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Oppenheim: Brewing Controversy

Keurig Green Mountain, the Waterbury company known for K-cups and coffeemakers, has been advertising on Fox News, specifically on Hannity. Hosted by Sean Hannity, the program is the most watched show in cable news – and that’s actually a big deal.

It used to be – the top shows on cable got skimpy ratings, maybe a million people tops, but these days, Hannity pulls in 3.8 million viewers a night. And of course, since liberals aren’t the only ones who drink coffee, it makes sense for Keurig to advertise on the number one cable news show.

Enter Roy Moore, Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate from Alabama. Moore, now 70, is at the center of a firestorm about sexual misconduct and possible assault of teenage girls during his 30’s. At first, Sean Hannity came to Moore’s defense; suggesting that viewers withhold judgment for now and warning accusers not to lie.

That prompted a left-leaning watchdog group, Media Matters, to call on advertisers to cancel their contracts. Keurig decided it was too much – and dumped Hannity. Then, Hannity fans, ready to start the next viral trend, dumped Keurig coffee-makers and smashed them – all in online videos. So Keurig’s CEO sent a memo to employees, sort of apologizing, not so much for leaving Hannity, but for how the news broke on Twitter.

Hannity, no surprise, is milking the controversy, telling viewers to stop breaking Keurig machines, but also offering up 500 free Keurig coffeemakers, presumably so his fans will keep on loving him.

What to make of this?

Well - I don’t think Keurig will win any awards here for long-term strategy. And I wouldn’t go as far as to say that they – or any company - should never advertise on Fox News, but the channel is tilting ever more rightward to an audience that sees the rest of the media as elite and intensely dislikes the Republican establishment.

Normally, advertisers on news shows draw a distinction between their ads and the way the news is covered, arguing their products and image are neither affected by nor associated with editorial content. But in a world where cable TV hosts go to extremes, that may be changing – and companies that advertise on super-partisan news programs find themselves in a tough spot.

Keith Oppenheim, Associate Professor in Broadcast Media Production at Champlain College, has been with the college since 2014. Prior to that, he coordinated the broadcasting program at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan (near Grand Rapids). Keith was a correspondent for CNN for 11 years and worked as a television news reporter in Providence, Scranton, Sacramento and Detroit. He produces documentaries, and his latest project, Noyana - Singing at the end of life, tells the story of a Vermont choir that sings to hospice patients.
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