The week started off with a highly politicized media scandal when Roseanne Barr tweeted a racist characterization of former Obama aide Valerie Jarrett. And now, just a few days later, comedian Samantha Bee and her network TBS are in similarly hot water after Bee aired a few choice words about Ivanka Trump on her show, "Full Frontal with Samantha Bee."
Given that Barr's show was almost immediately canceled by her former network ABC following her tweet, a slew of heavy hitters—including the White House, conservative pundits and other celebrities—have called for Samantha Bee's show to suffer the same consequence. Bee's defenders on social media have argued that tweeting a racist characterization of someone should not sit in the same category as addressing someone with a general vulgarity.
And although Bee has since tweeted a formal apology, "Full Frontal" network TBS certainly has a crisis on its hands. Two "Full Frontal" advertisers have already pulled their spots from the show's time slot. Autotrader decided to permanently pull its ads, while State Farm said in a statement that it has "asked TBS to suspend our advertising in the program and are reviewing any future placements," explaining that the company constantly reviews programs to "ensure alignment to our programming guidelines and brand values."
For communicators, TBS' conundrum begs the question: With two advertisers already having bailed, how should TBS and parent company Turner handle this crisis from a business standpoint?
“Samantha Bee has taken the right action in apologizing for the vile and inappropriate language she used about Ivanka Trump last night," TBS wrote in a statement released Thursday. "Those words should not have been aired. It was our mistake too, and we regret it.”
Gene Grabowski, a partner at PR firm kglobal, thinks that Bee's words demand action, and expects her to suffer from what he refers to as "The Al Franken Effect."
"Even Democratic politicians who oppose the Trump administration will add their voices against Ms. Bee as a matter of principle and consistency as they have done in connection with the Me Too movement," Grabowski says.
"Because of Disney-ABC’s firing earlier this week of Roseanne Barr, TBS will have to fire Samantha Bee for her remarks. Until then, TBS will be under relentless pressure from the Trump administration and its supporters to take action against the irreverent comedian, and advertisers will continue to pull away from the show."
Meanwhile, some PR pros believe that Bee and TBS will weather the storm. Andrew Ricci, principal at Riccon Strategic Communications, hopes that TBS is smart enough to realize that "there’s a difference between using a historically significant slur to characterize an entire race of people that have already been historically marginalized and using a naughty word that might hurt someone in power’s feelings."
In situations like these, you’ll always have a couple jumpy sponsors who take a knee-jerk reaction to the issue du jour, adds Ricci. "As long as it doesn’t gain significant momentum, [TBS] should keep directing people to their apologies and be able to wait it out. Samantha Bee was trending yesterday, she’s not trending today, and by Monday we’ll have moved on.”
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