For Fox, Money Isn't Everything

(Please see the CORRECTION at bottom)

You'd think Rupert Murdoch would laugh all the way to the bank if the liberal magazine The Nation cut a check to conservative Fox News. But the "fair and balanced" ad staff at FNC have rejected a TV spot that The Nation says Bravo, CNN, MSNBC, and TBS/TNT have accepted.

The ad goes like this (watch it here):

    It peels away layers of obfuscation. Shreds lies. Slices through White House fog. And you can try it for four weeks absolutely free. It's The Nation - America's hottest, most widely read journal of opinion. Nobody owns The Nation - not Time Warner, not Murdoch. So there's no corporate slant, no White House spin, just the straight dope.

The Nation has asked FNC how they might alter the ad to get it on the air, but Fox will not give a reason for the rejection. "We have the right to reject a spot. We do not need to give a written statement regarding the rejection," wrote a Fox ad rep to a buyer for The Nation. TBS/TNT hesitated to accept the ad at first, too, but relented when The Nation agreed to omit the references to "Time Warner" and "Murdoch."

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"We finally have a little money to promote the magazine and they won't let us spend it," says Nation publicist Mike Webb.

The Fox rebuff is the latest episode in the strange relationship between the lefty magazine and the righty network.

In February 2003, Fox took out an $8,700 back page ad in The Nation, which only two years earlier had dubbed the network "a calculated mouthpiece for the right that remains thinly veiled behind its misleading mantra, 'fair and balanced.' " Nation readers revolted at the ad: 250 wrote letters, and at least 50 cancelled their subscriptions. When The New York Times wrote about the reaction of The Nation's faithful to Fox's first spot, the network called and booked a second.

Why did Fox want to advertise in The Nation anyway? Maybe it was trying to win new viewers, though it seems a tough sell to Nation readers. Perhaps it merely wanted to crow to liberal "elites" about its lead in cable news ratings. Or maybe it was intended as a poison pill, to anger Nation subscribers and put the magazine in a tough spot. The Nation could have avoided that, of course, if they simply refused Fox's ads. But Webb says that wasn't considered. When the Fox ad came in, Webb recalls, the reaction at The Nation was " 'Oh no,' and 'Let's charge top rate.' "

Fox bought two more ads last year, each costing $7,395. One ran in the magazine's Republican convention issue. A couple days later, the network first rejected The Nation's TV spot.

Webb insists the magazine wants to sell subscriptions, not pick a fight. "We're not just trying to make a stink, we're actually trying to spend our money wisely/efficiently," he writes in an email.

Fox did not return phone calls. (CORRECTION: I called the wrong part of Fox and reached a spokesperson who handles Fox television stations, not Fox News Channel. That was dumb. For all the grim details—and Fox's response—please click here.)

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