Buzzfeed's Trump ad ban: Dumping RNC deal just adds fuel to right-wing fire

Pulling out of the Republican ad deal because of Trump's campaign will inflame cries of "P.C." censorship

Published June 6, 2016 9:11PM (EDT)

Donald Trump (AP/Chris Carlson)
Donald Trump (AP/Chris Carlson)

What’s the most offensive thing Donald Trump has said? Was it insulting Muslims? Mexicans? Women? Mocking John McCain about his capture in Vietnam? Boasting about his anatomy in a presidential debate? His professed interest in weakening libel laws so he could go after critics? Every day seems to bring a new outrage from this guy. A Trump presidency would be a disaster for all kinds of reasons.

So I can see why BuzzFeed has decided to turn down what is rumored to be a $1.3 million advertising deal with the Republican National Committee. The company’s CEO, Jonah Peretti, send this announcement to staffers:

Since signing this advertising deal, Donald Trump, as you know, has become the presumptive nominee of his party. The tone and substance of his campaign are unique in the history of modern US politics. Trump advocates banning Muslims from traveling to the United States, he’s threatened to limit the free press, and made offensive statements toward women, immigrants, descendants of immigrants, and foreign nationals.

Earlier today Buzzfeed informed the RNC that we would not accept Trump for President ads and that we would be terminating our agreement with them. The Trump campaign is directly opposed to the freedoms of our employees in the United States and around the world and in some cases, such as his proposed ban on international travel for Muslims, would make it impossible for our employees to do their jobs.

A Trump presidency, let’s be clear, would make it difficult for a lot of people to do their jobs. But most of Trump’s vileness was well-known when BuzzFeed cut this deal, and it’s not like he wasn’t a serious contender for the party’s nomination back then.

Peretti compares rejecting a Trump ad to turning down advertisements for cigarettes because they’re both dangerous. Agreed! But if you cut a deal with someone, it’s a deal. You don’t change your terms a month later because you realize you don’t like them.

So there’s a serious issue of integrity. But the issue of how it will play is just as important. Part of Trump’s support has come from painting people on the left as lily-livered, censorious wimps who never say what they mean and can’t be trusted. He’s riding on a raft of rhetoric from the cultural right: A lot of angry conservatives ink has been spilled over universities that cancel conservative speakers, or about comedians who have to police what they say or face outrage from the "politically correct" left. Most of it is overblown. But when an outlet refuses ads for political reasons, they’re telling skeptics and paranoids that they are right – that their liberal site is not committed to free speech. Is that really the kind of territory a website wants to get into?

Was the ad the RNC submitted genuinely offensive? Trump’s team is certainly capable of that, but I don’t think BuzzFeed even saw one. Was it full of misinformation and distortion, the as a lot of Trump’s speeches are? Again, they likely rejected it without seeing anything.

It’s one thing for a newspaper editorial page to take sides, or even for a commentary-driven outlet like Salon or The National Review to run coverage dominated by a single political perspective. But going back on a promise of an advertisement for ideological reasons is going to have the Trump camp shouting censorship.

Do I wish BuzzFeed had never made a deal with the RNC? Sure. Do I wish that Trump would slink back to the rock he crawled out from under? Absolutely. But when a loudmouthed bully, who loves complaining about what an outside he is, climbs onto the stage, do you really want him give him and his supporters more reason to scream?

By Scott Timberg

Scott Timberg is a former staff writer for Salon, focusing on culture. A longtime arts reporter in Los Angeles who has contributed to the New York Times, he runs the blog Culture Crash. He's the author of the book, "Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class."

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2016 Elections Buzzfeed Donald Trump Media Criticism Republican Party