Laura Ingraham is taking avacation next week. Now the question is whether a controversy swirling around the host will go on hiatus as well.
The popular Fox News Channel host – her “Ingraham Angle” was the fourth most-watched cable-news program in February – told viewers Friday night she would not appear on air next week as she took what she described as a pre-planned break around the Easter holiday with her children. Substitute hosts are expected to fill in for her on the program.
She leaves in the midst of heightened scrutiny. Ingraham set off an imbroglio Wednesday with a Twitter post mocking Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student David Hogg, one of the students who has spoken out about gun control prominently since a February 14th shooting incident at the Parkland, Florida school left 17 people dead. Her tweet linked to a report noting Hogg had been rejected from four California colleges. Her tweet also said Hogg “whines about” the rejections. In response, Hogg posted on social media a list of recent advertisers in her program culled from Media Matters, a left-leaning watchdog group, and urged followers to pressure them to remove their commercials from Ingraham’s show. Nestle, Johnson & Johnson, TripAdvisor, Nutrish, Expedia and Hulu – a video-streaming company partly owned by Fox News parent 21st Century Fox – are among the advertisers who have said they would no longer advertise in her program.
Ingraham apologized Thursday via Twitter, noting that she was sorry “for any upset or hurt my tweet caused him or any of the brave victims of Parkland.” She invited the student to appear on her program. Hogg said he would not accept her apology.
Many advertisers appeared to keep their distance from the program on Friday. The only blue-chip advertiser to appear over the course of the hour-long broadcast was IBM. Otherwise, many of the sponsors were direct-response advertisers like MyPillow.com, or lesser-known entities such as the American Petroleum Institute, Interstate Batteries and KT Tape. Fox News also filled commercial breaks with promos for hosts like Bret Baier, or the mid-morning team of Bill Hemmer and Sandra Smith.
Her Friday announcement drew eerie parallels to another Fox News host who came under the microscope. Last April, Bill O’Reilly announced a pre-planned vacation just before Easter weekend in the midst of an even greater controversy. Advertisers were moving commercials elsewhere on the network after a New York Times report detailed accusations of sexual harassment levied against the host who was at the time the linchpin of the Fox News primetime lineup. He never returned to the air, fired eight days later in a letter signed by the three members of the Murdoch family most active in running Fox News’ parent company, 21st Century Fox: Rupert Murdoch, Lachlan Murdoch and James Murdoch.
There is no indication at this point that Fox News executives want Ingraham to remain off air. Her program has fit seamlessly into a primetime lineup that was re-calibrated last fall, and is now flanked with programming anchored by two other female hosts, Martha MacCallum and Shannon Bream. Ingraham, a longtime contributor to the network, built up her own audience base with her long-running radio program.
Fox News is working with advertisers, says a person familiar with the network’s ad sales strategy, accommodating sponsors who wish to move commercials elsewhere, but also maintaining a long-term view about the program and its connection with Madison Avenue. In February, “The Ingraham Angle” drew an average of more than 2.6 million viewers, according to Nielsen. Only Fox News’ “Hannity,” and “Tucker Carlson Tonight” and MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” attracted more viewers that month. With that size of an audience and following – Ingraham is also a longtime radio host – advertisers could find her program difficult to ignore in the future.
Ingraham has not addressed the social-media controversy on air, and avoided the topic on Friday night’s program. The broadcast was billed as a “special,” and Ingraham devoted the episode to segments that examined “culture wars in the age of Trump.” Her return to the Fox News lineup will determine if she’s caught in one of her own.