls to USAA within 48 hours.
“They did the right thing in going back on that show,” he said, “and so long as the other side isn’t participating in personal smears, they should participate on those shows, too.”
Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters, said the incident illustrates his belief that Hannity is volatile and dangerous for advertisers to be involved with.
“Many are currently experiencing firsthand that doing business with Hannity means subjecting your brand to one potential PR crisis after another,” he said.