Laura Ingraham’s auspiciously timed vacation in the midst of a firestorm over her tweet about school shooting survivor David Hogg follows a familiar pattern for Fox News personalities on the hot seat, according to multiple industry insiders.
As the number of sponsors who have pulled ads from “The Ingraham Angle” has swelled, media journalsit Yashar Ali told TheWrap that the network is responding according to a time-worn strategy: “Take a break, don’t poke the tiger, let things calm down.”
The official line is that Ingraham is off the air this week for some “pre-planned” Easter-season R&R, and that she will return to the air. But critics noted the corporate value in giving an off-air break to talent under such heavy fire.
“Fox News uses this vacation tactic to buy time so they can evaluate the long-term prospects of the advertiser actions, as well as viewer sentiment,” former Fox News president Joe Peyronnin told TheWrap on Tuesday.
A Fox News spokesperson said the vacation suggestion “is entirely false” and added: “Joe Peyronnin never ran any part of Fox News Channel, nor was he its president – he failed in every attempt to get a version of Fox News off the ground in the 90’s, yet still embarrassingly claims to be an authority on the network.”
Ingraham’s vacation follows well-timed breaks for network luminaries as Sean Hannity, Jesse Watters and Bill O’Reilly after they riled up heavy opposition — and in several cases, faced down sponsor boycotts of their own.
“It’s very basic crisis communications: Remove the lighting rod from the situation,” Angelo Carusone, president of the liberal media watchdog group Media Matters for America, said. “At Fox, they’re almost essential because their prime time hosts can’t do a show without saying something inflammatory; it’s their business model.”
Hogg, the Parkland, Florida, high school senior, called for a boycott of Ingraham sponsors after she tweeted last Wednesday that he “whines” about his college rejections, urging his online followers to contact her 100-plus recent advertisers from a list published by Media Matters.
So far at least 19 brands have pulled ads from “The Ingraham Angle” despite her tweeted apology to the high schooler-turned-activist.
Fox News’ current co-president Jack Abernethy issued a strong statement of support for Ingraham to the Los Angeles Times, promising her return to the air this Monday.
This is not the first time a Fox News star has stepped off air for a vacations that was announced as planned but conveniently fell when he was in the midst of controversy.
“Uh oh My ANNUAL Memorial Day long weekend starts NOW. Destroy Trump/Conservative media breathless coverage starts! Did Hannity do last show?,” host Sean Hannity joked last May after leaving for his annual Memorial Day vacation — two days early, in the midst of an advertiser revolt following his unfounded speculation about the murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich.
Uh oh My ANNUAL Memorial Day long weekend starts NOW. Destroy Trump/Conservative media breathless coverage starts! Did Hannity do last show?
— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) May 25, 2017
Fox News is currently facing a lawsuit from Rich’s parents over this now retracted article that suggested, without substantiation, that Rich was killed in retaliation for providing DNC emails to WikiLeaks. (Reps for Fox News have not commented on the suit.)
As with Ingraham, the channel vowed at the time that Hannity would return.
“Like the rest of the country, Sean Hannity is taking a vacation for Memorial Day weekend and will be back on Tuesday. Those who suggest otherwise are going to look foolish,” a Fox News spokesperson told TheWrap at the time.
And Hannity did return — as did his colleague Jesse Watters after a sexually charged joke about Ivanka Trump briefly forced him off the air.
But it doesn’t always work that way: Former network ratings king Bill O’Reilly went on vacation last April in the midst of reports about multiple monetary settlements with women who had accused him of sexual harassment as well as the flight of advertisers over the issue — and he was ousted from the network before he could go back on air.
The final broadcast of “O’Reilly Factor,” which ran almost commercial free, promised a full report on the host’s trip to Italy. (At least he got to meet the pope.)
It remains to be seen whether Ingraham — who has only had her own primetime show since last October but has consistently performed well in the ratings — can survive the current firestorm.
Even Fox News contributor Geraldo Rivera said Monday that he couldn’t say for sure how the Ingraham situation would shake out. “It’s not going to be an easy road,” he told TheWrap.
Peyronnin thinks that the response of both the network and the host has been lacking so far. “Regretfully, Fox News executives are trying to change the subject to censorship and ‘agenda driven-intimidation’ in order to appeal to Ingraham supporters,” he said, adding that the host would be better served by offering a fuller mea culpa than the one she gave last week.
“An appropriate and heartfelt apology by Ingraham is the responsible course of action,” he said.