Pittsburgh-based StarKist criticized for advertising on controversial Fox News show | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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Pittsburgh-based StarKist criticized for advertising on controversial Fox News show

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StarKist headquarters on the North Side - CP PHOTO: RYAN DETO
  • CP photo: Ryan Deto
  • StarKist headquarters on the North Side
On May 30, a graphic was shown on the Fox News program The Ingraham Angle showing several right-wing media personalities who had been kicked off of Facebook. The title of the graphic read “Prominent voices censored from social media,” and the show’s host, Laura Ingraham, said, “Facebook now, what do they monitor now, ‘hate?’ That sounds good until you realize … it’s people who believe in border enforcement, people who believe in national sovereignty.”

But, the graphic was more sinister than Ingraham implied. Not only did it include known conspiracy-theorist Alex Jones, but one of the people pictured for being “censored” was Paul Nehlen, a white supremacist who had celebrated the actions of Robert Bowers, the Tree of Life shooter who allegedly killed 11 people in Squirrel Hill last October.

During an appearance on alt-right podcast "Goy Talk" in April, Nehlen can be seen wearing a shirt showing the face of Bowers and the quote of one of Bowers' last known social media post “Screw your optics, I am going in.” Bowers sent this post shortly before allegedly carrying out the Tree of Life mass shooting.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, during this April podcast, Nehlen said, “I’m not opposed to someone … leading a million Robert Bowers to the promised land.”



The inclusion of Nehlen led to criticism of Ingraham and Fox News. Pharmaceutical giant Bayer pulled its advertisements from Ingraham’s show and other Fox News shows. Over the last year or so, several large companies pulled ads from Fox News shows which have amped up anti-immigrant and hateful rhetoric.

But one large company has kept its advertisements on Laura Ingraham’s show and other Fox News programs: the Pittsburgh-based StarKist tuna company. And with StarKist’s ties directly to Pittsburgh, some groups are criticizing its continued funding of Ingraham’s show.

Jonathan Mayo, of Bend the Arc Pittsburgh, says that StarKist should pull its advertising from The Ingraham Angle and other Fox News programs in light of Ingraham defending Nehlen. 

Bend the Arc Pittsburgh is a progressive Jewish organization that advocates for immigrant rights, healthcare access, and increased voting rights. Bend the Arc was heavily involved in the advocacy following the Tree of Life shooting, including organizing a large march.

“I don’t know when it became okay to financially support people who support such violent rhetoric,” says Mayo. “A company that has roots with Pittsburgh, where this atrocity occurred, it is even more shocking that they would support any program that defended Robert Bowers.”
Mayo says his request for StarKist to pull its ads doesn’t reflect the official views of Bend the Arc Pittsburgh, but said the organization might consider taking on an official advocacy campaign to address StarKist’s role advertising on some Fox News programs.

StarKist, which operates out of offices on the North Side but is owned by the South Korean Dongwon Industries, released a statement to City Paper saying, “We do not endorse individual opinions. Our television ads appear on a number of cable networks as part of our national media buy.” They didn’t indicate whether they would pull ads from Ingraham’s show.

Following criticism, Fox News released a statement saying, “It is obscene to suggest that Laura Ingraham was defending Paul Nehlen’s despicable actions especially when some of the names on the graphic were pulled from an Associated Press report on best known political extremists banned from Facebook. Anyone who watches Laura’s show knows that she is a fierce protector of freedom of speech and the intent of the segment was to highlight the growing trend of unilateral censorship in America.” The AP report cites several personalities that were banned from Facebook for hate speech.

According to information gathered by Media Matters, a nonprofit that tracks advertising on conservative media, StarKist advertised on Fox News 356 times from January 1 through June 1 of this year. This includes five ads on Ingraham’s show following the May 30 episode. Comparatively, StarKist has placed 184 ads on CNN and zero ads on MSNBC through the first five months of 2019.
From May 30 edition of Fox News' The Ingraham Angle - SCREENSHOT OF FOX NEWS
  • Screenshot of Fox News
  • From May 30 edition of Fox News' The Ingraham Angle
Media Matters calls StarKist a leading advertiser on Ingraham’s show, where it has advertised at least 58 times this year. StarKist is also a leading advertiser on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show, Tucker Carlson Tonight.

Media Matters president Angelo Carusone says StarKist actually has a significant role in keeping Ingraham’s show afloat. Ingraham has lost dozens of advertisers after mocking Parkland Shooting survivor and activist David Hogg and other comments that echoed white nationalist rhetoric.

Carusone says StarKist's presence as a “Blue Chip” brand is used by Fox News to convince the brands that haven’t left that the program is still safe to advertise on.

“Any company that actually cares about its brand has walked away,” says Carusone. “When a company like StarKist stays, they actually get to run them more frequently and then they will leverage that, signal to other advertisers that, ‘well, they are still here.’ … It helps them make the case that they are not so toxic.”

Carusone says pulling ads, or hitting Fox News financially, is the only way to alter the messaging of its shows.

“Most of the real accountability comes when a bunch of the companies call their media buyers,” says Carusone.
On June 14, Ingraham criticized African migrants and refugees for moving to Maine.

“The Congo and other African countries, they are repopulating Portland, Maine, with a huge contingent of these immigrants, these migrants,” said Ingraham. “It is overwhelming the Maine authorities.”

Bowers espoused similar, if more extreme, anti-immigrant rhetoric. He wrote on social media that immigrants were “hostile invaders.” According to CNN, Bowers said that “invaders” were killing his people.

The same day that Ingraham criticized African immigrants, the Bangor Daily News published an article detailing how welcoming the Portland community has been to the new international arrivals.

Mayo says that he isn’t surprised by the continued hateful rhetoric coming from Fox News personalities. But he says he is ashamed that companies like StarKist are continuing to advertise with those views.

“It has become so normalized by Fox News, and by association, corporations like StarKist,” says Mayo.

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