How we took Tucker Carlson Tonight off the air

Radicalizing for engagement is only half a business model. The other half is ads.

Hey folks, Nandini here.

Tucker Carlson has something new in common with Breitbart, Bill O’Reilly, Dan Bongino and Steve Bannon: he’s lost to Sleeping Giants.

Sleeping Giants — the social media campaign I co-founded in 2016 — is now the common denominator in the fall of every major media figure in hate speech and disinformation. Our campaign to make bigotry and hate unprofitable now has a 100% success rate. Not too shabby, eh?

The first Sleeping Giants Tweet On November 16, 2016

The targets of our campaigns have never recovered. Bill O’Reilly now barks in an empty corner over at NewsNation. Bongino has been permabanned from YouTube. Bannon is fighting for his life over at his streaming channel, Real America’s Voice.

They know it and we know it: once you lose advertisers, there’s nowhere to go but down.

Tucker was the golden exception to the rule. He continued to freely launder white nationalist talking points into mainstream cable news despite a national advertiser exodus. He remained popular and his ratings stayed high. It left me with the sinking feeling that we might have to accept this as a battle we had simply lost.

But now we know that Tucker Carlson did not survive two rounds of our brutally effective advertising boycotts in 2018 and 2019. Fox was absorbing the cost — and putting off the inevitable.

We issued a real-time market correction

New reporting in the wake of this seismic news tells us that the “success” of Tucker Carlson Tonight was a years-long market distortion. Our campaigns left Fox News scrambling to retain advertisers.

Last week, former Fox News host Megyn Kelly said that her less popular show pulled in more ad revenue than Tucker's.

“The nonstop Media Matters, Sleeping Giants boycotts that these advertisers bent the knee to, hobbling the income of that particular hour in a way that is really unfair and gross."

Actually, how about fair and square? Carlson went out to compete in the marketplace of ideas. The market rejected him.

In April 2022, The New York Times reported that Fox devised a workaround for their toxic man: they would use commercial breaks of Tucker’s top-rated show to boost viewership of their more "brand safe" daytime shows. They would then lure advertisers to fill these time slots.

But unlike fake news, the laws of supply and demand are real. Fox desperately knew that.

They sent around a sales deck to advertisers in 2021, hoping to convince them that the national boycotts were driven by a couple of dopey Twitter accounts.

They also hired a full-time team of at least three — led by former Trump senior aide Raj Shah, to monitor and discredit Sleeping Giants and Media Matters.

When you realize there’s no demand for the supply, the answer is to change the supply. But not at Tucker HQ. Fox News created something truly innovative: a top-rated primetime show with subprime content at below prime rates. Looking back, it’s so very truly shocking this didn’t end up working for them.

The millions of unduplicated viewers watching Tucker Carlson Tonight are extremely valuable to our advertisers. Our audience is not only deeply loyal to the brand, but to our top tier partners as well, of which Babbel is not one. We will not allow voices like Tucker Carlson’s to be censored by agenda-driven intimidation efforts from the intolerant partisan activists Media Matters, Sleeping Giants and Moveon.org whose only goal is to silence conservative thought they don’t agree with.
April 30, 2019: The only statement that Fox News ever released about Sleeping Giants.

Fox News let its entire business revolve around Tucker Carlson

Fox didn’t just keep Tucker around. They built the rest of their network programming around his nightly monologues.

Tucker was their bait, and he took that role seriously. He studied his network’s minute-by-minute data to optimize engagement, doubling down on white nationalist rhetoric, “because the minute-by-minutes show that the audience eats it up,” according to one former Fox employee.

Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott also urged daytime Fox News shows to engage in a little healthy cross-promotion to pump up ratings across the network. Guest analysts on other shows would find themselves having to comment on Tucker's show from the night before.

It was "a backdoor way for Fox to inject prime-time material into the lower-rated dayside shows,” the Times reported.

Fox's digital team would repurpose Tucker's monologues into shareable video clips on FoxNews.com too, where Carlson's drove the most traffic.

The engagement rocked. But it created a real problem for advertisers who could not easily block their ads from Tucker content because it now permeated the entire network.

Eventually the market collapses

Fox News must have known they were risking it all during the 2020 election cycle. But they had no choice.

They had created a national market for dramatic realistic fiction and their success had spawned new competitors. If Fox didn’t give them their daily fix, these new mutant variations would.

Shah — now an SVP responsible for monitoring Fox's audience — told colleagues that survey data showed the Fox News brand was “under heavy fire from our customer base,” according to an internal message released as part of the Dominion lawsuit.

“We are not concerned with losing market share to CNN or MSNBC right now. Our concern is Newsmax and One America News Network...I’d like to get honest/deeper feedback from Fox viewers on the brand, the handling of the election, if they feel like they have been somehow betrayed by the network.”

In a memo to Lachlan Murdoch on November 13, 2020, Shah wrote, “Fox News is facing a brand crisis” and “open revolt.” He added that the “precipitous decline in Fox’s favorability among our core audience… poses lasting damage to the Fox News brand unless effectively addressed soon.”

The lasting damage happened anyway because they got their audience hooked on a storyline that would ultimately implode. For the first time, Fox News is hobbling into their carriage fee negotiations and advertising upfronts.

They’ve already lost their audience to Newsmax, which seems thrilled to finally get to eat their big brother's lunch. Fox News has more expensive lawsuits coming down the pipeline. They may have even misled shareholders about their ad revenues.

Fox News has no way to bring back that audience without competing with Newsmax’s batshit content — and that is not going to bring back advertisers.

Good job on creating a market that nobody wants.

We’re going to do it again and again and again

The firing of Tucker Carlson is an earth-shattering win for someone who once ran a little social media account.

In 2016, I co-founded Sleeping Giants to urge advertisers to block Breitbart from their media buy due to its hate and bigotry. Breitbart lost 90% of its ad revenue in three months. Within a year, we used our momentum to bump Bill O'Reilly off the air.

In 2019, Tucker uttered the words: "We have a moral obligation to admit the world’s poor, they tell us, even if it makes our own country poorer, and dirtier, and more divided."

We got to work. In less than a year, our collective efforts (along with Media Matters) cost him over 70 advertisers.

This wasn’t wokeness, censorship or cancel culture. It was the free market rejecting the supply.

A new market has emerged around brand safety, the practice of keeping ads away from harmful people and content. Advertisers now have brand safety policies, frameworks, and standards to help them move quickly and consistently when they find their ad in the wrong part of town.

Today, the influence of Sleeping Giants and now Check My Ads looms in boardrooms we’ve never been in. This is why when Elon Musk took over Twitter, we didn’t have to lift a finger. The World Federation of Advertisers’ Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM) — launched in the wake of Sleeping Giants — was ready to walk out on him.

The advertising marketplace is healing. There may still be a steady supply of hate and disinformation, but the demand is gone.

An example of the kind of brand safety guidelines our work helped establish

And now, your turn

I want to be clear about why I believe Sleeping Giants gets to take credit for the fall of Tucker: this was a movement of 400,000+ community of people who spoke out and demanded that advertisers walk away from Tucker Carlson.

You did this. You made this happen. And without you, Tucker might still be on the air.

Today, Check My Ads, the adtech watchdog, builds on the original work of Sleeping Giants. We defund entire disinformation networks run by people like Steve Bannon & Charlie Kirk — you know, Tucker's pals — by cutting them off from ad revenues.

Once again, we're growing stronger every day because of our community. Would you like to join us?

When you make a recurring, tax-deductible contribution to Check My Ads, you become a Checkmate. Checkmates are part of our inner circle — with access to exclusive events and programming.

P.S. On Friday May 5th, Checkmates will have a private call with Nandini and Claire to talk about the fall of Tucker — and what's next.

Can't wait to see you all!

Love,

Claire and Nandini


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